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Don’t let legislatures roll back Maine’s minimum wage

The Maine State Legislature is currently in their 128th session with over 30 active bills up for decision. Mixed into the numerous bills up for consideration is LD 1757, a bill that would attempt to roll back the 2016 referendum that set Maine on track for achieving a livable minimum wage.

In the 2016 election, Maine citizens collected enough signatures to get a raise in Maine’s minimum wage on the ballot. This required a number of signatures equal to that of 10 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election. In 2016, this was over 61,000 votes, which meant gathering over 61,000 signatures. According to the State of Maine Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions, Maine then passed this minimum wage referendum with 55.5 percent approval, or 420,892 votes, in November 2016.

Maine first adopted the referendum process in 1908, and passed its first referendum in 1911. Although it was a slow start, with only seven initiatives for the first 60 years, the referendum process started increasing in popularity when environmental issues joined the ballots in the 1970s through the 1990s. The five referendums on Maine’s 2016 ballot were the most Maine has ever seen in a single election, and out of these five referendums, Mainers decided to pass four of them — including raising the minimum wage.

Maine voters are taking issues and action into their own hands. Through referendums, Mainers have access to directly influencing, passing or rejecting laws by turning up to elections and voting.

The Maine legislatures were taken out the process of those referendums, and the people of Maine voted for themselves. They decided to pass the increase of minimum wage because they believe in a fair living wage for all. The 2016 Maine referendum allowed for a jump in Maine’s hourly wage to $9 per hour in 2017, which would increase $1 per year until reaching $12 per hour in 2020. After 2020, the rate of the minimum wage would be tied to inflation and the year’s cost of living.

LD 1757, also titled “An Act to Protect Maine’s Economy by Slowing the Rate at Which the State’s Minimum Wage Will Increase and Establishing a Training and Youth Wage,” would roll back those yearly increases. Starting in June of 2018, the hourly wage would drop back to $9.50 an hour, and would only increase by 50 cents a year until 2024.

According to a study by MIT, the deficit between the wage hourly workers need to keep up with Maine’s cost of living and the amount they actually earn can be as large as $24 per hour. A single Maine hourly worker needs $3,027 more annually than they earn now to afford basic necessities, at the current minimum wage. This is money lost, and money that is not being redistributed back into Maine’s economy. As the number of individuals in a family increases, so does the annual salary deficit: in a family with two hourly workers and a child, the family would be making $5,913 less than the cost of living in Maine for one year.

Over 161,000 Maine citizens were living in poverty in 2017. It should be one of Maine’s top priorities to constantly work at lowering that number, as quickly as possible. If the legislature decides to pass LD 1757, they slow the rate at which Mainers can begin to earn a wage that will provide for themselves and their families — a wage they can put back into Maine’s economy, and one that they can live on.

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