AUGUSTA – Several Democrats considering a run against Republican Gov. Paul LePage in 2014 all say they favor a bill that would increase the minimum wage in Maine.

LePage opposes the bill, which was endorsed by the Maine House in a preliminary vote.

Independent Eliot Cutler, who lost to LePage in 2010 but has indicated he will run again, criticized Republicans and Democrats for their “political show” over the minimum wage and said he would not support the bill.

The measure endorsed Wednesday would raise the minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 an hour by 2016 and index it to inflation thereafter. The Senate’s Democratic majority is also expected to support the bill. But it is unlikely to gain enough Republican votes for the two-thirds majority needed to override an anticipated veto by LePage.

Spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said she wouldn’t speculate on what LePage will do. However, representatives of the state Department of Labor and Department off Economic and Community Development testified against the bill.

LePage’s political adviser, Brent Littlefield, said the governor wants to improve pay “up and down the wage scale.”

Littlefield cited income tax cuts that the governor ushered through in 2011, which among other things eliminated the tax burden for about 70,000 low-income earners.

“While there’s political games being played, Paul LePage already took action to help those people,” Littlefield said.

Democrats say the minimum wage bill is needed.

Ed Gilman, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, said the congressman supports the bill and “believes that all workers should be given the opportunity to earn a livable wage.”

Willy Ritch, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said she “couldn’t be more in favor” of the bill.

Pingree’s husband, S. Donald Sussman, is the majority share owner of MaineToday Media Inc., which owns the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets in Maine.

Pingree and Michaud are co-sponsors of the Fair Minimum Wage Act in Congress, which would raise the federal minimum — now at $7.25 per hour — to $10.10 per hour in two years.

Former Democratic governor John Baldacci, who has said he’d consider running again if Pingree or Michaud don’t, also supports the Maine bill.

“It’s an incentive to make sure people have the incentive to go to work and to stay at work,” he said.

Democrat Steve Woods, a Yarmouth town councilor and businessman who has filed to raise money for a run for governor, said he supports the bill and pays above the minimum wage at his business, TideSmart Global in Falmouth, a marketing agency.

“It’s in my best interest to pay people fairly so they don’t have to work two or three jobs and live in poverty,” he said.

Another Democrat who has filed candidate paperwork for the race, David Slagger of Kenduskeag, could not be reached for comment.

Cutler, the independent, said he might support a minimum wage increase if it was part of a package of reforms addressing the entire wage scale, but not as a standalone measure. He said he’d try to make the minimum wage debate “irrelevant and immaterial.”

Cutler said he would do that with “a plan and a strategy that will get more workers back at the top of the wage levels instead of focusing on the bottom.”

 

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

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