AUGUSTA — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins greeted workers and patrons at downtown businesses Wednesday afternoon, ending her short tour of Augusta at the newly opened O&P Glass warehouse on Capitol Street.
While walking through downtown, Collins said the two most common issues that have come up are the need for more good jobs in Maine and the need for more bipartisanship in Washington, D.C.
One issue that hasn’t come up, Collins said, is the debate over minimum wage. Collins and her Democratic opponent, Shenna Bellows, differ on how much to raise the federal minimum wage, which is now $7.25 per hour.
Bellows has said she supports raising it to $10.10 per hour, the amount President Obama has called for. A bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 failed in the U.S. Senate earlier this year after getting support from only one Republican.
Collins said $10.10 per hour is too much, citing a Congressional Budget Office report that projected a $10.10 minimum wage could cost the country 500,000 jobs. However, the report also said the increase would raise incomes for 16.5 million workers and lift 900,000 people out of poverty.
Collins and Maine’s other senator, independent Angus King, who voted for the higher minimum wage, have said a compromise might be necessary to pass a minimum wage increase.
“When I bring up and talk to employers and workers, they seem to think there could be an accommodation for a less dramatic increase in the minimum wage that was phased in,” Collins said during Wednesday’s tour. “I’ve supported many minimum wages over the years, but I think you have to look at the amount of the increase and what the impact is going to be on jobs. That’s why I support an increase, but jumping to $10.10 is too much and will cost jobs. It’s interesting because the president was at $9 just a year ago.”
Obama advocated for increasing the minimum wage to $9 in his 2013 State of the Union address. At his State of the Union this year, the president called for it to increase to $10.10.
A worker at Stacy’s, a gift and clothing store Collins visited, said she can see reasons for raising the minimum wage, but is against it in the end because of concerns it would hurt small businesses such as Stacy’s.
“I think the mom-and-pop shops will really go away,” said Jennifer Crawford after selling a card to the senator. “I think small business will close in a sense because mom-and-pop stores are struggling as it is. The big box stores are the ones that everybody goes to.”
Crawford, 42, of Dresden, who has worked at the store for six years, said she’s voted for Collins in the past.
“It was nice to see her shop locally and buy a card. Wish we had a lot more shop-locals,” said Crawford.
Collins concluded her tour at O&P Glass’ new 28,000-square-foot warehouse and headquarters on Capitol Street. She told Tobias Parkhurst, who took over the business with his sister, Soo Parkhurst, from their father earlier this year, that it’s always wonderful to see businesses pass from generation to generation and to expand.
Tobias Parkhurst, president of the commercial and residential glass business, said the warehouse that opened Tuesday on Capitol Street is three times the size of the former location in Manchester.
Collin’s opponent, Bellows, did a tour of the state last month on foot. Bellows, the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, trekked 350 miles from Houlton to Kittery to gain name recognition and build support for her campaign against Collins’ fourth term in the Senate.
Before the trek, in a poll conducted in June by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center for the Portland Press Herald, Collins held a comfortable lead over Bellows, 72 percent to 17 percent, with 10 percent undecided.
Collins launched her re-election bus tour of the state’s 16 counties in Bangor last week. She’ll continue her tour of central Maine on Thursday. She is scheduled to visit downtown Waterville at 11 a.m., eat lunch at Early Bird Restaurant in Oakland and walk through the downtowns of Hallowell and Gardiner in the afternoon.