Friday, March 7, 2014
WASHINGTON — Two of the three top contenders for Maine governor said Wednesday that they support increasing the minimum wage, as President Obama and Democratic leaders across the country push what they hope will be a major issue in the 2014 campaigns.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent candidate Eliot Cutler both support a minimum wage increase, while Republican Gov. Paul LePage opposes raising it beyond the current $7.50 per hour. But there are also differences between the two supporters.
Michaud, a union member who sponsored a bill to raise the minimum wage when he was Maine Senate president, said “now is the time for action” and vowed to push the issue at the state level if Congress doesn’t act.
Cutler talks of increasing the minimum wage as part of a “broader” economic plan.
“To view increasing the minimum wage as the answer to our economic challenges … that’s wrong,” Cutler said. “We need a plan to build economic activity in the state of Maine. We don’t have it now and we haven’t had it for decades.”
On Tuesday, President Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for all federal contract workers from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. The change, which will apply to all new and renegotiated federal contracts beginning Jan. 1, 2015, fulfills a pledge that Obama made during his State of the Union address last month and is intended to increase pressure on Congress to follow suit.
“I’m going to do what I can. Congress should do what it needs to do,” Obama said during a signing ceremony at the White House. “I will not give up on this fight, no matter how long it takes. America deserves a raise.”
The White House estimates that the increase will benefit several hundred thousand federal contract employees, from concession workers at national parks to individuals who serve food to troops and maintain the grounds of military bases.
A recent survey by the National Employment Law Project found that 77 percent of government contract employees who work in food service, retail or janitorial service earn less than $10 per hour. The survey also found that about 4 in 10 of those workers depend on public assistance, The Associated Press reported.
Maine’s $7.50 an hour minimum wage is 25 cents higher than the federal minimum. State lawmakers last increased the rate in October 2009.
Last year, Maine’s Democratic-controlled Legislature passed a bill to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2016 and to tie future levels to inflation, but LePage vetoed the bill.
On Wednesday, LePage’s campaign adviser, Brent Littlefield, declined to provide a comment from the governor on the issue. Instead, Littlefield referred to an April 2013 radio address in which LePage predicted raising the minimum wage would hurt low-income Mainers by prompting businesses to reduce their workforces.
“It won’t make us more business friendly, and it won’t increase anyone’s standard of living,” LePage said at the time.
Littlefield also trumpeted tax cuts pushed by LePage and enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 that cut taxes by $150 million.
“I would note that Gov. LePage ushered in the largest tax cut in Maine state history which is eliminating state level income taxes for Maine’s lowest paid working people – eliminating that withholding portion of their paycheck for nearly 70,000 Maine people,” Littlefield wrote.
Michaud is co-sponsor of a bill in the U.S. House – the Fair Minimum Wage Act – that would set the federal minimum wage at $10.10 an hour. While the effort appears to have substantial support in the Democratic-controlled Senate, the Republican-controlled House is not expected to approve a 39 percent increase to the minimum in an election year.
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