Politics

February 3

Portland mayor: Raise city’s minimum wage

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan on Wednesday used his State of the City address to announce a variety of new initiatives for the upcoming year, including establishing a minimum wage and passing a moratorium on charter schools.

click image to enlarge

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan delivers the 2nd annual State of the City address Wednesday. He advocated a minimum wage and a moratorium on charter schools.

John Patriquin/Staff Photogrpaher

During his 45-minute address, Brennan touched on a wide range of issues and achievements in 2013, including the need to ensure that the city maintains it friendly business environment and takes a more thoughtful approach to development and protecting open spaces.

He also set forth several initiatives for the upcoming year, including the need to address the income gap in the city.

“I think considering a minimum wage for the city is a way to demonstrate a commitment to that issue,” Brennan said.

Portland’s unemployment rate is 4.8 percent, Brennan said, compared to the state’s unemployment rate of 6.1 percent and the national rate of 6.6 percent.

Brennan also acknowledged the “unprecedented” development boom in Portland, which in 2013 saw a nearly $60 million increase in private investment over 2012, from $32 million to $91 million. Another $150 million in development is currently under consideration, he said.

“That shows that people look to Portland as a good place to do businesses and development,” he said.

However, Brennan acknowledged the growing pains of that development.

Residents have filled council chambers to protest the sale of Congress Square Plaza to a developer and to oppose increasing heights for a high-rise development in Bayside. Others have criticized the recent flood of market rate housing, saying affordable housing is needed instead.

A group of residents recently submitted petition papers for a June ballot initiative to increase protections for 60 public open spaces, including Congress Square Plaza.

Brennan vowed to form a committee to inventory the city’s land holdings and have “proactive” and “thoughtful” discussion about which properties to protect and which properties could be developed.

Brennan said the $100 million state transportation bond that was passed by voters last year will help strengthen the economic vitality of the waterfront by dredging the harbor to open up new vessel berthing, connecting rail lines to the International Marine Terminal and improving the Ocean Gateway terminal for the resumption of ferry service to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

He also noted that over half of the city-owned Maine State Pier is leased to seafood processors, which is bringing in $500,000 a year.

“This is a tremendous benefit not only to the business community and Portland but the entire state of Maine,” he said. “We have a vision. We have a plan and the waterfront in Portland will be a central part of the city. And more importantly, it will continue to be a working waterfront.”

Brennan reaffirmed his commitment to public education, saying he will ask the council to follow Bangor’s lead and pass a moratorium on publicly funded charter schools.

Brennan also called on residents throughout the state to contact their state legislators to oppose state budget proposals that would shift tax burdens from the state to local level. Atop that list is a proposal to cut $40 million in revenue sharing.

If that cut goes through, Portland would lose $3 million from its local budget, for a total of $5 million over the last five years, leaving Portland with only $1 million, he said.

“Without that (revenue) we will struggle with our budgeting process” to fund education and services and keep taxes at a reasonable rate, he said. “Please respond to this issue and talk to your legislators and make sure this does not happen.”

Brennan also highlighted the work of several city departments. Firefighters saved 20 lives through advanced CPR techniques and the fire chief is looking to train 1,000 residents in basic CPR in the coming year, he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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