Groups opposing a November ballot referendum to raise the minimum wage in Maine want to see changes in how the question is worded.

The groups said Thursday at a Portland news conference that the proposed question doesn’t make clear that the minimum wage would be increased based on changes in the consumer price index after rising from the current $7.50 per hour to $12 per hour in 2020. They also said the question doesn’t say the minimum for tipped workers would rise to $12 per hour by 2024.

Peter Gore, vice president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said the groups suggested the changes to the Maine secretary of state during a comment period, which ended Monday. Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, said the comments on the wording of the referendum are being reviewed and that Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap will announce next week whether he will change the proposed wording.

Gore and Greg Dugal, who runs the Maine Innkeepers Association and the Maine Restaurant Association, said the question needs to lay out all the implications of the wage proposal for voters to make a reasoned choice.

The indexing plan, he said, would make it hard for business owners to plan labor costs and also would eliminate flexibility. For instance, he said, a business may want to expand benefits by forgoing wage increases for a year, but the requirement to increase the wage based on inflation could take away that ability.

“It puts wage increases on an automatic-pilot basis,” Dugal said.

He said most of the groups, including his, who oppose the referendum had tried to get a smaller minimum wage increase through the Legislature this year, but failed. Instead, lawmakers approved the referendum measure for the ballot. More than 75,000 people signed petitions to put the proposal on the ballot.

The Legislature also rejected a proposal by business groups and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce to put a competing measure on the ballot that would have increased the minimum wage to $10 an hour.

The group backing the question said the opponents’ proposed changes to the wording is an attempt to undermine the question.

Mike Tipping, who heads Mainers for Fair Wages, noted that the wording adopted by the secretary of state is 52 words long, while the opponents’ alternative is 76 words long. The longest referendum question in Maine history, he said, was 54 words long.

“Raising the minimum wage is a simple and straightforward policy and it deserves a clear question on the ballot,” said Will Ikard, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, which helped to launch the referendum. “Proposing a question twice as long and complex as any in Maine history is nothing more than a shady and shameless ploy to confuse voters.”

“We’re not going to allow the tactics of these lobbyists to distract from fundamental issues of family and fairness,” Ikard said.

Muszynski noted that the full wording of the ordinance behind the referendum question is available at the Secretary of State’s website: maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/citizens/index.html.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.