The language of Question 4 is straightforward, but its probable impact is not.

The ballot question is this: “Do you want to raise the minimum hourly wage of $7.50 to $9 in 2017, and in $1 increments up to $12 in 2020; and to raise it for service workers who receive tips from the current rate of $3.75 to $5 in 2017, in $1 increments up to $12 in 2024?”

To proponents, the measure is a long-needed antidote to stagnant wages, forcing the hand of lawmakers who have not raised Maine’s minimum wage of $7.50 an hour since 2009.

To opponents, it represents heavy-handed regulation that will hobble small businesses and make the battle for new hires even more intense as Maine’s labor pool shrinks.

To Rebecca Coney, who works at the Top of the Old Port parking lot, it’s a mixed bag.

“I see both sides, really,” she said. “Who couldn’t use the extra money? But we’ll be paying more for the things we buy.”

Coney, who has worked at the parking company for four years, earns $11 an hour. She said she expects any business facing a significant hike in what they pay their employees would have no choice but to pass that added cost onto customers.

“To me, it’s a wash,” she said.

According to data compiled by the Maine Department of Labor, about 114,000 of the 359,000 Mainers who were paid hourly wages in 2015 made less than $12 an hour. Of that number, roughly 100,000 earned between $8 and $12 an hour. In 2015, the median hourly wage for non-salaried Maine employees was $14.03.

People between the ages of 20 and 24 comprise the greatest number of minimum wage earners in the state – accounting for roughly 3,800 of the 14,500 Mainers earning the state’s lowest hourly wage. The next-largest group is 16- to 19-year-olds (2,800). The smallest groups are people between 30 and 34, and people age 55 or older, both clocking in at 1,300 apiece.

The organizations behind the ballot initiative have had a lot of practice over the past two years. A series of minimum wage initiatives in the Legislature and some cities has succeeded in getting a new minimum wage of $10.68 established in Portland, but efforts to establish a $15 minimum wage there failed, as did efforts to increase the minimum wage thresholds in Bangor and Lewiston.

WIDE-RANGING BASE OF SUPPORT

What sets this November’s question apart from other efforts is the strength of 76,400 petition signatures to get the measure on the ballot. It has the support of the Maine People’s Alliance, the Maine AFL-CIO and the Maine Small Business Coalition, who argue that raising Maine’s minimum wage would enable more workers to meet their financial obligations and avoid using taxpayer-funded government programs. They also said it would boost consumer spending in the state and help grow the economy.

“Raising the minimum wage means improving the lives of more than 130,000 Mainers who are working hard, spending countless hours away from their families, frequently at more than one job, and still can’t make ends meet,” said Mainers for Fair Wages campaign manager Amy Halsted. “This campaign is about helping single mothers raising children, and helping seniors who can’t afford to retire. It’s about creating a level playing field for local, small businesses and boosting the state economy by making sure Mainers who work hard aren’t earning poverty wages.”

FOES SAY HIGHER COSTS WILL RESULT

Opponents include members of the state’s restaurant and lodging organizations, who have the highest percentage of workers that receive as little as $3.75 an hour because their incomes include customer tips. Tipped wages would increase to the new minimum of $12 by 2024, which restaurant owners say is unnecessary and will force them to increase prices.

“That whole tip credit issue has been a hot issue in the restaurant industry, and to a lesser extent the hospitality industry,” said attorney Glenn Israel, a shareholder at Bernstein Shur law firm in Portland.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Heritage Policy Center and the Maine chapter of the National Federation for Independent Business also oppose the measure.

They argue that increased payroll costs would devastate many small businesses, particularly those in northern and rural Maine. They also said many entry-level jobs would be cut as a result of the higher minimum wage. And like Coney, they expect prices on consumer goods would increase.

SOME PREDICT MORE AUTOMATION

A poll commissioned by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and conducted by the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center in mid-September showed that 60 percent of respondents said they would vote “yes” on Question 4, 28 percent said they would vote “no” and 12 percent said they were undecided. A large majority of Democrats (83 percent) and a majority of independents (57 percent) said they would vote for the measure, and half of Republicans (50 percent) said they would vote “no.”

Some business owners have warned that raising the minimum wage to $12 could force them to cut staff, shut down or leave the state. Even those workers earning slightly above the new minimum will expect to receive a raise, they said.

“An increase in the minimum wage to $12 is going to have a lot of people looking at automation,” Israel said.