A concern that I have always had with the “citizens’ initiated” referendum questions is the lack of the normal law passing process that involves public hearings, public debate, constitutional review and compromise, taking into account multiple points of view. All municipal, state and federal laws that get enacted by the elected bodies goes through this very process, insuring that unintended consequences of the law are vetted before enactment.

This past election cycle we had five such questions on the ballot dealing with issues that the Legislature has struggled with in the past. Many argue that because the Legislature failed to act upon these issues, the citizens were left with no other option. But the reality of it is that these are complicated issues that have potentially vast implications on the state’s economy. Good public policy, and thus the laws that get enacted as a result, takes time and sometimes several attempts to make sure it is right in the end.

One issue that I am concerned with is the recently enacted minimum wage bill. I believe the minimum wage needed to be changed and had supported several variations of increasing it during the Legislative process. Unfortunately, all parties could not reach agreement and nothing materialized. I am certain that even if the citizen’s initiated question had not passed, the legislature would have dealt with it in the upcoming session.

Three issues that I hope the Legislature can address, regarding the minimum wage law, while maintaining the integrity of the law are adding a provision for a training wage for those individuals just entering the labor market, restoring the tip credit that many of the servers and tipped employees want back and removing the automatic inflation increase provision that could have very devastating consequences to our state and our economy.

Many people argue that the minimum wage should be a livable wage by which a person can live and sustain themselves. I don’t disagree with that concept. The problem is that a livable wage for a 15- or 16-year-old, living at home with their parents and just entering the work force, is different than a 24-year-old renting an apartment with a car payment or student loans. 

A recent report by the Employment Policy Institute cited studies that show that for every ten percent increase in the minimum wage, teenage unemployment rises a full percentage or more. By creating a “training wage,” for those just entering the work force, we can provide the necessary opportunity for our young people to work and learn good job skills for their future employment, thus earning much higher wages in the future that comes with experience. Without it I fear many of our younger citizens will find it hard to get a job at the higher wages this law mandates.

The tip off-set credit has been a valuable tool for many employees and employers for years helping to maintain reasonable pricing of their products and services while providing a good income for those who work in the service industry. I had a constituent call me over the weekend concerned about the passage of the minimum wage bill that will do away with the tip off-set credit and require these employees to receive the standard minimum wage. She told me that she had worked a six-hour shift the Saturday before Christmas and made $360. Had she been on the minimum wage scale she would have made $72 with an unknown amount of tips as their pricing and work force will now have to reflect the new minimum wage scales. The $32 steak dinner would most likely go up to $40 or more with fewer people ordering or even going out less often enough to compensate for her loss. She wants to have the choice to determine her own wages.

The final provision that has me concerned is the automatic annual inflation increase beginning in 2020. For those who can remember the late 1970’ when inflation was running in the 12 to 14 percent range, and businesses were struggling to stay open, adding this percent increase to their salary budgets at a time when revenues were down and expenses were up caused some to close their doors. Maine’s economy can’t afford to take that chance.

Maine laws, especially those impacting the economy, shouldn’t be decided by 60-second sound bites, plastering the airwaves, espousing only one side of the question. Almost $2 million dollars were spent by labor unions and progressive groups from all over the country pushing this question. Unfortunately, only $155,000 was spent by local Maine groups trying to show the other side. Not a fair debate of a serious issue for the uneven amounts paid. 

Ultimately, we will all pay the price if we, as a state, don’t carefully implement a fairer minimum wage increase that all of Maine can live with.

— State Rep. Robert “Bob” Foley, R-Wells, represents House District 7, which includes part of Wells.