AUGUSTA — The Maine House voted 86-58 Wednesday in favor a bill that would bump the state's minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 in a three-stage approach beginning in July 2014.
The measure includes a built-in inflation-based trigger that would boost the minimum wage accordingly each year after 2017.
Currently, Mainers working full-time for the minimum wage earn $15,600 a year, according to a news statement issued by Maine House Democrats to announce that the bill — LD 611, “An Act To Adjust Maine's Minimum Wage Annually Based on Cost" — was coming up for a floor vote.
"We are talking about putting money in the pockets of Maine workers, who will then spend in Maine's economy," said House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham. "If the price of bread and milk go up, wages need to follow."
Republicans were unified in their opposition to the measure, noting that it would reduce the number of entry-level jobs in Maine and contribute to unemployment.
Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, spoke out against the bill during a nearly three-hour floor debate. After the vote, Timberlake said Democrats don't recognize what the minimum wage is for.
"There's very few people who are working full time for minimum wage," Timberlake said. "The majority of places, people who are working full time are not making minimum wage."
Timberlake said minimum wage was set up to be a training and entry-level wage. It allowed employers to bring people on to train them without high costs. He said the increase, if it passes the full Legislature and is signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage, would mean employers would hire fewer workers.
"What's going to happen is instead of me hiring two high school kids to work in the summer," Timberlake said, "I'm only going to hire one."
The bill likely will move to the Senate for a floor vote Thursday.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said he was looking forward to the discussion.
"I don't think you can see more of a contrast between Democrats and Republicans on this thing," Jackson said. "This small increase is going to be a help to an awful lot of people. The governor always talks about people getting off the couch and going to work. Minimum wage doesn't even buy you two gallons of gas when it takes you four gallons to get to work."