Maine’s minimum wage is going to $6.50 per hour.

AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci signed legislation Monday that would raise the current hourly minimum wage for thousands of Mainers by 25 cents an hour to $6.50 an hour in two phases through October 2005.

The increase, the first since January 2003, will “reward work and the incentives to work,” Baldacci said during a State House bill-signing ceremony.

State Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said about 4,000 workers primarily in retail and food services earn the minimum wage. But organized labor leaders said about four times that number will see their wages affected.

Former Gov. Angus King had vetoed a succession of minimum wage bills before signing one that gave Maine’s minimum wage earners their last raise on Jan. 1, 2003, when the state’s lowest legal hourly pay rose from $5.75 to $6.25.

Sponsors of the original bill that went before the Legislature this year sought to hike the minimum to $7 an hour, also in two phases through October 2005, but the figure was scaled back.

Lawmakers also rejected amendments that sought to weaken the impact by allowing employers to pay workers under 19 years of age lower minimum wages than those proposed in the bill.

The new law increases the $6.25 minimum by a dime an hour on Oct. 1, 2004 and by another 15 cents on Oct. 1, 2005.

While many of those getting the minimum wage are teenagers, many are also adults – especially single women – who are struggling to provide for families, Baldacci said.

The increased minimum will help many of those low-wage earners, but will not put Maine at a competitive disadvantage with other New England states, he said. Even with the increases, Maine’s new minimum wage fully implemented will remain the second-lowest in the region, behind New Hampshire’s.

The Granite State’s minimum is $5.15 an hour, the same as the federal rate. Other New England states pay at least $1.10 more, up to $7.10 in Connecticut.

Efforts in Maine to continue ratcheting up the minimum wage are likely to continue, supporters of the new legislation said.

“We have to keep taking these steps,” said Sen. Beth Edmonds, D-Freeport, who sponsored the bill that raised the minimum in 2003. The bill signed by Baldacci on Monday was sponsored by Sen. Pamela Hatch, D-Skowhegan.

On the Net:

Maine Department of Labor:

AP-ES-05-10-04 1341EDT

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