AUGUSTA – An attempt by Republicans and Gov. Paul LePage to set a minimum wage lower than the eventual $12 an hour voters will decide about in November fell short Thursday night in the state Senate.

A Republican-led effort to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2020 garnered a vote of 22-12, which was less than the two-thirds majority needed to enact the bill as an emergency measure. The bill needs to be an emergency measure to accommodate the first of the scheduled increases in the bill, which would raise the current $7.50 minimum wage to $9 in July.

Some Republican senators argued that the emergency measure was also necessary to ensure that the bill wouldn’t be considered a competing measure to the citizen-initiated November referendum, which would raise the wage at a faster pace and then tie future increases to inflation.

All of the Republicans and two Democrats — Susan Deschambault of Biddeford and Linda Valentino of Saco — voted in favor of the bill. It now goes to the House, which was scheduled to go into session late Thursday night, for consideration.

A revival of the bill would require a shift in support in the Senate, which is unlikely, or stripping the emergency clause. Even then, it needs to overcome the Democratic majority in the House, where it has little chance of garnering the support it would need. The House was set to take the bill up late Thursday night.

Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, said the move by LePage was similar to conservative efforts to get a competing question on the fall ballot.

“The special interests and their cohorts in the State House who have fought every effort to give working people a raise are running scared,” said Patrick, the ranking Democrat on the Legislature’s Labor Committee. “They’re pulling out all the stops to do everything they can to throw a wrench in the gears of Maine voters. We’ve opposed every single competing measure they’ve proposed so far. This one was no different.”

LePage, who forwarded LD 1695, has repeatedly argued that raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour would be disastrous for Maine’s economy, though he and most other Republicans have opposed numerous attempts to raise the wage in recent years — including a bid to raise it to $9 during the 126th Legislature.

The governor was scheduled to host a public town hall meeting at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle on Thursday night, but it was cancelled with no notification to the media or the public. Ted Talbot, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, greeted reporters and residents outside the venue and said the governor was involved in legislative business at the State House and couldn’t attend.

“The governor really enjoys having weekly dialogues around the state with the Maine people and he sincerely regrets not being able to attend,” wrote Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, in an email. “In the frenzied last days of the legislative session, there is just too much work to do in Augusta.”

 


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