The Maine Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee is reviewing new bills and amendments to existing laws that could have a profound impact on the state minimum wage.

Among the bills discussed at the committee’s meeting Tuesday are proposals both to increase and potentially limit the minimum wage.

Rep. Benjamin Collings, D-Portland, introduced a bill, cosponsored by Rep. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland, to increase the hourly minimum wage from its current level, $13.80, to $15 at the start of 2024. The minimum would then increase by at least $1 a year through 2033, after which the increases would be tied to hikes in the cost of living.

The Legislature first set the state’s minimum wage at $1 an hour in 1959. Over time, that amount periodically and gradually increased to $7.50 in 2008. In 2016, 55% of the state’s voters approved a larger boost through a series of yearly increases.

“The cost of living and doing business has kept going up,” he said, adding that until the 2016 referendum, “the real wages of working people did not.”

Both Collings and Geiger have leaned on data from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage calculator. That data finds that Maine’s average living wage rate currently sits at $16.53 an hour – over $2 an hour higher than the state minimum wage. That gap continues to increase when you add children into the mix.


“We have an acute labor force shortage despite being seen as a highly desirable place to live with low wages, high living costs and a huge surge in the cost of housing since the pandemic,” Geiger said. “We are facing a crisis and I believe the viability of our state’s very future is uncertain.”

Some committee members questioned whether the bill would negatively impact Maine’s businesses and overall economy. Rep. Gary Drinkwater, R-Milford, repeatedly questioned whether this bill could “be undoing the will of the voters” who in 2016 “set the pace for the increases in the minimum wage.”

“Not at all,” Geiger asserted. “I think that was the most voters could hope for at the time … the most that we could imagine.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, there was a clear divide between where labor advocates and business interests came down on the bill.

Labor advocates with the Maine People’s Alliance, Center for Economic Policy and Maine AFL-CIO, the state’s federation of labor unions, all spoke in favor of the bill.

Adam Goode, legislative director of the Maine AFL-CIO, said the bill has the potential to improve not just the lives of people earning the minimum wage, but people in middle- and high-income jobs, as well as business owners.


“(Maine AFL-CIO’s) general economic perspective is that more money in the hands of people that need it, will spend it more quickly, will help the economy,” Goode said.

Several business advocates testified against the bill.

Curtis Picard, president of the Retail Association of Maine, submitted written testimony that emphasizes the importance of maintaining a “stable business environment.”

Just a couple hours later, the Labor and Housing Committee heard a presentation and testimony on a bill that would make the minimum wage uniform statewide.


“An Act to Promote Minimum Wage Consistency by Limiting the Authority of Municipalities Regarding Minimum Hourly Pay,” introduced by Rep. Joshua Morris, R-Turner, would bar municipalities or “other political subdivisions” from establishing their own minimum hourly wage for public and private employers, whether that falls below or above the state minimum wage.


The act would add complications for municipalities like Portland and Rockland, which have set their own minimum wages that exceed the state’s rate. Portland voters passed a referendum in 2020 to increase the city’s minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2024.

Rep. Dick Bradstreet, R-Vassalboro, who presented the bill on behalf of Morris, said that differing minimum wage rates between different municipalities makes work harder for business owners, is a disadvantage to customers who might have to pay more in communities with higher wages, and ultimately complicates the system.

“This bill is about establishing uniformity and predictability for our businesses,” Bradstreet said.

Both bills now move on to work sessions in the Labor and Housing Committee – which haven’t yet been scheduled. Committee members will vote on whether to bring the bill to the floor.

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