After seven years without a federal or state increase to the minimum wage, the people of Maine overwhelmingly voted to raise their minimum wage to $12 by 2020 and end the subminimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Now, just one month later, Maine Governor Paul LePage is committed to overruling the will of the voters. He doesn’t get a legal veto so he is resorting to using bureaucratic shenanigans to subvert voters.
This past week Gov. LePage made clear in a statement that he would not enforce the new law. He would not do his job as chief executive of the state. Specifically he would not penalize Maine businesses that failed to pay the new $5 wage for tipped workers. Without this critical enforcement, the new law won’t benefit all the workers who voters wanted to serve with their vote. This flies in the face of the citizens who fought hard to get a fair wage for all state workers in the last election.
In fact, this ballot initiative was so popular that more Maine residents voted to raise the minimum wage than voted for Secretary Clinton, the winning presidential candidate in the state. They did so by 8 percentage points. That’s not a coincidence — it’s a clear mandate for change.
Across the country, this past election cycle, voters turned out and rejected a broken political system that was mired in inertia and apathy and used direct democracy to take action. The answer to these voters was simple — it was time for a raise and no elected official was going to stand in their way. On Election Day four states gave more than two million workers a pay boost by margins of 10 points and higher.
And Maine voters are not alone in facing opposition. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and other interest groups tried suing to block the ballot initiative — which passed with almost 20 percent support — from going into effect. This isn’t the first time these business groups have tried desperate ploys. Opponents of minimum wage know that their anti-worker position is unpopular with voters so first they tried to prevent voters from even having a say by blocking the ballot before voters could vote on it. They then failed to convince voters at the ballot box, so now they’re using a last ditch legal maneuver to block this very popular measure. It didn’t work when these corporate interests tried to keep it off the ballot and it won’t work now.
And don’t let Gov. LePage’s “pro-business” posturing fool you. He is disregarding actual business voices. If he paid any attention, Gov. LePage would know that more Maine businesses came out in support of the initiative than against it. More than 600 small business owners in Maine were extremely supportive of raising the wage, recognizing that it makes smart business sense to pay your workers fairly. They understand that when workers contribute to their communities, all businesses benefit.
Michael Landgarten, owner of Bob’s Clam Hut, Lil’s Café, and Robert’s Maine Grill in Kittery, put it simply:
“I believe every one of them — from fry cooks to bussers, from servers to sous chefs — deserve to be paid a fair wage for their work.”
Both the Chamber in Arizona and Gov. LePage in Maine are wrong to ignore the tide of support from Democrats, Republicans, and independents that agree on the need to address economic fairness. Neither the Arizona Chamber nor Gov. LePage in Maine could win with voters on the merits of their arguments so they’re now trying to throw away hundreds of thousands — the clear great majority — of votes. But the people have spoken.
The Chamber can’t use their lobby prowess to block a raise in Arizona and, while the Maine governor might have had the authority to block bills from the legislature, vetoing a raise multiple times, he cannot overturn the results of the ballot initiative.
The Fairness Project was proud to be a key ally in the ballot campaigns to raise Arizona’s and Maine’s minimum wage for all workers and we will continue to be on the front lines of these fights to make sure workers get a decent wage, access to paid sick leave, and fair scheduling for their work. We’re prepared to partner with states or cities where elected officials are ignoring calls for fairness because the most powerful voice is on our side: the voters.