Radio Address: Patrick says it's time to let voters decide minimum wage

Posted: March 04, 2016 | Senator Patrick, Weekly Radio Address

This week, a group of business special interests announced their plan to interfere with a citizen initiative to raise the minimum wage. They say they’re interested in helping low-wage workers, but that’s a joke to anyone who’s been paying attention.

Hi, this is Senator John Patrick from Rumford.

Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, speaks during a labor rally in Augusta.

Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, speaks during a labor rally in Augusta.

Our minimum wage is too low. It hasn’t kept up with the cost of living. At $7.50 per hour, we know that Mainers earning the minimum wage today have less purchasing power than they had forty years ago.

This isn’t some new phenomena. Our minimum wage has been too low for a long time, and the Legislature has had lots of chances to fix it.

Just last year, we considered seven bills to raise the minimum wage. These proposals all differed in their implementation; One would have raised the minimum wage by just 50 cents. Others would have raised it more.

Special interests representing businesses that pay low wages opposed every single one of those proposals. I listened to them rail against raising the minimum wage just 50 cents. They sounded like Chicken Little, saying the sky will fall down if they had to pay their workers $8 per hour instead of $7.50.

Too many lawmakers fell in line with those special interests. They also opposed every bill to increase the minimum wage. The same scenario has played out for nearly a decade.

So voters took matters into their own hands and gathered more than 75,000 signatures for a citizen initiative that would slowly raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour, and give a raise to tipped workers.

Now, those same special interests that fought a fair minimum wage are in a scramble. Their new scheme is to push for a so-called “alternative” to the citizen initiative. They’re asking the Legislature to put a second minimum wage question on the ballot. This question would raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour, it would not include raise for tipped workers, and would compete directly with the voters’ citizen initiative.

These special interests say a competing measure is necessary because $12 is too high. But just last year, they said a minimum wage of just 50 cents more would be too much to bear. Now they say they can afford an increase of five times that much? Which is it?

This proposed “competing measure” doesn’t pass the smell test. Why should we believe that the Restaurant Association, the Innkeepers Association and the Chamber of Commerce — who have all opposed the minimum wage for years — suddenly care about paying people a living wage? I don’t buy it.

These special interests have had years to back a minimum wage. Instead, they fought working people at every turn. The low-wage businesses of the world have had their chance to weigh in on the minimum wage, and their answer has always been “no.” Now it’s time to let the voters decide.

I’m Senator John Patrick. Thanks for listening.