Why Portland, Maine, voted against $15 minimum wage

Unlike other metropolitan areas around the US, Maine's largest city voted against a $15 an hour wage for hourly employees.

AP Photo/Mike Groll/File
In this July 22, 2015 file photo, supporters of a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers rally in front of a McDonald's in Albany, N.Y. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to phase in a minimum wage jump from the current $8.75 to $15.

Voters in Portland, Maine, on Tuesday decided against increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

This may have come as a surprise to some, especially in a city that is generally ranked among the most liberal in the country: 46.9 percent of voters in the city are registered Democrats, and only 13.9 percent are registered Republicans.  

Critics of the proposed bill said that their reasons were economic rather than political; many small business in and around the city said that they would be unable to afford it.

“Right now, I’m feeling a huge sense of relief for every small business owner in Portland, and everyone who works for me,” Scott Rousseau, owner of Play It Again Sports in Portland, told the Portland Press Herald after the vote results were announced. “I think it’s great news for the future of our city.” He added that the increase would have either forced him to cut staff or put him out of business.

In 2009, Maine’s minimum wage was $7.50 an hour. This September, Portland voted to increase its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, beginning in January of next year.

Critics of the proposed $15 an hour wage increase campaigned under the banner of “too far, too fast,” arguing that it would be too much for small businesses in Maine to handle.

“Really large businesses – think grocery stores and national banks – will simply absorb the cost," wrote Michael Cianchette, former chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage, in an opinion piece for the Bangor Daily News.  

"On the other hand, small Maine businesses – the ones everyone supports – oppose the referendum nearly 2-to-1. They do not have the scale to blithely bury the increased cost.” 

Portland is not the only place to vote against raising the minimum wage for hourly employees.

In September, the Missouri Senate voted, 23 to 9, to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that would forbid Kansas City, St. Louis, and other Missouri cities from increasing the minimum wage above $7.65, the current statewide rate.

Then, in October, a new ordinance to raise Kansas City’s minimum wage was repealed. But Sly James, the mayor of Kansas City, said that he is still interested in raising Missouri’s overall minimum wage.

“It would be inaccurate and misguided ... to construe this procedural action as anything other than a recognition of what Kansas City can and cannot do under state law,” Mr. James said in a statement. “[This] action [on Kansas City wages] is not a repudiation of the substance of the ordinance, or a statement against workers. To the contrary, I am committed to helping raise the statewide minimum wage.”

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