Daily Brief: Blitz to raise minimum wage takes off today at the State House

Good morning and welcome to your Monday Daily Brief. It’s minimum wage day in Augusta and if you need a sound track, check out this old, 47-second, three-word (including “HEEYA!”) song from They Might Be Giants. Thanks to myself, I’ll be humming it all morning. Maybe you will too?

Seriously, though, supporters of raising Maine’s minimum wage have been waiting for this day for months. It’s a hot topic across the country and was a central issue during last year’s elections. Lawmakers on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee will be introduced to eight bills related to the minimum wage today beginning at 9:30 a.m.:

  • LD 36, An Act To Increase the Minimum Wage, Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship;
  • LD 52, An Act To Adjust Maine’s Minimum Wage, Rep. Danny Martin, D-Sinclair;
  • LD 72, An Act To Increase the Minimum Wage, Rep. Scott Hamann D-South Portland;
  • LD 77, An Act To Raise the Minimum Wage, Senator David Miramant, D-Camden;
  • LD 92, An Act To Increase the Minimum Wage to $8.00 per Hour, Rep. Dillon Bates, D-Westbrook;
  • LD 487, An Act To Provide for an Increase in the Minimum Wage, Rep. Ben Chipman, I-Portland;
  • LD 843, An Act To Raise the Minimum Wage and Index It to the National Average Wage, Rep. Gina Melaragno, D-Auburn;
  • LD 739, A Resolve To Establish a Working Group To Evaluate the Benefits and Detriments of Increasing the Minimum Wage, Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton.

Any of these bills faces an uphill fight. Though they’ll probably enjoy support by most Democrats, Republicans aren’t so sure. Republican Gov. Paul LePage is firmly on the record that he opposes raising the minimum wage at the state level because he believes it would put Maine at an economic disadvantage compared with nearby states. He has said, however, that he would be more receptive to Congress raising the minimum wage nationally, though the chances of that happening are even slimmer than they are here. 

Someone working full time in Maine at the minimum wage earns $15,600 a year, which is $4,190 below the federal poverty level. House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, is already using his influence in favor of the concept. 

“Maine’s comeback story depends on it,” he said Monday morning in a written statement. 

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce, as expected, is also weighing in and addressed the issue in its most recent newsletter

Elsewhere in Augusta, the Appropriations Committee is scheduled to spend most of the afternoon working on four supplemental budget bills related to spending in the current fiscal year.

The Criminal Justice Committee also has a busy day, including the introduction of two bills this afternoon, both sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, that are related to the funding and administration of county jails. Last month, the issue emerged as a marquee one for this session when lawmakers and LePage tangled over $2.5 million in emergency funding the jails needed to finish the current fiscal year, but then compromised on a plan that eliminated the Board of Corrections and put oversight of the jails under the Department of Corrections. That plan is good only until the end of June, though, leaving lawmakers with the task of finding a long-term fix that LePage will agree to. 

They already did that last year, but LePage refused to appoint members to the Board of Corrections, arguing that whoever runs the jail should pay the full cost of them. That essentially scrapped last year’s bill and leaves the Legislature starting over.

The Environment and Natural Resources Committee also has a busy day on a controversial topic: reducing or eliminating the use of plastic shopping bags in Maine. The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will work some bills related to campaign finance.

Want more details about the committee schedule for today? Check out the full list here. 

Off-site, the Maine Human Rights Commission is scheduled to re-consider the findings of an investigation involving a religious discrimination case at Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro. LePage has demanded that the case be re-opened and is refusing to sign a routine financial order that would transfer $4,000 of the commission’s own revenues to a personnel account. Check out my report on the issue from last week. — Christopher Cousins

The shrinking middle class

The Pew Charitable Trusts has released a new 50-state map that shows how America’s middle class has shrunk in every state between 2000 and 2013. The map also shows how many households are spending at least 30 percent of income on housing, which is what the feds think is an appropriate percentage, as well as the median income.

The takeaway for Maine is that 51.6 percent of Mainers were in the middle class in 2000, compared to 46.9 percent in 2013, which represents the most recent data. The median income here has also gone down in that time, from $51,317 annually in 2000, compared to $46,974 in 2013.

There’s more bad news, according to Pew: the percentage of families in Maine paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing went from 26 percent in 2000 to 34 percent in 2013.

In neighboring New Hampshire, for comparison, 47.9 percent of residents were considered middle class in 2013, and the median income was $64,230. — Christopher Cousins

Susan Collins: ‘Aging America’s Ally on the Hill’

Maine Sen. Susan Collins has had her photo all over the place in her long political career. She can now add another cover shot to her resume now that she’s been featured on AgingCare Magazine’s Spring 2015 edition. The magazine, which inside, features a photo of Collins with President Barack Obama, is calling Collins “Aging America’s Ally on the Hill.”

Among other things, Collins was recently appointed chairwoman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, a group of which she’s long been a member. According to the article, Collins is intent on using the role to increase resources for Alzheimer’s disease research and support, easier access to home care services and better care of veterans. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Cat-traption helps feline walk again

After you get through the brutal description of the abuse suffered by Emerson the cat, an amazing story emerges from the BDN’s Julia Bayly about what humans can do for the animal kingdom if they so choose.

Emerson was so injured when he arrived at the Houlton Humaine Society that he had no control over his back legs. But as Bayly wrote, it’s hard to keep a good cat down. Emerson is finding new independence after being fitted with a kitty wheelchair.

Emerson has his own Facebook page — with 14,000 friends — and has helped raise thousands of dollars for local animal rescue organizations.

“The mailman asked me not long ago, ‘Who the heck is Emerson?'” said Houlton Humane Society Executive Director Heather Miller. “He gets way more letters and packages than I do and has a lot more clothes than I do because people keep sending him outfits.”

My sister and I used to put doll clothes on our cat, Fuzzy, and all we received in return were angry glares and a twitching tail. I guess Emerson is unique in more ways than one. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.