What will Portland’s minimum wage be? There are at least five possibilities

Mayor Michael Brennan during an October campaign rally for former gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine. (BDN photo Troy R. Bennett)

Mayor Michael Brennan during an October campaign rally for former gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine. (BDN photo Troy R. Bennett)

Portland City Councilor and former state lawmaker Jon Hinck announced on Wednesday that he, Mayor Michael Brennan and fellow councilor Justin Costa would be reviving a proposal to establish a citywide minimum wage of $10.10 per hour by Jan. 1, 2016.

The City Council is already due to consider a minimum wage ordinance at its Monday night meeting that would place the lowest allowable wage in Portland at $8.75 per hour. That number is the one the council’s Finance Committee settled on in April.

The committee received a proposal from Brennan, who had convened a special task force to study the issue of a citywide minimum wage a year earlier. After that research, the mayor put forward a plan to establish a minimum wage of $9.50 by July 1 — too late for that now, obviously.

Jon Hinck (BDN file photo)

Jon Hinck (BDN file photo)

Brennan’s initial plan called for that wage to increase to $10.10 by Jan. 1, 2016, and then to $10.68 12 months later. The proposal then tied the citywide minimum wage to annual increases in the Consumer Price Index, so that the number would automatically and incrementally go up over time.

Opponents of the minimum wage proposal, primarily including low-margin retail and food franchise owners, argued the additional payroll costs would cancel out their revenues and force them to close or move away.

A majority on the city’s Finance Committee, seeking to be responsive to those concerns, scaled the mayor’s proposal back so that the initial minimum wage would be $8.75 per hour, then forwarded the revised version to the larger council for consideration.

With his announcement Wednesday, Hinck made it clear that at least three on the council will seek to revise it back to the mayor’s original proposal — except that with the July 1 milestone already passed, to start at the Jan. 1 mark included in the plan.

So just coming out of the council’s deliberations, there are three clear possibilities for what the city’s minimum wage could be as early as next year:

  1. The Finance Committee’s $8.75 per hour option.
  2. Hinck and Brennan’s $10.10 per hour option.
  3. Or neither, and the city falls back on the default statewide minimum wage of $7.50.

To be clear, just as Hinck plans to propose an amendment to go with the $10.10 per hour plan, other city councilors could come up with other alternatives, so that number could really be anything (as long as it’s higher than the state wage) after the council’s done debating the issue.

And given the progressive makeup of the council, it’d be relatively safe to consider option No. 3 to be unlikely, but it’s definitely on the table and opponents of a wage increase will undoubtedly push for it.

At the same time the council is debating those proposals, the Portland Green Independent Party is seeking to put a referendum on the city ballot establishing a $15-per-hour minimum wage here. If that petition drive is successful and the referendum passes, that higher minimum wage would override any wage put in place by the council.

Meanwhile, the left-leaning Maine People’s Alliance is attempting to collect signatures in support of a statewide minimum wage referendum, which would put the minimum wage at $9 per hour in 2017 and push it up to $12 per hour by 2020.

According to the Pew Research Center, when adjusted for inflation, Americans enjoyed the highest minimum wage back in 1968, when it was $8.54 per hour (in today’s dollars). The institution also reported that — since 2009, when both the state and federal minimum wages were placed at their current levels — those wages have lost about 8.1 percent of their buying power thanks to inflation.

While each of the plans mentioned above features different implementation phases, we could pick a date in the future when any would be in effect — July 1, 2017, let’s say.

On that date, in order of wage amounts:

  • If neither City Council plan is adopted and no referendum or other legislative action passes, the minimum wage in Portland on July 1, 2017, would be $7.50 per hour.
  • If the Finance Committee plan is adopted, and no other referendum passes, the minimum wage in Portland on July 1, 2017, would be $8.75 per hour.
  • If the Maine People’s Alliance proposal is approved by statewide voters, but the Green Party plan isn’t, the minimum wage in Portland on July 1, 2017, would be $9 per hour.
  • If the Hinck-Brennan-Costa plan is adopted, and no other referendum passes, the minimum wage in Portland on July 1, 2017, would be $10.68 per hour.
  • If the Green Party proposal is approved by Portland voters, the minimum wage in Portland on July 1, 2017, would be $12 per hour for employers with fewer than 500 employees and $15 per hour for employers with more than that many workers.

Prefer to have it laid out by proposal? Here are all the details:

The Finance Committee Plan

Would establish the citywide minimum wage at $8.75 per hour on Jan. 1, 2016; $9.25 on Jan. I, 2018; and $9.75 on Jan. 1, 2020. This proposal does not include an escalator clause that automatically increases the minimum wage beyond 2020. Tipped employees, like restaurant waiters, would be excluded from the citywide minimum wage under this scenario. Tipped workers can currently be paid half of the state minimum wage, with the expectation that tips from customers make up the difference in earnings.

The Hinck-Brennan-Costa Plan

Would establish the citywide minimum wage at $10.10 per hour on Jan. 1, 2016. On Jan. 1, 2017, the minimum wage would be raised to $10.68 per hour; and then beginning on July 1, 2018, the minimum wage would be increased according to the annual rise in the Consumer Price Index at the start of every fiscal year. Tipped employees are also excluded from this plan as well.

The Green Party Plan

According to The Forecaster’s David Harry, under this plan, private employers with at least 500 employees would have to pay $12 per hour beginning July 1, 2016, and $15 per hour by July 1, 2017. Private employers with fewer than 500 employees would be required to pay $10 per hour by July 1, 2016; $12 by July 1, 2017; $13.50 by July 1, 2018; and $15 by July 1, 2019.

(The requirements are based on the number of employees in a company nationwide, so local franchise owners of nationwide chains would likely fall into the 500-plus category.)

For tipped employees under the Green plan, employers would continue to subtract up to $3.75 — the difference between the current, statewide minimum wage of $7.50 and allowable tipped wage of $3.75 — from the new citywide minimum wage.

As David pointed out, a tipped wage under that scenario would incrementally increase to $11.25 per hour by July 1, 2019. The Green Party proposal would not apply to municipal employees, who are exempt under the City Charter’s rules governing citizen initiatives.

Maine People’s Alliance Plan

According to my colleague, Mario Moretto, this plan would increase Maine’s minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and by an additional dollar per hour each year until 2020. After that, the state’s minimum wage would be tied to the cost of living, using the aforementioned Consumer Price Index. The minimum wage for tipped workers, currently set at $3.75 per hour, would increase to $5 per hour in 2017. After that, the tipped minimum wage would increase steadily until it closed the gap with the non-tipped minimum in 2024.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.