By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,235)
The city’s finance committee met this evening to continue the conversation on Mayor Michael Brennan’s goal of implementing a citywide minimum wage. This conversation began last spring when Mayor Brennan convened a task force to work out the details of such an ordinance with the now unlikely intention of having the city council vote on it by the end of this year, at the latest.
As outlined in a memorandum from acting city manager Sheila Hill-Christian and city corporation counsel Danielle West-Chuhta dated November 20th, the minimum wage would be $9.50 an hour starting July 1, 2015; $10.10 starting January 1, 2016 and $10.68 starting January 1, 2017 for those over 18 years of age, unless they are seeking academic credits. Following that, future increases would by determined by the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.
Mayor Brennan responded to questions previously posed by Finance Committee members. Complaints about failure to comply with the ordinance could be filed with the city manager and then referred to city counsel. The city does have the legal authority to raise the minimum wage, although it could be challenged in a court of law. There is no precedent for that. The Mayor said that most employers are paying more than the minimum wage, but just how much more is hard to know. He said there is no evidence that such a wage increase would cause job losses.
Greg Dugal, of the Maine Restaurant Association, said this issue should be a federal or state matter, that it is too much too fast and there will have to be wage adjustments. Chris O’Neil, of the Portland Community Chamber, cautioned the committee against creating a monster. “Some believe that minimum wage increases is a wave sweeping across the country but that is not correct,” he said. However, since President Obama called for a minimum wage increase in early 2013, thirteen (13) states and the District of Columbia have passed increases to their minimum wage. Cities like Philadelphia, Louisville and St. Louis have raised their minimum wage. O’Neil recommended making the decision by referendum. Curtis Picard, Executive Director, of the Retail Association of Maine asked the Mayor what he would do to lower the costs of businesses in the city. He also objected to using the Consumer Price Index because “it only goes up.” Chris Jones, of the Maine Restaurant Association, warned that if this ordinance passes, “restaurants would flee the city.” He reasoned that since restaurants are the backbone of the Portland economy, they deserve special consideration. On and on and on it went- ad nauseam – trying to punch holes in a thoughtfully crafted ordinance.
Steve DiMillo, of DiMillo’s Restaurant, said the wait staff “are the highest earners in a restaurant.” The ordinance would cost him $139,000. “Where am I going to get that?” he asked puzzled.
The next meeting of the finance committee is on December 11th. Two members of the committee were absent so there was no quorum. As a result, no votes could be taken at tonight’s meeting.