Small business owners, workers weigh in on a series of minimum wage bills

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Public hearings were held Monday on the seven bills this session dealing with minimum wage.

Six of the bills are aimed at helping small businesses by either lowering the minimum wage in different circumstances or slowing the implementation process of Maine's new minimum wage.

Mainers voted in a 2016 referendum to increase the minimum wage to $12/hour.

That rise has come in one dollar per year increments and will be complete next year.

"I don't know what the answer is going to be for a lot of small businesses in rural Maine," said Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford. "I don't know how they're going to make it."

Keim says rural Maine small businesses are being put out of business by the rising minimum wage.

She's introduced a bill for rural Maine to gradually get to $12/hour in 2022, rather than next year.

If passed, it would go into effect for every county except Cumberland county, minus the towns of Baldwin, Bridgton, Harrison and Naples.

"What we're doing is we're gutting rural Maine of these small businesses, and they're not going to come back," said Keim. "They don't have the ability to cut costs like large stores do."

Small business owner Beth Francis agrees.

"I'm very concerned," said Francis, who owns The Storekeepers, a convenience store in Hebron that sells gas, groceries, and take-out food. "We may go out of business. We're struggling more and more that this goes up. I'm running out of options as to how to compensate for the increases. I think that we'll overprice ourselves, and we won't be able to carry ourselves anymore."

Others testified in support of the higher minimum wage.

"All the evidence points to the same conclusion," said James Myall, a policy analyst at the Maine Center for Economic Policy. "There have been no widespread negative impacts. Employment is up. Unemployment rates remain at record lows. Mainers are working more hours and taking home bigger paychecks."

The only bill presented that would raise the minimum wage is for businesses with 50 or more employees, increasing the minimum to
$15/hour by 2023.

"When you have companies that have so much wealth, and they're not willing to pay their workers, and that the workers have to go on public assistance -- that's a huge problem for our society, and this bill is one way to hopefully rectify that," said Rep. Ben Collings, D-Portland.

The bills face further work sessions and votes.