The Maine Heritage Policy Center launched a campaign this week against a November referendum to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $12 per hour by 2020.
It’s off to a rocky start.
The Center, which is connected to billionaires Charles and David Koch, announced its opposition during a press conference in the capital Augusta, where business owner Rick Snow, who is running for office in Maine, suggested that raising the wage would only provide more drug money to poorly paid workers.
“Where would that money be spent? We’ve heard about the opiate issues in the state of Maine. Are we going to add more income to individuals so they can spend it on illegal activities? I’m very concerned about that,” said Snow, Republican candidate for District 47 in the Maine House of Representatives and former director of Maine’s Bureau of Labor Standards, according to The Maine Beacon.
Blowback has been intense. Proponents of the referendum, along with people hurt by the heroin epidemic, were outraged by Snow’s comments.
“Workers in Maine and across the country will use these raises to make ends meet, pay the rent and put food on the table for their families,” Ryan Johnson, executive director of The Fairness Project, told The Huffington Post. “Comments like these prove how out of touch these opposition groups are with the rest of America.”
Single mothers raising their children in poverty and senior citizens who can’t afford to retire are desperate for better pay, Amy Halsted, campaign manager for Mainers for Fair Wages, said in response to Snow’s comments. By blaming this on drug users, he is punishing honest, hard-working Mainers, Halsted said.
Snow, however, is now ready to move on from the minimum wage campaign. “I think this referendum is not something we should be focusing a lot of money and attention toward when we should be focusing on more significant concerns, like the heavy overdoses and the heroin epidemic in our state,” he told HuffPost Friday. He added that he pays his own employees above the minimum wage, and many are working their first jobs and drive nice cars.
Officials at the Maine Heritage Policy Center claim that raising the minimum wage would lead to prices hikes and higher unemployment, though research in the state indicates otherwise.
The referendum to raise the minimum wage will be on the ballot in the November general election, as will similar initiatives in several other U.S. states, including Arizona and Colorado.
If the referendum passes, as a recent poll out of the University of New Hampshire predicts, the minimum wage will increase to $9 an hour in 2017 and by an additional dollar each year until 2020, when it will cap at $12 an hour.