Former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling holds a sign during a press conference at City Hall on Nov. 4, 2020. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Progressives in Maine’s largest city are rushing to put an aggressive economic agenda on the November ballot, including an $18 minimum wage and new restrictions on housing and cruise ships.

The campaign to put four questions on the Portland ballot comes from the Democratic Socialists of America, which led another progressive slate of referendum questions in 2020 that enshrined a minimum wage that will rise to $15 by 2024, plus rent control and a “Green New Deal” that mandated affordable units and heightened environmental standards on certain new buildings.

All of those questions were opposed by business interests led by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce against progressive figures in the city. They include former Mayor Ethan Strimling, who helped develop the new slate. The leader of the chamber said on Friday the proposals would “jeopardize everything that makes up the heart of Portland.”

One of the proposals would raise the city’s hourly minimum wage by $5, according to a summary published in the DSA Maine’s magazine. Just as notably in a city nationally recognized for its food scene, it would repeal the minimum wage for tipped workers that now sits at $6.50, half of the minimum for non-tipped workers.

“Simply put: every person that works in Portland should be able to afford to live in Portland,” the chapter said.

The other proposals are aggressive as well. They would strengthen tenant protections and reduce the number of short-term rentals and bar cruise ships from disembarking more than 1,000 people per day in the city, citing congestion in the Old Port area and emissions.

All of these subjects have been parts of high-profile debates in Portland. After a smaller minimum wage increase in 2015, councilors accidentally raised the tipped wage and promptly reversed themselves. The proposed $18 minimum would be nearly five times higher than the tipped minimum was at that time.

The 2020 minimum wage increase also tied hazard pay to a pandemic state of emergency, which made it so the minimum wage in Portland briefly rose to $19.50 in January before the city council’s repeal of the emergency took effect. That was a major fight because wages were directly tied to the vote.

The campaign is a particularly rushed one. Activists should typically file questions with the city in April to get them on the November ballot, said city spokesperson Jessica Grondin. Proponents must get 1,500 signatures for each of the questions and submit them by June 24. Hearings and votes before the city council could last through mid-August.

Portland’s chamber of commerce was reviewing the items on Friday, Quincy Hentzel, the group’s CEO, said in a statement. She called them examples of “failed DSA-Strimling policies.”

“We plan to work with a broad group of community leaders to stand up against these proposals that would jeopardize everything that makes up the heart of Portland,” she said.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...