Portland’s November ballot will likely be dominated by a slate of progressive economic proposals, including one that would bump the minimum wage to $18 an hour, after organizers said they have turned in enough signatures to put those measures before the city’s voters.
The Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America turned in 2,000 signatures for each of its four questions on Thursday, said Wes Pelletier, a campaign organizer for the group. That is a comfortable margin above the 1,500 signees needed to put a question on the ballot and a quick turnaround for a campaign launched earlier this month.
The city is in the process of finalizing the signature counts, according to the city clerk’s office.
The four questions focused on renting, wages and tourism strike at the heart of the economic questions that Portland has faced in recent years. Entrenched business advocates are already preparing to oppose the referendums. They will surely dominate the local political season with rising rents and a tight housing market stressing people’s ability to stay in the city and a successful track record for the Democratic Socialists of America’s past effort to increase the local minimum wage.
“The idea is that people who work here should be able to stay here,” Pelletier said.
One question would seek to bump Portland’s minimum wage to $18 an hour and repeal the minimum wage of $6.50 for tipped workers. Maine’s current statewide minimum wage stands at $12.75 per hour.
Another would limit the capacity of cruise ships allowed to visit the city to 1,000 in an effort to reduce congestion and environmental impacts.
The campaign also seeks to give renters more protections through another question requiring more notice before a no-cause eviction and eliminating application fees.
Another question would reduce the number of short-term rentals by limiting them to just owner-occupied duplexes and requiring the city to notify neighbors when a short-term rental has been approved within 500 feet of them, Pelletier said.
Those proposals will likely face stiff opposition from interests representing businesses and landlords. Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Quincy Hentzel said progressive advocates’ prior efforts to increase hazard pay and cap rent increases to the rate of inflation had caused economic uncertainty in the city during tough times.
“We cannot trust the Democratic Socialists of America to craft policies behind closed doors,” she said.
There will also be another rental-focused referendum brought by a “loose group” of short-term rental owners, said Chris Korzen, a software development manager and short-term rental unit owner in Portland.
That measure is not meant to compete against the DSA’s proposal, he said. It would ban corporations from owning short-term rentals and require owners of those properties to live within 20 miles of Portland or have a local contact to respond to complaints. It includes a grandfather clause for current operators who do not meet those requirements.
The question would also raise penalties for people who lie on their applications to operate a short-term rental and try to prevent property owners from evicting long-term tenants so they can convert their units into short-term rentals. The initiative would put a one-year wait on getting a short-term rental license for any property owner who issues a no-cause eviction, Korzen said.
That proposal got 1,800 signatures and has been verified by the city.
“We want to make sure that the purpose of short-term rentals is in service of the city, not people from away capitalizing on it at the expense of residents,” he said.