Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling BDN Agree to Disagree bloggers. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Phil: Back when I served in the state Senate, I remember debating whether to push the $5.15 minimum wage to $5.75 an hour. As Democrats all claimed it wouldn’t hurt jobs, someone from my side said, “Well, if raising the minimum wage doesn’t hurt small businesses, then why not just push it to $20!” Imagine my surprise when I saw that you and your cohorts have taken my colleague up on his challenge by pushing to raise it to $18 an hour!

Ethan: I can’t tell which is more troubling, that you were in the Senate when the minimum wage was $5.15 or that you think $18 is a lot for someone to earn!

Phil: It was actually $3.55 an hour when I was first elected to the Yarmouth Town Council. While I don’t think $18 an hour is a lot for someone to earn, I sure think it is a lot for you to force a business to pay a teenager.

Ethan: Here’s what’s on the ballot in Portland. The initiative raises the minimum wage to $18 an hour for about 18,000 workers by 2025. It will also eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and it creates a local department of labor.

Phil: Each one of those deserves its own no vote. But I’ll start with $18. You do realize the $5 bump you are asking for is 38 percent over the current $13. Even Joe Biden’s inflation isn’t that high!

Ethan: Our base wage in Portland is basically $15, so this bump is entirely reasonable.

Phil: If the base wage is already $15, driven by market forces, that is $30,000 a year. You think teenagers need $36,000?

Ethan: Most people earning minimum wage in Portland are adult women and only 10 percent are under 18. And many of them are supporting their families. But, sadly, two earners working full time at even $18 an hour barely qualify for what is considered affordable housing in this town. 

Phil: The reason your town is so unaffordable is because activists keep trying to hijack the market at the voting booth. If this referendum passes, watch how quickly the currently overpriced $18 cheeseburger becomes $22. And speaking of restaurants, from what I hear, even restaurant workers don’t want you to eliminate the tipped credit.

Ethan: Not true. Four out five actually do. Here’s what one server wrote recently about the economic roller-coaster of being a server in Portland: “I can recall many midweek lunch shifts – the only shifts I could feasibly work as a single mother of a school-aged child – where I left with less than $50 in tips for an entire eight-hour shift.”

Phil: Obviously some shifts won’t be as good as others, but no worker can be paid less than the minimum wage if their tips don’t make up the difference.

Ethan: Why should someone’s hard-earned tips make up the difference of what they are required to be paid? That is what former enslavers did to avoid paying newly freed Blacks. A server should be able to keep 100 percent of their tips while not having to use part of them to subsidize the wage their boss is supposed to be paying.

Phil: Sure, but 100 percent of nothing is nothing when that boss can’t afford to hire them! Quickly, what’s with this new layer of bureaucracy you want to create with a $300,000 local Department of Labor?

Ethan: It’s to enforce local labor laws like our higher minimum wages, increased safety protections, or our local job training requirements for employers. The state won’t do it.

Phil: Ah yes, my favorite part of liberalism. Pass government regulations that will require us to grow the government to enforce those regulations another bureaucracy doesn’t enforce!

Ethan: Whatever it takes to protect the worker.