Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks to the press in Portland on May 10, 2023. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills fired a warning shot against raising Maine’s minimum wage to $15 on Tuesday, a day after her fellow Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives advanced the idea by a single vote.

The amended proposal from Rep. Ben Collings, D-Portland, would boost the minimum wage from the current mark of $13.80 to $15 starting in 2024 with annual cost-of-living increase. The current mark was set in a 2016 referendum that also includes indexing, and Maine’s minimum wage is eighth-highest among states, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Democrats in the House pushed Collings’ bill through an initial 71-70 vote on Monday, and the Mills administration indicated that the governor is uncomfortable with the idea. However, a spokesperson did not commit to a veto if the legislation gets to the governor’s desk.

“She believes it is reasonable and provides much-needed predictability and certainty for employers, while also providing one of the highest minimum wages in the country for workers,” Mills spokesperson Ben Goodman said of the current wage structure set by referendum. “She would prefer Maine continue to follow this path.”

That statement mirrored testimony from the Maine Department of Labor against an original version of Collings’ bill that would have sharply hiked the minimum wage to at least $24 by 2033. Labor and progressive groups supported his measure from the beginning, while business interests were against it.

The Senate advanced the bill Tuesday in a 22-11 vote with little debate. But the measure was the subject of a heated debate in the House on Monday.

All Republicans voted against it, plus seven Democrats who broke ranks. They were Reps. Joe Perry of Bangor, Scott Landry of Farmington, Jim Dill of Old Town, Anne-Marie Mastraccio of Sanford, Ed Crockett of Portland, Jessica Fay of Raymond and Bruce White of Waterville.

Collings and a co-sponsor, Rep. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland, noted the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates the living wage in Maine for one adult with no children ranges from $14.28 in Aroostook County to $17.81 in the Portland area. With one child, the wage needed to cover basic necessities rises to $37.67 in Portland and $30.33 in Aroostook County.

“We ended up decreasing it because we wanted it to pass,” Geiger said in response to a question from a Republican who asked why the wage was not set at a higher mark. “We wanted to give at least a small boost to struggling Mainers.”

Opponents to the initial bill included the associations for state superintendents and school boards, Maine State Chamber of Commerce, and Maine Policy Institute, which argued small businesses employ more than half of all workers in Maine and that boosting the minimum wage would lead to higher costs, slower hiring and reduced hours for workers.

Republicans lined up against the measure on the House floor, with many arguing that the minimum wage is not designed to support heads of households and that another increase would further drive costs for Mainers.

“See, the people within this building are not realizing that they are creating the problems they are attempting to fix with bills,” Rep. Michael Lemelin, R-Chelsea, said.

Billy Kobin is a politics reporter who joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023. He grew up in Wisconsin and previously worked at The Indianapolis Star and The Courier Journal (Louisville, Ky.) after graduating...