- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine voters could see two competing minimum wage questions on the state ballot in November.

Business groups in Maine on Wednesday will roll out a plan to boost the minimum wage to $10 an hour as an alternative to an initiative by residents that would bring it to $12 hour.

The issue is critical to the business community, said Chuck Lawrence, owner of Tradewinds Marketplace, which operates grocery stores, car washes and convenience stores around the state. He said raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour would causes businesses to reduce staffing and increase prices.

He said the additional labor costs could cause some businesses in rural parts of the state to shut down.

“That kind of cost increase puts tremendous pressure on cash flow and being able to cover operating expenses,” Lawrence said.

The business groups until now have opposed every bill that would boost the minimum wage, including a modest measure that would increase it by just 50 cents, said Mike Tipping, spokesman for the Maine People’s Alliance.

He said the groups’ plan for a competing measure is designed to split the popular vote so neither measure wins a majority.

“This is a cynical political play to try to derail a real minimum wage increase,” he said.

The business coalition, which includes the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Association of Maine, want the Legislature to send its plan to voters in November.

The plan calls for an $8.50 hourly wage in 2017 with 50-cent annual increases to $10 an hour by 2020.

It’s a response to the Maine People’s Alliance effort to raise the minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 an hour in 2017, followed by annual increases to $12 an hour by 2020. The left-leaning group collected more than enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The Legislature now has several choices. It can pass the measure and make it law. It can reject the measure, which would automatically put it on the ballot. It could reject the measure and also put its own “competing measure” on the ballot.

The ballot would be designed to require voters to make a choice. They could not vote “yes” for both measures. However, they could reject both.

Maine voters last saw a competing measure in 2003 when Gov. John Baldacci and the Legislature put a modest school funding question on the ballot to compete with a more ambitious measure. Voters rejected both.

The Legislature could develop a competing measure that is different that the business coalition’s proposal. However, the coalition carries weight because it has the financial resources to fund a political campaign.

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