- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill to hike the minimum wage this summer, but Democrats say it’s a ploy to undermine a more ambitious pay increase that voters are set to decide on the November state ballot.

The Legislature will vote Friday when they meet to take up a growing number of vetoes by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

The bill, which LePage introduced in the last days of the session, would raise the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 and eventually to $10. The bill has an “emergency” preamble, which would allow it to become law in 90 days if passed with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

Many Democrats - who have long fought to increase the minimum wage - plan to vote it down. That’s because they support a citizen-initiated ballot question that would ramp up the minimum wage to $12 an hour.

The state’s business community and their Republican allies in the Legislature say a $12 an hour minimum wage would burden many businesses with excessive labor costs and force some to close their doors.

Republicans earlier in the session tried to pass a bill that would have put the $10 an hour plan on the November ballot as well. Democrats defeated it, saying it was just an attempt to split the popular vote so neither measure could win a majority.

The voter referendum’s supporters say the latest bill is another trick designed to sap support for the ballot initiative. They also warn it could face a court challenge because it’s not an emergency measure.

Mike Tipping, a spokesman for the Maine People’s Alliance, which spearheaded the signature gathering campaign, predicted that the business interests backing the bill will fail to win much support.

“I don’t think the legislators are as stupid as these lobbyists think they are,” said

Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, said it makes no sense for Democrats to block the wage increase because voters will be able to support a higher wage increase with a stand-alone ballot question in November.

“It’s like a gift to them,” she said. “They can raise the minimum wage and still have the option to raise it again.”

Ronald Schmidt Jr., who teaches political science at the University of Southern Maine, said the bill puts Democratic lawmakers in a tough spot by forcing them to vote against increasing the minimum wage.

“It really puts the Democrats on the defensive to set it up that way,” he said.

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