By Scott Thistle
Gov. Paul LePage affirmed his statement Friday that two advocates of a state ballot question to increase the minimum wage should be jailed, saying they are guilty of the "attempted murder" of senior citizens because of the alleged impact of a wage increase.
LePage, who first suggested Mike Tipping and Ben Chin should be jailed for supporting the ballot question during an appearance before the Lewiston-Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, repeated that during a phone-in interview on the South Portland-based WGAN radio, saying, "They are deliberately and knowingly hurting Mainers."
"To me when you go out and kill somebody, you go to jail. Well, this is attempted murder in my mind because it is pushing people to the brink of survival," LePage said of the proposed minimum wage increase.
LePage has argued the wage increase will push the prices of consumer goods and services beyond the reach of retirees on fixed incomes and said he believed Tipping and Chin were committing a moral crime.
Tipping and Chin are both employed by Maine People's Alliance, a non-profit progressive organization that frequently backs Democratic initiatives and is one of the major groups pushing for a stepped increase to Maine's minimum wage. The wage will rise to $12 an hour by 2020, if voters approve ballot Question 4 on Nov. 8.
Tipping said Friday he was less concerned about being jailed than he was about countering LePage's "nonsensical" allegations. He pointed to a recent policy brief by the National Employment Law Project that shows a minimum wage hike in Maine would actually benefit many seniors.
LePage's comments about the minimum wage begin at about 1:55 minutes.
Tipping said about 36,000 Mainers over the age of 65 are still working, with a third of that group making low wages that would be increased if the referendum passes. A University of California Berkley study of the impacts of a minimum wage hike in Maine shows prices would increase by only .9 percent over a four-year period. "That is an exceedingly small impact on prices, and far less than the Congressional Budget Office's current projection for core inflation, which is expected to be approximately 2 percent per year in future years," the study states.
"The combination of so many seniors who are working hard and can't retire, working low-wage jobs and so many caregivers in those kind of positions that pay low wages and often aren't there for seniors who need them in an aging state, that makes this issue desperately important for seniors in Maine," Tipping said.
Tipping also noted that LePage is refusing to release $50 million in voter-approved bonds that would be used to build needed affordable housing for seniors in Maine. LePage's refusal to issue the bonds has been a concern for state lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, and other organization that advocate for the elderly in Maine.
More than 168 candidates running for election or reelection to the Maine Legislature have signed a pledge to pass legislation that would force LePage to release the bonds, according to the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition.
"Without the release of these bond funds, the supply of affordable homes for Maine's seniors will continue to fall further behind the need," Greg Payne, the director of the coalition said in a prepared statement. "Employing Maine workers to build the affordable homes that Maine seniors need is a smart and effective use of our state's bond capacity. We urge the Governor to release the Senior Affordable Housing Bond as soon as possible, and are encouraged by this strong bipartisan response from legislative candidates seeking to ensure that the will of Maine voters is respected."
LePage has repeatedly said he is refusing to release the bonds because they are intended to make only a handful of Maine developers, "millionaires overnight." But he hasn't elaborated which developers he is talking about. The bonds would also be subject to competitive bidding that would be managed by the Maine State Housing Authority.
LePage's comments about Tipping and Chin on Thursday drew a rebuke from the head of American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, among others. LePage, who is backing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, appears to be following Trump's lead in insisting a political opponent should be imprisoned. Trump said last Sunday that, if elected, he would appoint a special prosecutor to go after his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for crimes some conservatives are charging Clinton with but which have been largely refuted by a several Congressional hearings and investigations of the U.S. Justice Department and FBI.
LePage also said Friday, "Our Constitution is going to have to change because we are not going to be able to function." It was unclear if LePage was speaking about the state or federal constitution.
The governor also continued his attack against print journalists in Maine saying, "They are a bunch of idiots."
(c)2016 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)