Wes Pelletier collects signatures
Wes Pelletier of the Maine Democratic Socialists of America collects signatures in Congress Square Park to put four proposals on Portland's November ballot, including an initiative to raise the city's minimum wage to $18 per hour. (Courtesy Leo Hilton)
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The Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America has filed paperwork to place four referendum questions on the November ballot, including one that would raise the minimum wage in the city to $18 per hour.

A second question would strengthen tenants’ rights and protections, the third would limit the number of short-term rentals, and the fourth would limit the number of passengers allowed to disembark daily from cruise ships.

The proposals have already drawn fire from the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, which described them as more of the same “failed” policies of the DSA and former Mayor Ethan Strimling. 

Quincy Hentzel
Portland Regional Chamber President and CEO Quincy Hentzel. (Courtesy PRCC)

Quincy Hentzel, chief executive officer of the chamber, said the agenda promoted by Strimling and the DSA has “already led to increased costs of living on the backs of hardworking Portland homeowners and small businesses.”

“We cannot trust DSA to craft policies behind closed doors, especially during this time of inflation, uncertainty, and global conflict,” she said. “We plan to work with a broad group of community leaders to stand up against these proposals that would jeopardize everything that makes up the heart of Portland.”

Wes Pelletier, an organizer for the Maine DSA and chair of its Portland Campaign Committee, said the group is responding to the city’s lack of action. While the DSA was excited by the slate of city councilors who were elected last November, he said the council has “struggled to get things passed” and has not been receptive to feedback or criticism.

The minimum-wage question would raise the base to $18 per hour over three years and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers over the same period of time. It would also require at least an $18 hourly wage for workers who don’t earn minimum wage, such as taxi drivers, and create a Department of Fair Labor Practices to enforce the wage and worker safety laws.

Portland’s minimum wage is now $13 per hour and is slated to rise to $15 per hour by 2024. The hourly wage is $6.50 per hour for tipped employees. Maine’s state minimum wage is $12.75 per hour and $6.38 for tipped workers.

There has been discussion in City Council committees about the need to raise the minimum wage via referendum after the city last winter avoided long-term hazard pay that would have increased the minimum wage to $19.50 per hour, the highest minimum wage in the country.

Pelletier said the end of the city’s state of emergency, which ended hazard pay, was a setback, but they’ve come to expect that.

“We have to fight tooth and nail to get anything from the city,” he said. “A lot of people are getting kicked out of their homes. For elected leadership to represent us, we are going to push these referenda.”

The question regarding tenants’ protections would require a 90-day notice for lease terminations or rent increases; discourage no-cause evictions; restrict deposits to one month’s rent; prohibit application fees; limit the standard annual rent increase that landlords can impose, and set a $25,000 condominium conversion fee.

It would also propose various technical changes and corrections to the city’s rent ordinance to make it more easily understood, and provide clarity and authority to the rent board.

The question on short-term rentals would restrict all such rentals to only those that are owner-occupied, tenant-occupied, or in a two-unit building occupied by the owner. It would increase the annual fee for owner-occupied rentals to $250 and non-owner-occupied rentals to $750; require the city clerk to notify all residents within 500 feet of a short-term rental; increase penalties for violations; require complaints against rentals to be logged, and allow the city to revoke registrations.

The cruise ship question aims to reduce congestion and pollution by reducing the number of passengers who can disembark each day to 1,000 passengers by 2025.

To get these questions on the ballot, the Maine DSA must collect 1,500 valid signatures for each question. City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said the DSA will have to submit the signatures to the city clerk’s office by June 24 for them to make it to the July 11 City Council meeting for a first reading, before eventually going to a public hearing and vote by the council on Aug. 15.

She said such petitions typically should be filed by April to allow the clerk to submit ballots by Sept. 1.

Pelletier said the DSA is not deterred by the tight turnaround because it has an extensive network, and is confident it will be able to collect the necessary signatures.