Poll: Mainers want legal pot, higher minimum wage

Good morning from Augusta, where once again many eyes are on new poll results from the Portland Press Herald and University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

According the poll of 500 likely voters in Maine, incremental annual increases in the state’s minimum wage look likely. Sixty percent of respondents favor Question 4, compared with just 28 percent who oppose it. The referendum is popular among Democrats and independents and even garnered support from 50 percent of Republicans, according to the poll.

Question 4, which results from a signature-gathering effort led by progressive Maine groups, seeks to gradually increase the state’s minimum wage of $7.50 an hour to $12 by 2020, followed by automatic increases in future years that would be tied to the national cost of living. Tipped workers, who currently have a sub-minimum wage of $3.75, would see their base pay increase to $5 an hour in 2017 and then to $12 by 2024.

Despite the support shown for raising the minimum wage in the poll — a full 74 percent think it’s too low — 53 percent of respondents said it will hurt small businesses. That cuts to the core of the arguments against the referendum, which is opposed by business groups such as the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and a number of lawmakers, including Gov. Paul LePage.

Opponents of the proposal that became Question 4 offered alternatives during the legislative session earlier this year, but Democratic lawmakers stymied those efforts.

Earlier this week, the Portland Press Herald released poll results in the presidential and congressional races, as well as the other referendums. It found 60 percent support for Question 2, which would place a 3 percent tax on personal income over $200,000 to fund public school education. On Question 1, which would legalize recreational marijuana, 53 percent of Mainers are in support.  The newspaper will continue rolling out its poll results on Thursday. –– Christopher Cousins

Budget committee leaders spar over September meeting

Democratic Rep. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston and Republican Sen. Jim Hamper of Oxford, who co-chair the Legislature’s powerful Appropriations Committee, disagree about whether the committee should convene this month. Rotundo has been arguing in emails between committee members that the committee has important issues to discuss, from changes in the way the Department of Health and Human Services is allocating resources to progress on plans to improve the state-run Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.

Rotundo said in a Sept. 19 email to committee members, which was provided by House Democratic staff, that the committee should meet even though Gov. Paul LePage has indicated, as he has in the past, that he will not authorize executive branch employees to meet with the committee until January when the new Legislature convenes.

“This would be the most egregious abdication of our responsibilities as legislators,” wrote Rotundo. “I know we all sincerely want to work with the governor, but if he chooses not to work with us, we must still try our hardest to fulfill our duty to the people of Maine.”

Hamper said a meeting would be “an exercise in asking questions to an empty chair” that would be a waste of taxpayer money and that with the election so close, the gathering would veer into the political.

“I will not agree to meet before the November election,” wrote Hamper.

Democrats are pushing forward regardless. Appropriations Committee analyst Maureen Dawson announced Tuesday that Democrats on the committee will convene at 1 p.m. Thursday at the State House. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hit

Senior issues listening tour: Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick will continue his listening tour about issues facing senior citizens in Maine on Thursday. The event begins at 9 a.m. at Tewksbury Hall, 13 Island Ave., Skowhegan, which is behind the Skowhegan Federated Church.

Reading list

Squirrels continue to badger political reporter

In April of 2015, I shared the story of my harrowing ordeal with a squirrel that showed up in my bathroom one morning. It was a tale of agility, mental acuity, bravery, stamina and triumph. Then there were my son and I, hapless and helpless in the face of a raging rodent.

Fast forward to Tuesday and I’m sitting in my living room, writing a story. Calm as family, a squirrel sauntered in and stopped 3 feet from my golden retriever, who slept through the whole thing.

When the squirrel and I locked eyes, my first thought was of you, loyal Daily Brief reader.

For last year’s squirrel, I contemplated a hammer and my son wanted to cook the rodent to death in the radiator (that’s still my proudest Dad Moment). Perhaps a little wiser this time, I thought of my cat, Chester, who I knew was sleeping in a chair in the next room.

The squirrel finally took off and I heard Chester scramble after it.

“This is going to be so easy,” I said to myself. “I won’t have to do anything at all.”

I messaged my editor, who immediately said he saw “another classic story in the making.” He has excellent news instincts.

“My cat caught it!” I wrote, describing the uproar I was hearing in the other room. “But now it got away again! The squirrel was screeching and everything. The battle has moved to the laundry room. Should I be recording this?”

“You should probably be helping the cat,” he suggested. He has excellent rodent-catching instincts.

I tried scaring the squirrel out with a broom, but it didn’t work. I shined the flashlight behind the washing machine, but that just made Chester chase the beam. Out of ideas and running short on courage, I opened the door to the outside and left it that way for most of the day. The squirrel left. That’s what I told my wife, anyway.

Here’s her soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.