Letters to the Editor, March 30

Mar 30, 2017

Open letter to Midcoast state legislators

Thank you very much for serving Midoast Maine.

I came into the Chamber Breakfast [March 24] after the issue of the tipped credit had been discussed, but I wanted to share (again) my opinion on restoring the tip-credit allowance to the minimum-wage (keeping it at 50 percent of the minimum wage) bill.

If I had been there for the question-and-answer part, I would have asked you all what you think about the fact that (overwhelmingly) what I’ve heard directly from the servers I know in Midcoast Maine is that they want the tip credit restored. Why? Because they make much more than minimum wage and they don’t want their industry and livelihood messed around with.

Have you asked area servers what they think, what they make per shift/per hour? Several legislators want to make this about the owners of restaurants, but fail to recognize or acknowledge that the workers themselves do not want their industry changed. They know they are already protected by existing laws that promise them that employers will pay the difference if their tips do not equal minimum wage. The counter I heard from Pinny was that restaurant owners ignore that law; if that is really the case, then fix it, and penalize those who break it with a $10,000 fine and treble damages to the employee.

During the breakfast meeting, all the reps said it is important to listen to their constituents, yet I understand that one of you said that, with the tip credit, they ask “Who suggested you call or write me” and added, “In many cases it is the restaurant owner.” The inference was that that discredited the caller/writer.

That might be true, but why make that assumption? If the server wants to be heard and asks his/her boss “What should I do?” and they say “You ought to write or call your state representative,” that is what is called good advice. Creating the story line that somehow it is a mandate from the owners is a reach.

Those calls and letters you’re getting from Midcoast servers are coming because they want you to hear them; they make double/triple (and sometimes more) than current minimum wage, and several have already seen the effects this new law is having on their paychecks. They are in the trenches – listen to them when they tell you that many of their customers  believe that they are making $12 an hour now, and their tips have fallen because of that (in reality, they are making $5 per hour, up from $3.75).

And the truth is that many restaurant owners have cut back their hours. You all realize that restaurants have the highest failure rates of any industry and have tough margins and lots of competition; raising the wages for back-of-the-house workers will create enough strain – they don’t need an extra burden.

The idea that you should fix something that is not broken does not fit any commonsense maxim that I know.

Yes, the referendum passed, but what was the intent? You all acknowledged, and I agree, on the importance of referendums, especially when the Legislature won’t move the process. That was the case with the minimum wage. The intent of the people of Maine was to use a step-up approach to raise the minimum wage to a livable wage of $12 an hour. The tipped-credit elimination was part of the referendum language (and should have been separated or not in there at all) and, unfortunately couldn’t be taken out as a line-item by the voter.

Many didn’t understand that provision at all and others, like me, thought it would be addressed after the fact. I believed strongly that we needed to create a livable wage for all workers in Maine, so I voted for it even though I vigorously opposed eliminating the tipped-credit provision.

Pinny told me earlier that she believed the people had spoken and she must be responsible to them. However, in another breath she spoke at the chamber breakfast to the fact that the marijuana referendum has very poorly worded language that the Legislature must address. That feels very much like doublespeak. On the one hand, you can “tweak” the marijuana referendum, but the tipped-credit language shouldn’t be touched. A double standard, for sure. By the way, I agree with fixing the wording on both, without changing the intent on either. The intent for marijuana is for recreational use to be legal. The intent for the minimum-wage increase is that all Maine workers make at least $12 an hour.

In summary; I have been a commissioned salesperson for much of my career. I often worked on 15 percent commission; when we don’t make minimum wage as salespeople on commission, the employer makes up the difference by giving a “draw” on future commission. It is simple and it doesn’t inhibit how much a sales rep can make (no glass ceilings) if they do a good job (sell a lot).

Don’t play God with their livelihoods because you personally think it is a good idea or that you have statistics from other states – we live in Maine, the servers of Maine are telling you loud and clear that they are making much more than a livable wage; they know their industry, while most of the legislators have never waited tables.

It reminds me of “no student left behind,” which most teachers will tell you is a disaster. That is a case where administrators had good intentions, but didn’t listen to the people on the ground (the teachers) when implementing the policies.

Please listen. Please use common sense. Please do your jobs and help restore the tip credit and strengthen the laws that insist that tipped workers make at least the minimum wage (with their tips), or restaurant owners make up the difference.

Sorry for the length of this letter; I have no horse in the race (other than that my son is a server).

On the podium today, the reps said they encouraged letters and phone calls, yet my previous correspondences to a couple of you were not answered or acknowledged. I also know of a couple of waitpeople whom I also encouraged to write to their legislators and were not responded to. I find that disheartening.

Let me end where I started, with a sincere and grateful thank-you for the thankless jobs you’ve undertaken. My intent is not to bash you or your intent. My purpose is to remind you to listen to the constituents you serve and to do what makes sense. The tipped credit at 50 percent of minimum wage makes sense and will not disrupt the industry.

Reade Brower, publisher

Courier Publications

Legislature playing games with ranked choice voti

In November, ranked choice voting was approved by a majority (not just a plurality) of Maine voters, 52 percent to 48 percent. More votes were cast for RCV (388,273) than were cast for the presidential candidate who won Maine (357,735). The debate about RCV is over – we made our very informed choice after months of a vigorous statewide debate as to how RCV works and its effect on giving more power to voters.

We should now be spending precious time and resources on getting a robust, functional, voter-friendly system in place in time for the coming elections. Instead, legislators are delaying the implementation of what Mainers voted into law, spending our time and resources on debating the constitutionality of RCV in court.

In his recent responsive brief, attorney Marshall J. Tinkle summed up the wrongness of this delay in two arguments: 1. The questions do not present a “solemn occasion” and 2. The Act does not violate the Constitution. He further explains that arguments stating vote-tallying under RCV violates the Constitution are empty, since such terms do not even appear in the Constitution, and may be viewed at best as, “making stuff up.”

This is not a game. Maine voted a fairer election system into law. As Tinkle states, judicial review here is in tension with democracy. The see-through attempt by legislators to appear concerned about the Constitution while delaying the very strengthening of democracy voters have demanded is alarming, to say the least.

Carla White

South Thomaston

Please tell your local representatives to support Rep. Seth Berry’s (D-Bowdoinham) bill that will set us on the right path to a sunny and “Bright” future with renewable solar energy.

It’s good news that the Maine Legislature is considering a number of bills that will shore up the state’s vital infrastructure for a competitive economy, good jobs and quality of the environment – whether in broadband, water quality, or renewable energy, particularly solar electricity. Berry and a growing number of co-sponsors have stepped forward with a bill to restore and expand net metering and state incentives to spur development of solar energy: An Act to Protect and Expand Access to Solar Power in Maine.

If passed, it will counter recent rulings of the Public Utilities Commission to phase out net metering – a terrible policy at a time when the country – and Maine – is going in the opposite direction. Forty-three states plus the District of Columbia have adopted favorable net metering policies to encourage investment in solar energy. Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits residences and business owners for the electricity they produce and use each year. Maine needs to stay in the action and get back on a track with solar energy.

Here are three good reasons: Solar creates jobs, and good jobs to boot. In 2016 a remarkable one out of 50 jobs created in the U.S. came from the solar industry. A very active market has been developing in the state. We have several great and nationally-recognized entrepreneurs and solar companies, and there are hundreds of independent electrician contractors with the skills or developing them to install systems – jobs, jobs and more jobs! Municipalities like Belfast, community farms in Brunswick, institutions like Thomas College, and plans in South Portland – and yes, in my own town of Waldoboro - have popped up everywhere, or are being planned.

We need to keep investing in this job-creating sector with sound state policy. Solar is cost-saving to rate payers. The cost of local energy production in the long term will save consumers money. Contrary to some views, there’s no burden put on the rate payer who is not using solar. Other factors are significant. Between 2007 and 2016, the fastest-growing portion of our electric bill came from the transmission and distribution of electrical energy. T&D charges increased 80 percent. That’s where the burden lies.

The next big cost comes from volatile prices of fuel itself, whether oil, natural gas, coal, etc. Production and distribution of local energy is cost-efficient. Solar mitigates global warming. I think this is most important – indeed, a moral reason to care for the planet’s future.

Like the proverbial frog in the pot that gradually comes to a boil, but then, it's too late for the frog to save itself, climate change can be hard to come to grips with. But coastal communities – and our own traditional fisheries, lobsters, forestry and natural habitats – are already beginning to brace for critical impacts. We may be a small fish in a big ocean, but we can set an example.

Maine needs to stay on track, take advantage of this job-creating sector for a sustainable and healthy economy. Let’s take steps toward a bright future by making Maine a “Bright Spot” in renewable solar development.

Please tell your local representatives to support Berry’s bill that will set us on the right path to a sunny and bright future with renewable solar energy.

Ron Phillips

Waldoboro

Mussel Ridge Hoops 'a huge success'

Over the past weekend, teams from St. George, Rockland, Thomaston, Camden and Cushing participated in the 22nd annual Mussel Ridge Hoops Tournament. This year’s event was a huge success as usual and would not have been possible without the collective efforts of many, many individuals and businesses. I would like to thank the following for their selfless contributions that allowed more than 80 third- and fourth-graders to experience first-rate competition and hospitality, while raising more than $4,000 for the St. George Recreation Boosters, who support recreational offerings for the young people of St. George.

Thank you: St. George Town Office staff, particularly Patty St. Clair and Beth Smith; St. George School staff, particularly Jan Letourneau, Randy Elwell, Cheryl Worthing, Darci Morris-Chickering and Janet Harjula; St. George Recreation Committee and Boosters – Raymie Upham, Meghan Benner, Craig Gauthier, Joanna Montgomery, Gary Minery, Missy Gill, Ann Hoppe, Summer Ward and Cassie Kilbride; community members Cindy Hall, Davin Putansu, Dan Miller, Tracy Leavitt, Peter Henderson, Tim Hoppe, Michael Cushman; and innumerable people who donated food or their time to help.

Thanks to business sponsors: The Black Harpoon, Beckett’s Auto Service, Wa2Much Trucking, LKC Lobster, Greg Holmes Snowplowing, Superior Bait and Salt, Maine Coast Petroleum, Brooks Trap Mill, The Miller Family, St. George Realty, Port Clyde Co-Op, Maritime Farms Deli, J.K. Kalloch, G.C. Minery Plumbing and Heating, F/V White Lightning, Mainely Boats, Jeff’s Auto Body and Restoration, Hammer Down Construction, Falla and Sons Surveying, Justin Long Inc., First National Bank, Hoppe’s Tree Service, Puffins’ Nest, Ponderosa Motor Services, St. George Community Sailing, St. George Property Maintenance, J.D. Miller Construction, Monhegan Boat Lines, Port Clyde Kayak, Harbor Builders, TJ;s Lite Excavation, DJ Dan Miller, Ponderosa Playland Child Care, Lorraine Construction, Ocean Pursuits, The Sugar Tree, Linda Bean Lobster, Perle Photography, and Maine Printing.

Finally, a thank-you to the players, coaches and fans for their efforts. What a great team effort by all involved.

Ben Vail, director

St. George Parks

and Recreation

 

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