The movement to raise the minimum wage to an unprecedented $15 per hour has racked up an impressive string of victories in liberal cities over the past few years—first in Seattle, then San Francisco, then Los Angeles, then New York. And in August, the Democratic Party made a national $15 minimum a part of its official platform.
Last night, however, voters in Portland, Maine—the largest city in the Pine Tree State and a liberal stronghold—handed the $15 minimum movement the most stinging rebuke it has suffered since it surfaced as a serious political issue last year. The Portland Press Herald reports:
Portland voters rejected a proposal Tuesday to dramatically increase the minimum wage in the city.
The referendum to raise the wage to $15 an hour, double the statewide minimum of $7.50, was defeated by nearly 58 percent to 42 percent. […]
Opponents of the increase, primarily small businesses, organized quickly after the Portland Green Independent Committee submitted signatures in July to put the referendum before voters.
A political action committee called “Too Far, Too Fast” was set up and raised more than $120,000 to oppose the referendum. Boosted by a $50,000 donation from the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, the group organized news conferences featuring business owners who said the higher wages would force them to cut staff sharply or close down altogether. […]
“Too Far, Too Fast” ran television ads in October, and a week ago spent $15,000 to air radio ads during the last few days of the campaign. Many of the opponents of the $15 an hour wage said they supported the city’s new $10.10 minimum, suggesting that voters could oppose the $15-an-hour alternative while still feeling as though something was being done to boost low-income wages.
The results out of Portland suggest that the $15 minimum is still controversial and beatable, even in left-leaning cities. This is a cause for optimism, because as we’ve said before, the case against this kind of radical policy is overwhelming: A $15 minimum is likely to raise prices and destroy businesses, block low-skilled Americans from entering the workforce, facilitate union malfeasance, and devastate America’s fragile manufacturing industry.
The Portland vote could be an outlier in a long march toward ever-steeper minimum wages imposed from coast to coast. But it could also be a sign that maybe—just maybe—sanity may be setting in.