Groups form on both sides of Portland referendums – Press Herald | Vette Leader

With the November election less than three months away, groups in Portland are preparing for high-stakes, big-spending campaigns for and against more than a dozen city election issues.

As of Wednesday, the city had registered with five electoral committees, including Enough is Enough, whose members include a former city councilman and a local landlord who are fed up with such referendums.

The Maine Democratic Socialists of America’s Campaign for Livable Portland, which is behind four of the referenda that will appear on ballots Nov. 8, has formed a committee, as has Fair Elections Portland, which supports the Charter Commission’s proposal for clean elections a structure for public funding of candidates for local office.

The primary purpose of electoral affairs committees is to influence voting on election issues, and they must register with the city within seven days of spending more than $5,000 in aggregate to initiate or influence a campaign. However, some of the groups that have registered for November’s elections say they have done so in advance and have no money to spend or raise just yet. There is no deadline by which committees must be formed, so others could be added.

DSA FORM COMMITTEE

The first committee to register with the city was the DSA’s Liveable Portland campaign, which submitted the paperwork shortly after it had submitted enough signatures to get four referendums on the ballot. The referendums focus on reducing the number of short-term rentals, protecting renters, capping the number of people who can disembark from cruise ships and raising the minimum wage to $18 an hour.

The committee’s statement of intent said it supports the four initiatives and opposes a competing short-term rental referendum tabled by Scott Ferris, a homeowner who operates a short-term rental unit in the city’s Parkside neighborhood.

Wes Pelletier, campaign chair of DSA’s Livable Portland and an executive on the committee, said the Livable Portland campaign did not contradict some elements of the competing short-term rental proposal, such as: local operators or a ban on evictions for tenants to immediately convert an apartment or house into a short-term rental.

But he said his group opposes a clause in Ferris’ referendum that prevents existing short-term rental operators from revoking their registrations or refusing renewals because of city code changes related to short-term rentals. Pelletier said Livable Portland wanted less short-term rents and believes such a clause would hamper those efforts.

“We think that (short-term rentals) need to be heavily regulated and houses have to be returned to the long-term rental market,” he said.

Chris Korzen, one of the authors of the proposal put forward by Ferris and others, said the clause, which he dubbed an “integrity clause,” is designed to protect short-term rental operators who have made economic decisions based on their rentals’ sudden loss of ability to use them rent, and also to protect the city from lawsuits. Korzen said his group, which has no name, also intends to form an election committee, although it hasn’t done so yet.

“It will in no way change the number of short-term rentals in the city,” he said of the proposal, which he supports. “This is to ensure we have the structure that benefits people in Portland, not outside business owners or investors, and also to address concerns about evictions.”

While the DSA has yet to raise or spend any money, according to an initial financial report from the campaign, Pelletier expects his group to be busy over the next few months.

“DSA is a national-level organization that places a strong emphasis on having a strong field presence, knocking on doors, and getting people involved so they can participate in this process, not just the referendum process, but the citizen process as a whole,” said he .

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

Enough is enough lists Edward Payne, a local landlord, as the chief officer and Nick Mavodones, a former councilman, as the treasurer. What speaks against it? voting measures.

Mavodones, who served as a councilor for 24 years before deciding not to stand for re-election last year, said he still speaks to many city residents and hears their concerns about the city government via referendum.

In addition to the five citizen-initiated referendums going to voters this fall, the founding commission is proposing eight changes to the city’s governmental structure for Portland voters to weigh.

“The feeling I’ve heard from people, and I know others have it too, is that people are fed up with all the referendum questions,” Mavodones said. “That’s what I hear all the time from people: ‘Enough is enough.'”

His group, he said, is in the process of organizing and is working with a Washington DC-based consulting firm that has local people. According to their first campaign funding report, Enough is Enough has already accumulated more than $30,000 in debt and obligations, including $5,000 to the law firm of Bernstein Shur and $25,000 to the DC law firm of Cornerstone Government Affairs.

Mavodones said more details about the group and their work should be available soon. “The group still gets together,” he said. “It’s a quick turnaround from the (City Council vote to put the questions on the ballot) last night but I think it’s going to be a broad coalition.”

COMPETITIVE VIEWS ABOUT TIPS FOR EMPLOYEES

Two groups have formed with conflicting views on the DSA’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $18 an hour by 2025 while eliminating the minimum or tip wage.

The minimum wage in Portland is currently $13 an hour and is projected to increase to $15 an hour by 2024.

But under state law and city ordinance, employers can receive a “tip credit” of up to 50 percent of the minimum wage from tipped service workers for meeting the minimum hourly rate. That means a Portland employer can currently pay a service worker $6.50 an hour, provided the worker earns enough tips to earn an hourly rate of at least $13 an hour.

The minimum wage proposal at the November vote would remove the tip credit from city ordinances and replace it with a provision requiring employers to pay the full proposed minimum wage of $18 an hour to service workers through 2025.

Two groups – One Fair Wage Portland and Restaurant Industry United – have committees targeting this provision.

Greg Dugal, a spokesman for Restaurant Industry United — who also serves as director of government affairs for Hospitality Maine, a trade group that represents the hospitality industry — said the voting committee is made up of restaurant owners and employees concerned about losing tip recognition.

Maine voters passed a minimum wage proposal in 2016 that included ending the tip credit statewide, but lawmakers voted to restore the option in 2017 after hearing from waitstaff and bartenders that they typically earned far more tips than those promised by the new ones $12 an hour state minimum wage and that customers were tipping less because they were confused by the law change.

“There was a lot of concern that they would lose their tips because people thought they were getting paid more,” Dugal said. “Servers make good money and they had big concerns.”

He said restaurant owners are also worried about how much eliminating the tax credit would add to their operating expenses. “Honestly, they’re just not going to be able to handle this surge,” Dugal said.

Mike Sylvester, Treasurer of One Fair Wage Portland, said his group wants to eliminate all sub-minimum wages and believes the minimum wage should be the same for all types of workers. He said the restaurant industry is in a different place post-pandemic than it was in 2016.

“Workers’ views, both front and back of the house, about what a livable wage is have really changed,” said Sylvester, who is also an outgoing Democratic state representative from Portland and chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Legislature and Housing . “So many people just lost their jobs because restaurants were closed or it was takeout only.”

Sylvester said tipped Portland workers shouldn’t fear losing tips if the proposal goes through. “Certainly, people in Portland are making a tremendous amount of service money from tourists in the summer,” Sylvester said. “That won’t change. And in the winter when it’s a bit leaner you have a guaranteed wage instead of not knowing what your wage will be this week.”

SUPPORT FOR CLEAN ELECTIONS

Fair Elections Portland was formed to support the founding commission’s proposal for clean elections, which would create a public funding mechanism for candidates in local races. The charter commission was approved by voters in 2020 after Fair Elections Portland collected enough signatures to hold a referendum on municipal public funding in front of voters, but the city council decided such a proposal would need to be reviewed by a charter commission.

The group has already received a $10,000 donation from the Proteus Action League, a Massachusetts nonprofit. Anna Kellar, who will be the committee’s campaign manager, said the group plans to work on voter education in the coming months and doesn’t want clean elections to be overlooked with so much else in November’s election.

“We’re hoping to do some work to convey to voters what it is, that it’s on the ballot and that this cause, which they support more broadly, since they have less of a hold on big money on local politics, an issue they can vote for is something positive in the founding committee’s recommendations,” Kellar said.


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