PORTLAND — Jabbing his finger at a giant chart from a Washington think tank, Democratic candidate Tom Connolly said that working Mainers’ incomes should be the top priority for the gubernatorial election because Maine has dropped from 25th to 37th of all the states in per capita income.
In a press conference at the public library here, a place where homeless men sleep on benches, he attacked Gov. Angus King for assuring voters that the economy is doing well. He said that Maine needs not just jobs, but good jobs.
But King said later that afternoon “there’s been no decline whatsoever in per capita income. We checked today with the Department of Commerce,” and got different figures than the Connolly campaign had from the nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development. “I don’t know of us ever being 25,” King said. “We were 26 or 27 in the late ’80s, and we’ve been at exactly the same level, which is 36, ever since I took office. To imply there’s been a fall since I took office is inaccurate, it’s misleading. And,” he added, “I hope when the newer figures come out we’ll be seeing some improvement.”
Connolly said King has “followed a low-wage development strategy, explicitly encouraging firms to bring in low-paying jobs,” especially by vetoing a minimum-wage increase.
“Nonsense — why would someone have such a strategy?” King said. “If someone says we want to put 500 jobs in rural Maine and pay above the minimum wage and provide benefits, I’m not going to discourage them,” he said.
As for his veto, “we’re not trying to attract minimum-wage jobs — my concern was if we were the third-highest minimum wage in the country, it became a symbol of our business climate that would turn people off.”
Thousands of jobs have been created at credit card companies in the past few years in Maine, and the average industry salary is nearly $29,000. King often uses MBNA New England as an example of a company that has revitalized communities like Belfast. “Ten years ago their economy was based on minimum-wage jobs plucking chickens,” he said. “Compare that to MBNA eight or nine dollars an hour with incentives and benefits … ”
But Connolly asked, “Can an unemployed mill worker find a new entry-level job that pays anything close to this industry average of $28,889?”
Connolly challenged the press to find a telemarketer at a call center like MBNA’s with a starting salary of more than $28,000. He said that some call centers pay minimum wage, and some pay $6 to $7 an hour with no benefits.
A spokesman for MBNA did not return a phone call Thursday.
King said, “There have been 25,000 jobs, net, added to the Maine economy since I took office. At most, 3 to 4,000 of those are telemarketing.” The rest, he said, range in salaries, with some as high as $50-60,000 a year at some high-tech companies.
King’s campaign theme is “better jobs, more evenly distributed.”
“I don’t disagree we want to increase our per capita standing nationally. If I thought everything were fixed, I wouldn’t be running again — I’d be retiring.”