Stop using government shutdown as a bargaining chip

Our leaders in Washington should stop using government shutdown as a stick to beat the opposing party.

As 2018 drew to a close, about a quarter of the federal government was shut down as President Donald Trump promised to hold his breath until he gets funding for his largely symbolic border wall with Mexico. Democrats dug in to oppose this, Congress gridlocked and 350,000 government workers were furloughed.

This is the second-longest such shutdown in a decade, according to the The Washington Post.

Courier Publications, the parent company of The Republican Journal, reported at the end of last week that more than 100 Coast Guard crew members based in Rockland were among 42,000 active Coast Guard members across the country who would go without a paycheck starting Dec. 31 unless a budget agreement was reached.

These are the people who go out into the storms at sea to save lives when everyone else is coming in.

Meanwhile, however, because of a constitutional loophole, the president and lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to get paid, no matter what.

While Coast Guard members did, after all, get paid on Monday, future paychecks remain in limbo during the government shutdown, including anticipated Jan. 15 paychecks.

According to a Coast Guard blog post, "Meeting active duty and reserve military payroll for January 2019 will require a fiscal year 2019 appropriation, a continuing resolution, or passage of an alternative measure."

Lawmakers should avoid these shutdowns to take care of government workers, including our Coast Guard friends, and to ensure that the government is providing those needed services to the people.

Imagine if the City Council and city manager could not agree on something in the budget, and as a result, the roads didn't get plowed during a snowstorm and work crews went home without pay. We would never tolerate it, and we would hold those leaders accountable.

Why, then, do we tolerate these tantrums from our leaders in Washington?

Another factor to consider is that these shutdowns don't really seem to work. Trump's presidency is losing approval and power in this showdown. The issue is ideological and neither side will change its mind or its votes on something this important, so what good comes from holding the country hostage in the process? Vote to pay our Coast Guard and other government workers and then continue to bash your heads against this wall on your own time.

So much of what we see these days in Washington is no more than political theater, but it comes at a steep price.

We urge our representatives and senators to do what they can to avoid these shutdowns, and we urge readers to make note and remember these breakdowns in the system next time they vote.

Happy New … raise!

As of Jan. 1, minimum wage workers in Waldo County and the rest of the state began making $11 per hour. In addition, the minimum wage for tipped workers increased by 50 cents, from $5 per hour to $5.50 per hour.

In turn, employers could bump up pay for those already at or near the new minimum wage hourly rate.

Roughly 87,200 Mainers — 15.2 percent of all workers in the state — will benefit directly as a result of the minimum wage increase, according to a state wage analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute. Those Mainers’ average wage increase adds up to about $1,040 in additional earnings per year, the analysis states.

Experts predict the additional wages will be spent to cover the basics — things like food, clothing, childcare or utility bills. While it might not seem like a huge amount of money, the higher wages could tip the scales from choosing between food and keeping the heat on to being able to cover both. 

Maine is one of 20 states to raise the minimum wage in 2019, and one of just six states to do so as a result of a ballot measure, according to Maine Center for Economic Policy.

The law will increase the minimum wage again, to $12 per hour, in January 2020. After that, the minimum wage will be indexed to inflation, providing annual cost-of-living adjustments.

Meanwhile, according to Maine Center for Economic Policy, none of the referendum’s opponents’ dire predictions have come to pass to date: Job growth has remained steady since the law took effect and employees' hours have held stable.