Local Maryland Officials Differ on $15 Minimum Wage

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By Jon Steingart

State and local minimum wages are complicated. Maryland is a good case in point. A bill to raise Maryland’s floor to $15 per hour has the backing of the Baltimore mayor, who vetoed a similar measure her city council passed last year.

Despite its small size, Maryland has diversity from one end of the state to the other. What works in Appalachian Allegany County isn’t the same as what does it for urban Baltimore City. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, suburbs of Washington, D.C., aren’t the same as Worcester County, home to summer destination Ocean City on the Atlantic shore.

The measure by state Sen, Rich Madaleno (D) would raise the minimum wage throughout the state incrementally, getting to $15 per hour for most workers in 2023. He said the measure is needed because the current federal minimum, $7.25, hasn’t kept pace with inflation.

When Pugh vetoed the local minimum wage bill in March 2017, she said she was concerned about Baltimore having a higher minimum than neighboring counties. Pugh believes “a broader regional effort, and optimally, a national effort,” would be a better approach, according to a letter she sent the council explaining her veto.

Pugh cited a study by the city’s economic development agency that showed the wage increase would mostly benefit workers who commute in. The measure would force city residents at the lower rungs of the wage scale to compete with residents of other jurisdictions for jobs in Baltimore, the study said.

A couple of states have a minimum wage that isn’t uniform throughout the state. “Some states have minimum wages that vary by region, but that’s not a common approach,” Jackson Brainerd, a policy associate at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, told Bloomberg Law Feb. 7. “New York and Oregon both did that for their recent minimum wage increases,” he said.

Pugh supported a council resolution calling on state lawmakers to pass Madaleno’s bill and companion legislation in the House of Delegates. “We think that this is the right thing to do in the state of Maryland,” she said standing alongside council members at a Feb. 5 news conference about the resolution. Pugh didn’t immediately respond to a Feb. 7 request for further comment.

Different Takes

Officials in other local jurisdictions don’t all share Baltimore’s sentiment about a statewide minimum wage increase. Bloomberg Law contacted the top elected official in all 23 Maryland counties and Baltimore City and received comments from five.

Jake Shade, president of the Allegany County Council, said Baltimore’s push would be bad for the state. “Baltimore City government is well aware that increasing the minimum wage will put them at a competitive disadvantage and will hurt their local businesses and the residents who shop there,” he told Bloomberg Law by email Feb. 7. Rather than abandon the idea, “they have decided to expand to put all of Maryland at a disadvantage.”

A hearing on Madaleno’s bill is scheduled for Feb. 20. A hearing on the House bill is scheduled for Feb. 28.

$15 Minimum on Way in Montgomery

Isaiah Leggett, Montgomery County executive, vetoed a $15 bill in January 2017. Nine months later, he signed legislation to raise the minimum wage in phases to $15 per hour for most employees of large businesses in 2021 and smaller shops in 2024.

“The question over the past year has been how much, within what time period, and how we mitigate possible negative impacts on our small businesses and on youth employment,” he said after the council passed the second bill in November 2017. “That is why I vetoed the bill passed 5-4 by the Council last January.”

“Based on the changes from the original bill, what the County Council approved today is close enough to the conditions I laid down for my support that I will sign the measure into law,” Leggett said. The second bill lengthened phase-in periods, especially for smaller businesses.

Allegany County is located in the Appalachian mountains of western Maryland. Montgomery County borders Washington, D.C. An official in a county east of the Chesapeake Bay also weighed in.

“We appreciate Montgomery County’s reasons for increasing their minimum wage to $15 an hour,” Jennifer Williams, president of the Talbot County Council, told Bloomberg Law. “However, as a rural county, Talbot’s needs and challenges are different. It is not in the best interest of our county as a whole to take such actions at this time.”

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