Lawmakers who unveiled the coordinated plan said it would begin to bridge a growing economic gap in the region, which has the nation’s highest median income, at $88,000, even as nearly one in five District residents live at or below the poverty line and the number of poor residents in suburban counties is on the rise.
By the District coordinating with Montgomery and Prince George’s, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said, proponents in all three locales would boost their chances for success.
“This is pretty unusual,” Mendelson said. “We are standing together because so often an issue like minimum wage is argued divisively — that one jurisdiction is going to be at a competitive disadvantage with other jurisdictions. We are standing together to make a clear statement that that’s not going to be the case.”
Regionally, however, the plan also threatened to exacerbate a stark divide along the Potomac River, with lawmakers in Virginia showing no sign of raising the minimum above the federal rate of $7.25 — a wage Congress set six years ago.
“We are just trying to get people closer, so they’re off the floor,” said Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large), author of the legislation in the largest of the three jurisdictions, whose combined population is 2.5 million. “If we can lift people off the floor, I think that’s really important.”
Lawmakers in Prince George’s and Montgomery — where the minimum wage is $7.25 — introduced legislation last week for an increase. At the time, Mendelson said he planned to throw his weight behind a similar measure.
At a news conference with those lawmakers a few blocks north of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Mendelson said he was in — with a plan to raise the city’s minimum of $8.25 per hour by a dollar in July, by another dollar in 2015 and by $1.25 in 2016.
At that point, the city’s minimum wage would reach $11.50; after that, it would be indexed to inflation.
Prince George’s County Council Chairman Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale) all but assured victory for the plan in her county and suggested lawmakers a few miles south take note of the cooperation.
“We want to show the world that at least some folks can work together here in this region,” Harrison said at the news conference. “The bottom line is that it is expensive to live in this region. Everything has gone up in cost, but the minimum wage has not.”
In Montgomery, the plan put forth by Elrich has only two co-sponsors, but county leaders have lobbied for more than a year for a statewide increase to the minimum wage. In an election year, political watchers say a majority may be compelled to back it.