Passage this week of minimum-wage increases in Maryland’s two largest jurisdictions could either give momentum to statewide legislation or put it at risk, depending on who you ask.
On Wednesday, the Prince George’s County Council voted to raise the $7.25-an-hour minimum to $11.50 over the next four years — acting a day after the Montgomery County Council passed a similar measure.
State lawmakers took no action this year on a bill that would have raised the minimum wage across Maryland to $10 an hour by mid-2015.
But supporters have been gearing up for a renewed push in January, this time with all three Democratic candidates backing an increase of some sort. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is also considering making a bill part of his final legislative package.
On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, one of the Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls, said he thinks the actions of Montgomery and Prince George’s would “help our effort” during the upcoming 90-day session.
Brown — who faces Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery) in next year’s primary — pointed to the legislature’s passage in 2007 of a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants that materialized after Baltimore and several counties had adopted prohibitions.
“We’ve see in the past when certain counties go first, it gives momentum to pass similar measures in the General Assembly,” Brown said.
But some lawmakers say approval of separate wage bills in Montgomery and Prince George’s — with minimums higher than most state lawmakers have contemplated — could complicate the dynamic for a statewide bill.
“There are a lot of us who believe the minimum wage should go up statewide, but I think Montgomery and Prince George’s jumping out ahead complicates things in a way that is a little hard to predict,” said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery). “The biggest fear for advocates would be legislators saying, ‘Just let the counties do it.’ ”
In separate interviews Wednesday, both House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said it’s possible that the General Assembly would adopt a statewide minimum wage that counties would be allowed to exceed. But neither said they were certain how the debate would go.
“It would be better if each county had the same minimum wage, but Montgomery County is very different than the Eastern Shore,” Miller said.
Busch said the actions of the two counties raised several questions that lawmakers would need to explore, including enforcement of the new standards. Currently, a state agency is responsible for monitoring the compliance of businesses.
Busch said he also wants to look at the possible impact on businesses that operate in multiple locations in different counties.
Stacey Mink, spokeswoman for Raise Maryland, a group pushing for a statewide bill, said she thinks the passage of local bills could provide some momentum heading into the 90-day session for a bill that sets a floor for all counties in Maryland.
“The value of a state bill is it brings everyone up,” Mink said. “The current minimum wage isn’t feasible for families anywhere.”