Minimum Wage Raised In Maryland Over Veto

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By John Wagner and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Maryland lawmakers voted yesterday to raise the state's minimum wage by $1 an hour, delivering a pay increase to more than 50,000 workers who toil on the bottom rung of the employment ladder.

The Democrat-led Senate voted 30 to 17 to override Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s veto of the legislation, which will in 30 days officially increase the minimum wage in Maryland to $6.15 an hour, $1 more than what is mandated by federal law. The House, also led by Democrats, voted to override Ehrlich (R) last week.

Lawmakers brushed aside concerns from Ehrlich that the move would prompt a small-business revolt and shove low-income laborers out of jobs. Yesterday, he called it "a job killer for the most marginal worker."

The lawmakers' action means Maryland will join 17 states and the District in guaranteeing a higher minimum wage than federal law requires. The District's minimum is $7 an hour. In Virginia, the rate is pegged to the federal rate.

The veto override was the second in the opening days of the 2006 General Assembly session to draw a bolder line between the two parties as they head into a hotly contested election season, a split that follows a traditional storyline for each party.

Democrats billed the passage of the wage bill, coupled with legislation approved last week requiring Wal-Mart to spend more on employee health benefits, as a way to plant their party firmly on the side of working-class voters. The governor, by contrast, wants to show his party's unyielding commitment to the business community.

"These two votes have become two more reasons for businesses not to come to Maryland," said Ron Wineholt, vice president for government affairs for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, who said the symbolic effect of both bills extends well beyond the people they will directly affect.

Democrats countered that both measures were narrowly targeted to help some of the most vulnerable of the state's nearly 3 million workers.

"If you want to have a stable society where hard-working poor people can support their families, you have to do things like this," said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery).

Both bills were part of a series of rapid-fire votes cast in the opening weeks of the legislative session that could drive up Democratic turnout on Election Day. Yesterday also brought passage of two vetoed bills that proponents said will make it easier for people to vote. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2 to 1, any increased turnout is expected to benefit Democrats.

One bill approved over the governor's veto will expand the number of days polling places will stay open, allowing voting as early as a week before the election. Another will criminalize any effort to trick or intimidate potential voters from going to the polls.

Republicans criticized both measures on the House floor yesterday, saying they could open the door to voter fraud.


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