The Maryland House of Delegates on Friday approved a plan to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2017, advancing Gov. Martin O’Malley’s top legislative priority for the year .
The 89 to 46 vote sent the bill to the Senate, whose president said it could be scaled back.
During Friday’s House debate, supporters argued that O’Malley’s bill would not only provide a better living for low-wage workers but also would help the economy because those workers and their families would have more money to spend.
“To those seeking a hand up but not a handout, I’m here to tell you: Help is on the way,” said Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), who shepherded the bill through the chamber.
Over the course of a two-hour debate, opponents of the increase warned that businesses would be forced to lay off workers as a result of higher labor costs.
“This is too egregious,” Del. Ronald A. George (R-Anne Arundel), a jewelry store owner, told his colleagues. “This kills jobs, and it is going to kill small businesses.”
All 89 votes for the bill came from Democrats. Seven Democrats joined 39 Republicans in opposing the legislation.
The bill approved by the House is somewhat less ambitious than what O’Malley (D) proposed at the outset of his eighth and final 90-day legislative session in Annapolis.
This week, a House committee struck a provision from the governor’s bill that called for automatic increases in the minimum wage beyond 2017 based on inflation. O’Malley has said that he will lobby the Senate to restore that provision, although lawmakers say he faces long odds.
Under the bill, individual Maryland counties would be allowed to set higher minimum wages than the state. Late last year, the Montgomery and Prince George’s county councils voted to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017 in their jurisdictions. The District raised its minimum wage in January.
The bill that passed the Maryland House would raise the minimum wage to $8.20 an hour on Jan. 1; to $9.15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2016; and to $10.10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2017.
Raising the minimum wage has been widely embraced by Maryland Democrats in this election year — supporters include all three major gubernatorial candidates — but lawmakers have been slow to coalesce around a specific plan.
In an interview this week, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) predicted that his chamber will pass a minimum-wage bill in coming weeks but said it could look different from what O’Malley proposed or what the House approved.
There are concerns, Miller said, that the proposed rate of $10.10 an hour is too high for rural jurisdictions and could negatively affect businesses located near the borders of states that have a lower wage requirement.
“This is not about who can be the most favored person by working men and women,” Miller said. “It’s about sound economic policy. . . . The bill will go forward, but I expect there will be changes.”
Among the options senators are expected to consider is a tiered system in which counties would have different minimum wages mandated by the state.
Besides striking future increases tied to inflation, the House Economic Matters Committee made several other alterations to O’Malley’s bill. The committee delayed the implementation date by six months to give businesses more time to adjust.
Lawmakers also carved out an exemption for Six Flags and other seasonal amusement park operators and, in response to pressure from the restaurant industry, changed the way that O’Malley proposed compensating tipped workers.
Tipped employees would have to be paid an hourly rate of $3.63 in addition to tips. If the workers do not collect enough in tips to reach the statewide minimum wage, employers would have to make up the difference. O’Malley had proposed paying tipped workers 70 percent of the statewide minimum wage.
About 67,000 workers in Maryland earned the minimum wage or less in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bill would affect a far greater number of workers, however, since many more earn less than $10.10 an hour. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute cited by Maryland legislative analysts put that figure at 304,000.
An additional 151,000 Marylanders would be likely to get raises as well, according to the institute’s figures, because they make just more than the new minimum wage and employers would want to keep their wage “ladders” intact.