Maryland on Thursday became the sixth state — and the first below the Mason-Dixon Line — to adopt a $15 minimum wage, with both chambers of the Democratic-majority legislature rejecting Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill he said would cause job losses and hurt small businesses.
The House of Delegates and state Senate easily mustered the three-fifths vote needed to override Hogan’s veto, fulfilling a promise legislative leaders made at the start of the session and achieving a goal that labor unions and other liberal advocates have worked toward for years.
Under the bill, companies with 15 or more employees must pay workers at least $15 an hour by 2025. The legislature agreed to give smaller companies, with fewer than 15 employees, until July 2026 to comply with the law.
Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), the lead sponsor of the bill, described the override as a victory for working families and a major step toward addressing poverty and income inequality. He said the bill will affect more than a half-million Marylanders.
“When I think about the American Dream, I think about shared prosperity,” he told his colleagues during the debate over the override vote. “When we lift the standards for one worker, we are lifting the standards for all workers.”
The House voted 96 to 43 for the override, while the Senate vote was 35 to 12. The General Assembly also rejected Hogan’s veto of a bill that strips the authority to regulate alcohol and tobacco from the state comptroller’s office, and took action toward overriding his executive order mandating schools start after Labor Day.
Leo Gertner, a staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, said the passage of the wage law means that nearly a quarter of Americans now live in a state where the hourly minimum wage will be $15 by 2025. California, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Illinois all have passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, along with local jurisdictions including Washington and Montgomery County, Md.
“It shows that $15 is the new mainstream minimum,” Gertner said, “and a recognition of the stagnation of the minimum wage.”
Hogan said the minimum-wage bill would damage Maryland’s economy, especially in rural areas, and its ability to compete with neighboring states. He suggested boosting the minimum wage — currently $10.10 an hour — to $12.10 by 2022 and refraining from additional increases unless surrounding states reach a combined average of 80 percent of Maryland’s wage. The minimum wage is $7.25 in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and $8.75 in Delaware and West Virginia.
“We are obviously disappointed that the legislature completely ignored the governor’s reasonable compromise proposal to protect jobs and small businesses,” said Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan. “So much for olive branches.”
Several GOP senators said the boost in the minimum wage will “crush” small businesses, many of which, they said, are operating on slim profit margins.
Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), who chairs the House Economic Matters Committee, said he heard those same concerns the last time Maryland raised its minimum wage, in 2014. He said lawmakers responded to the business community by delaying the full increase and giving more time to the smallest businesses.
House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) argued in vain for members of the House to sustain Hogan’s veto. “Stand up for jobs. Stand up for opportunities,” he said.
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), himself a small-business owner, said there are people on both sides of the aisle who are dissatisfied with the bill, which is a sign it is a good compromise.
“We have to do something,” Wilson said. He acknowledged that the bill feels like a “little bit of a soft punch in the gut” for business owners but added that as one of the richest states in the country, Maryland needs to make sure it is looking after all its residents.
“We are one Maryland,” he said.
The Senate also voted 32 to 12 along party lines to overturn Hogan’s 2016 executive order that required schools to start after Labor Day. The House is expected to take up whether to overturn Hogan’s veto of that bill Friday.
Meanwhile, the House voted 98 to 39 and the Senate voted 30 to 16 to overturn Hogan’s veto of a measure that takes power from the office of Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), an ally of the governor who has battled with fellow Democrats over craft brewers and school construction and sided with Hogan on when schools should start.
Hogan described the alcohol and school calendar bills as “politically motivated.”
The Labor Day bill will let local school districts decide when to start and end the school year. Under Hogan’s executive order, all public schools had to start after Labor Day and end by June 15. Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) said the mandate was “inflexible” and created havoc for local districts trying to comply with the order.
While Republican senators said the alcohol bill was a political attack against Franchot, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said the legislation was about making government more efficient.
Hogan notified legislative leaders of his vetoes Wednesday. Democrats moved quickly to preserve the bills — all of which had passed both chambers with a veto-proof majority — while all members of their caucus were present. Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), a member of the Navy reserve corps, is scheduled to leave for deployment to Afghanistan Friday, nine days before the legislature adjourns.