A bill raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour won final approval in the Maryland Senate on Thursday with enough votes to override a possible gubernatorial veto, making it all but certain that the state will join other progressive jurisdictions in requiring what advocates call a living wage.
The Senate voted 32 to 15 along party lines to phase in the higher wage by 2025 for companies with at least 15 employees. Smaller businesses would have until 2028.
The House of Delegates also overwhelmingly passed the legislation, although differences between the bills must be addressed by a joint committee.
Sen. Cory V. McCray, who sponsored the Senate version, told his colleagues that he was proud to be a part of a legislative body that would address economic inequality. He said his mother recently told him that she struggled to pay rent and buy food for him and his sister when they were children.
“I’m grateful,” McCray (D-Baltimore City) said on the Senate floor.
But several GOP senators said a $15 wage would result in job loss and hurt the economy, especially in rural parts of the state.
“The storm clouds are coming,” said Sen. Andrew A. Serafini (R-Washington). “It’s going to cause people to lose jobs and face hardship.”
The bill’s advancement this session, after years of failure, illustrates the leftward shift the majority-Democratic General Assembly made after the November elections. But the legislature’s centrist Democratic leaders also slowed the implementation timetable and gave additional time to small businesses, ensuring that Maryland will not reach a $15 wage until after states including California, Massachusetts and New Jersey have done so.
Hogan, who had proposed a smaller wage increase, had no immediate comment on the passage of the legislation. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said this week that the governor probably will veto the bill.
Depending on how quickly the different versions of the bill are reconciled, lawmakers could try to take advantage of a little-used provision in the state constitution that says bills sent to the governor at least six days before the end of the legislative session must either be signed or vetoed. That would give lawmakers time to override a veto before the General Assembly adjourns in early April.
In other legislative action Thursday, the House gave final passage to a $46.7 billion budget that would mean an unprecedented increase in education funding — including $325 million to pay for changes recommended by a landmark education commission. Lawmakers cut several programs pushed by Hogan, including money for school safety and to provide funding for scholarships to private schools.
While Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), the House Appropriations chairwoman, described the spending plan as “the best budget I’ve ever seen for the kids of Maryland,” Hogan decried the cuts, calling them “egregious . . . the height of hypocrisy and a disservice to our students, teachers and parents.”
In a letter to the presiding officers, the governor also said the state’s spending on education has not served students well.
“The central question is: Are Maryland schools better today than they were in 2002? We have invested billions more, but have outcomes improved in Baltimore City and across the state? I think many parents would say ‘no,’ ” the letter said.
The budget heads to the Senate for consideration.
The Senate also passed a bill that allows Johns Hopkins University to establish its own police force, an idea that was sharply criticized by several black residents, civil rights advocates and lawmakers who represent the city and did not want to create a private law enforcement agency. The legislation was supported, however, by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a Hopkins graduate and benefactor; and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who represents Baltimore and came to Annapolis this week to make an impassioned plea for the bill to address the city’s surge in crime. It now moves to the House.
Also on Thursday, Miller said the General Assembly will not take action this year on whether to legalize sports betting.
Miller said the office of Attorney General Brian K. Frosh (D) has told legislative leaders that the only way for the state to expand gambling is to amend the state constitution, which requires a voter referendum.
Since there is no statewide election in 2019, the earliest that could happen is 2020.
Last spring, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban that kept states, with the exception of Nevada, from allowing sports betting. In addition to the District, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, West Virginia and New Mexico have since legalized the practice.
“Everybody’s got a head start — Las Vegas, New Jersey . . . it’s very unfortunate,” Miller said.