A top Democratic lawmaker in Maryland wants to ban counties and cities from increasing minimum wage in their individual jurisdictions, a proposal that is likely to pit progressive Democrats who have embraced a national push for a $15 hourly wage against the party’s center- and right-leaning members.
Del. Derek E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), the chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, has introduced a bill that would put the General Assembly in charge of setting minimum wage even for cities and counties.
Under the measure — which is similar to laws in place in Oklahoma, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas and Missouri — local governments could only set base pay for their own employees.
Davis said the bill would help improve the business climate in Maryland by making wage and benefit rules more predictable and consistent, noting that Montgomery and Prince George’s counties current have their own minimum-wage laws in place, and Baltimore considered a $15 base wage last summer.
“We’re not a collection of 24 individual fiefdoms,” Davis said “We have to work together as a state so we can attract and retain businesses, keep a healthy, strong economy, and not put our jobs at risk.”
The legislation was met with fierce opposition from local lawmakers in Montgomery County, the state’s largest jurisdiction. They said the cost of living and job market is vastly different in the Washington suburbs than on the Eastern Shore or in Western Maryland, and each area should be able to set wages and benefits accordingly.
Last week, the Montgomery County Council approved a bill that would have made it the first jurisdiction in Maryland — and the second in the region after Washington, D.C., to mandate a $15-per-hour base pay by 2020.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) vetoed that bill, saying he wanted a study of how it would impact the county economy. He also said he would want to implement a wage hike more slowly than the bill was proposing, and exempt small businesses and youth workers.
But Leggett said Thursday that the county should still control its own destiny on the issue. “I have some differences with what the council approved … but I still believe it should be a local matter,” he said.
Montgomery County Council member Tom Hucker (D), a former member of the House of Delegates who voted for the county wage hike, called Davis’s bill “a power grab” that he said was “cooked up by business lobbyists in Annapolis.”
Davis said his aim is to make Maryland more appealing to employers. Corporate leaders, he said, “are consistently telling me one of Maryland’s problems is that they’re inconsistent, constantly changing rules, and it makes it hard to do business. What I’m trying to do is have it more centralized.”
The proposal drew immediate opposition from unions. Jaime Contreras, vice president of the 32BJ SEIU, which represents 18,000 local employees, said Thursday that the bill could cause working families to “lose the little remaining faith they have in the Democratic lawmakers.”
Also Thursday, the state Senate postponed a vote on whether to overturn Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a 2016 bill that would increase the amount of energy that Marylanders receive from solar and wind power.
Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Kent) asked Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) for a one-week delay, and Miller agreed. Hershey later told reporters that he and other members of the Republican caucus will use the time to try to sway some Democrats to vote against the override.
The bill requires the state to obtain 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. It passed the Senate last year with 31 votes, two more than the chamber needs to overturn a veto.
Hogan vetoed the measure, arguing that it would increase energy costs in a way that is equivalent to a tax hike. In the last several weeks, he has waged a battle with the Democratic-controlled legislature over the issue, calling the law a “sunshine tax” and encouraging residents to contact their legislators to oppose it.
“We are talking with our colleagues, letting them know that we believe, and the governor believes, this is a tax,” Hershey said. “We’re going to put up a fight on this tax … We want to make sure they recognize what they are voting on.”
The override vote is scheduled to be considered in the House on Tuesday.