A key legislative committee in Montgomery County agreed Monday to extend the timeline for businesses to adopt a $15 minimum wage, the latest attempt to enact a law that would be the first of its kind for a U.S. suburban jurisdiction.
The changes adopted by the Health and Human Services Committee of the Montgomery County Council would give large businesses until 2022 and small businesses until 2024 to comply, and define small businesses as those with up to 50 employees. They mirror recommendations made by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) last month.
Leggett vetoed a $15-wage bill earlier this year, saying its implementation timeline was too fast and could harm the county's economy.
Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), who voted against the minimum-wage bill in January, proposed the changes on Monday and voted for them with Council member Craig Rice (D-Upcounty).
"There is a tipping point if you go too quickly," Berliner said at the committee meeting, adding that "this has always been about pace."
Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), who voted in favor of the January legislation and chairs the three-member Health and Human Services Committee, opposed Berliner's recommendations.
The full council will consider the revised legislation and could vote to reverse the changes.
Leggett could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.
The legislation approved in January would have made the wealthy suburb the first jurisdiction in Maryland to require a $15 minimum wage by 2020. Businesses with 25 or fewer employees would have until 2022 to comply.
But only five of the council's nine members voted in favor of that bill, one fewer than needed to override a veto. Those in opposition, including Berliner and Rice, said they would not rule out supporting the increase but first wanted to see the results of a county-commissioned study on the effects of a $15 minimum wage. The study has since been widely discredited for overestimating the number of jobs that would be lost as a result of the increase.
At Monday's meeting, Leventhal posed a question for Leggett's office: Can the county get its money back?
"Are the taxpayers still obligated to pay $149,000 for this study?" he said.
Over the summer, Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) introduced a revised bill that attempted to address Leggett's concerns. The bill gives nonprofit organizations and adult-day-care providers, along with small businesses, until 2022 to comply.
Elrich said in an interview Monday that further extending the timeline would be "just a bad deal for working people," especially given inflation. He criticized those who say the increase would lead to significant job losses in the county, which has boosted minimum wage from $7.25 to $11.50 since 2013.
"We've just raised it higher and faster over the last four years and we had no significant job loss," Elrich said. "It's just made-up stuff."