Montgomery County Council member Mark Elrich (D-At Large) (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The Montgomery County lawmakers leading the charge for a $15 minimum wage in the state’s largest jurisdiction say they are not deterred by a study that says the change would cost tens of thousands of jobs over five years.

County Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) said the study — which asked business owners to predict the effect of raising the minimum wage rather than look at the impact of an actual wage hike — was designed to produce negative results.

“What do you think they’re going to tell you,” Elrich said. “It’s not a valid study.”

Elrich, who is running to replace County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), introduced a bill last week to bring the minimum wage up from $11.50 to $15.

Days later, the county released the study by the Philadelphia-based economic consulting group PFM. It was commissioned by Leggett in January after he vetoed a different $15-an-hour minimum-wage bill, also sponsored by Elrich, that had passed the council by one vote.

Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) (Neal Schlosburg)

The PFM report, sent to council members Tuesday evening, said business owners and community business leaders estimated that they would reduce their lower-wage workforce by an average of 23 percent if minimum wage reached $15. The study involved online surveys and in-person and phone interviews.

But Elrich said unemployment in Montgomery decreased between 2013 and 2017, when the hourly minimum wage in the county increased from $7.25 to $11.50.

Looking at that trajectory, he said, it is “laughable” to think the county would lose 47,000 jobs if it increased its minimum wage to $15 by 2022.

Employers said they can attract and retain quality lower-wage workers with pay of about $11 an hour, the study said, suggesting that the county’s existing minimum is “reflective of the market” and “not likely to cause substantial disruption if left in place.”

But council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), a co-sponsor of the Elrich bill, said it’s not “reasonable to assume the minimum wage would stop at $11.50 in 2017 and never change.”

“This study is not the last word on this,” said Leventhal, who is also running for county executive.

The Health and Human Services Committee, which Leventhal chairs, will hold a public hearing to discuss the minimum wage on Sept. 26. The committee will begin discussing the Elrich bill in October.

The bill attempts to address opponents’ concerns about the impact of an increase by giving nonprofit organizations, adult day-care providers and companies with fewer than 26 employees until 2022, instead of 2020, to raise wages.

Leventhal said he is “not locked into the numbers in the second bill.”

He noted that economists have produced studies that say raising the minimum wage is damaging to local economies, as well as studies that say it’s good for consumer spending and strengthens the middle class.

“So I was not surprised that the county could procure a study, that it paid for, that said raising the minimum wage to $15 will have negative effects,” Leventhal said.