As Maryland considers various options for raising its minimum wage, Montgomery County continues watching closely to ensure its local wage remains intact.
Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Thursday he is hopeful the state can work out a compromise that allows areas with higher costs of living to have a different wage.
Montgomery and Prince George’s counties passed higher local minimum wages at the end of 2013, both counties raising their wage to $11.50 per hour by 2017. Washington, D.C., also approved a wage increase to $11.50 per hour, but by 2016.
Throughout the debate over the minimum wage increase in the three Washington-area jurisdictions, rumors swirled that the General Assembly would act to revoke Montgomery and Prince George’s ability to independently raise their wage as part of a state-wide bill.
Locally, that concern lingers.
The Montgomery County Council is watchful of possible efforts in Annapolis to limit whether counties can increase minimum wages, Council President Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said Monday .
Several bills have been filed in the General Assembly with different provisions to raise the state’s minimum wage.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has backed a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2016, index the wage to the rate of inflation and increase wages for tipped workers from 50 percent to 70 percent of the minimum wage.
Del. Keith E. Haynes (D-Dist. 44) of Baltimore has proposed a bill that would raise the wage even higher, to match the local wages in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties at $11.50 per hour.
And a conservative-backed bill would allow each county in the state to set its own wage, or defer to the federal wage.
Miller (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach would not directly say if the local wages were safe from state action.
But, he said unless the state can craft a significant compromise, he suspects there will be some differences in minimum wages across the state.
“Our challenge is to create jobs in the private sector at the same time recognize those that need a leg up on the economic ladder of success and make sure they are paid a wage to help them along the way,” Miller said. “We are going to find a way to make that happen.”
After listening to hours of testimony Tuesday in the House Economic Matters Committee, Del. Tom Hucker had little fear Montgomery and Prince George’s counties’ action would be overturned by his colleagues.
“I’m pretty confident we’re not going to have to worry about that,” said Hucker (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park. “What is in Montgomery County’s interest, plus everybody else’s interest, is getting the base wage to the highest possible.”
Not everyone supports a higher wage. Opponents of raising the minimum wage fear it will cost the state jobs. A report released Monday by the Maryland Foundation for Research and Economic Education said a minimum wage increase would hurt local economies. If the legislature approves a statewide minimum wage of $10 an hour, the state would lose about 11,000 jobs, the report said.
Hucker also took little stock in the losses opponents of a higher minimum wage fear will come to pass.
Maryland has raised its minimum wage before and each time there was not a significant increase in unemployment, he said.
“We don’t see all the other downsides that hyperbolic opponents tend to suggest,” he said.
Maryland’s Senate Finance committee was scheduled to hear testimony on both sides of the wage debate Thursday, but that hearing was postponed due to the snow.