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O’Malley says he will focus on minimum wage hike

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley said Tuesday he will focus on raising the state’s minimum wage during his last full legislative session as Maryland’s governor.

Martin O'Malley, Michael Busch, Thomas V. Mike Miller

In this May 2, 2013 file photo, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, center, speaks between Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, left, and House Speaker Michael Busch during a bill signing ceremony in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

O’Malley underscored the wage issue as a top priority while speaking at a luncheon of the Maryland Democratic Party, a day before the state’s 90-day session is scheduled to begin.

The Democrat’s second term ends next January and he can’t run for a third. He didn’t say how much he believed the $7.25 minimum wage should be increased. Still, he reaffirmed his commitment to support what will surely be a major issue of the election-year session.

“When workers have the ability to spend more money, our economy does better,” O’Malley said. “When people bring home more pay in their pockets and have more in the family checkbook, that helps our economy. That helps our businesses.”

Republican Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, disagreed. The Senate minority leader questioned how an increased minimum wage would impact employers in western Maryland, and he said it would certainly add to the cost of employment. That could cause employers to hire fewer people, particularly for summer jobs.

“It can’t be good for those who don’t get a job,” Brinkley said.

Montgomery and Prince George’s counties already have approved minimum wage increases each year up to $11.50 by 2017. Lawmakers have noted it would be hard to raise it by that much statewide, and some have suggested a benchmark above $7.25 while allowing counties to go over it.

This year’s session is bound to be unique due to changes in the state’s political calendar in a big election year for statewide offices as well as all 188 seats in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. For one thing, the Feb. 25 filing deadline for the 2014 elections falls in the middle of the session.

“It could be very interesting, because it’s going to be a lot of juggling, a lot of elbowing, a lot of politics,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert.

Also, Maryland’s primary has been moved up from September to June 24 to make sure that voters in the military and overseas have time to receive absentee ballots.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said some lawmakers will have one foot in the Legislature and one foot on the campaign trail. The speaker also pointed out there will be a longer period between the primary and November general election, instead of the previous six-week window in past elections.