ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s Senate president on Thursday braced his colleagues for a difficult debate over raising the state’s minimum wage and asked senators to be open to compromise.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, told senators during session it will be hard to find a solution to address economic differences in various parts of the state. The debate is complicated because Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in the suburbs of the nation’s capital already have decided to raise the wage to $11.50 by 2017. Miller said lawmakers from rural parts of Maryland won’t be able to support an increase that high.
“It’s going to be very difficult to find a solution, so I ask your patience and your forbearance as we try to work something through,” Miller said.
Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has made a minimum wage increase a priority of his legislative agenda. On Tuesday night, O’Malley expressed support for raising the wage to $10.10 by 2016. The state’s current wage is $7.25 an hour.
“It’s going to be a very tough sell, the bill as proposed right now,” Miller told reporters after session.
The governor also supports indexing the minimum wage to keep up with inflation, an aspect of the proposal that Miller does not support. While O’Malley has been quick to note that 21 other states currently have a minimum wage higher than Maryland’s, Miller pointed out that neighboring states have a similar minimum wage as Maryland does now.
“We’re in competition with our sister states,” Miller said. “We’re not in competition with California and Washington. We’re in competition with the Mid-Atlantic, eastern seaboard. That’s who we need to be worried about for jobs.”
Despite the challenges, Miller expressed confidence a minimum wage increase will be approved, but it will likely need to be different in various parts of the state. The Senate president didn’t think each county would have a different minimum wage. However, he said there could be different standards for various regions.
“My prediction is: Something’s going to happen,” Miller said. “We’re going to get an increased minimum wage, but trying to find that number is going to be very difficult in light of what’s already happened in Prince George’s and Montgomery County.”
Miller also said the Senate will wait to see what the House of Delegates does with the legislation.
“We’re going to wait and see what the House does first, but it’s going to be different then, in my opinion, what the governor has proposed, and it’s going to be different than what the Montgomery and Prince George’s County people have already enacted. What it looks like at this point in time, I don’t know.”