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Baltimore City Council approves minimum wage bill


Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke sponsored legislation to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour at all businesses by 2026. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

The future of a proposal to eventually raise Baltimore’s minimum wage to $15 an hour will rest with Mayor Catherine Pugh.

The Baltimore City Council approved the bill Monday night with an 11-3 voice vote. But whether Pugh will sign the bill or veto it is unknown.

Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for the mayor, said Pugh would not make a decision regarding the legislation until a final version is on her desk, a position Pugh has kept since the bill started working its way through the City Council.

The mayor will have to take into account a variety of factors, he said, including potential impact on the economy at a time the city must comply with a police consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice and help close a nearly $130 million Baltimore City Public Schools deficit.

“She will take all of the city’s financial obligations into account,” McCarthy said.

The bill would gradually raise the city’s minimum wage before reaching $15 an hour by 2022, although businesses with fewer than 50 employees can phase in the increase through 2026. The increase would not apply to employees younger than 21.

A veto by Pugh could also set up a battle with the Baltimore City Council. Earlier this month, 12 of the 15-member legislative body voted for the bill, which would be enough for a legislative override. It’s unclear if all the council members who voted for the bill would vote to override the mayor. (Councilman Brandon M. Scott was out of the country Monday but has been a supporter of the effort.)

McCarthy, in a telephone interview Monday, indicated Pugh may be able to sway votes against a veto override.

Much of that decision may come down to politics and the relationship between the mayor and various council members. Eight legislators were elected in the fall and may be more willing to buck Pugh. None of the legislators endorsed Pugh in the crowded Democratic primary.

Groups representing business interests in the city, such as the Greater Baltimore Committee, have strongly opposed the legislation. The city’s quasi-public economic development agency, Baltimore Development Corp. has also spoken out against the bill.

“The GBC urges Mayor Catherine Pugh to veto this bill to ensure Baltimore does not become an island among neighboring jurisdictions,” President and CEO Donal C. Fry said in a statement after the vote. “A veto would also be a fiscally prudent step to avoid a host of difficult decisions elected officials will need to make to pay for the millions of dollars in higher labor costs annually that city government and taxpayers will incur.”

Pugh, a small business owner herself, has made reaching out to businesses and spurring economic development throughout the city a major goal of her administration since taking over as mayor in December.

Brokers representing retail clients have also expressed concern that, if Baltimore is the only jurisdiction in the state to implement a higher minimum wage, national retailers may balk at locating in the city.

That could have a major impact on recent retail proposals, such as Corporate Office Properties Trust’s plans to build 27,500 square feet of retail space at 400 E. Pratt St. or New York-based Carlyle Group’s interest in purchasing city-owned property to build 24,795 square feet of retail at 1 Pratt St.

It also comes at a time when brick-and-mortar retail stores fight online retailers that can often offer lower prices in large part because of reduced overhead.

But increasing the minimum wage remains popular among the public, according to one poll. Eighty-one percent of 400 registered voters polled by The Mellman Group strongly supported raising the minimum wage.

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