Mayor Catherine Pugh on Wednesday defended her decision to veto a Baltimore City Council bill raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and extolled the role small businesses play in providing young residents jobs.
Pugh delivered her remarks at the Hyatt Regency Hotel during an event hosted by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore in conjunction with the organization’s annual State of Downtown report.
Business interests in the city generally opposed the minimum-wage legislation. Increasing the minimum wage posed a potential threat to retailers, a main pillar of downtown’s economy, because the bill disproportionately impacted low wage workers in the retail industry.
The Downtown Partnership’s report found retailers in a one mile radius of Pratt and Light streets tallied almost $1.2 billion in sales last year. Retail occupancy rates last year reached 89.5 percent, lower than the metro area average of 95.4 percent and national average of 93.7 percent.
Pugh said Wednesday that the scheduled state minimum wage increases to $9.25 on July 1 and $10.10 in 2018, as well as concerns about Baltimore raising the minimum wage higher than surrounding jurisdictions played into her rejecting the bill. She also said conversations with clergy, nonprofits and businesses helped shape her decision.
“I have been a big supporter of (raising) the minimum wage,” said Pugh, who owns a small business.
The mayor praised the role of small businesses in the growth of the city’s center and their part providing jobs for youths in the city. Baltimore posted a 6.6 percent unemployment rate in January according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Maryland’s overall unemployment rate has dropped below 5 percent in recent months.
“We have to get ahold of our youth or the drug dealers will,” Pugh said.
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