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Veto override unlikely on Baltimore minimum wage bill

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke speaks to reporters Monday at City Hall urging her colleagues to help override Mayor Catherine Pugh’s veto of a bill to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. Behind her are the Rev. Cortly "C.D. " Witherspoon, left, Father Ty Hullinger, and the Rev David Carl Olson.  (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke speaks to reporters Monday at City Hall urging her colleagues to help override Mayor Catherine Pugh’s veto of a bill to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. Behind her are the Rev. Cortly “C.D. ” Witherspoon, left, Father Ty Hullinger, and the Rev David Carl Olson. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Despite the prayers of some local spiritual leaders Monday, the odds of raising Baltimore’s minimum wage to $15 an hour in the near future remain slim, if not completely dead.

Three clergy members urged Baltimore City Council members to override Mayor Catherine Pugh’s veto of a bill raising the minimum wage during a news conference at City Hall organized by activists. But there’s currently not enough support in the council to overturn the mayor’s decision.

“There’s only two sides of history, the right side and the wrong side. We are on the right side,” said the Rev. Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon, who is also an activist.

Pugh vetoed the bill late last month after supporting the proposal during her campaign for mayor. As a result, the mayor has been heavily criticized because, in a campaign questionnaire from unions, Pugh said she supported raising the minimum wage.

The bill would have raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. It included carve-outs allowing businesses with less than 50 employees to phase in the increase through 2026. The minimum wage also only would apply to workers who are at least 21 years old.

Pugh, in issuing her veto, said the city could not afford the potential negative economic impact due to the cost of implementing a consent decree imposed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the city school system running a roughly $130 million budget deficit and the cost of policing a town struggling with a spiking number of homicides.

Baltimore’s Department of Finance estimated the proposed increase would have cost the city $115.8 million over seven years.

Some clergy members took issue with the mayor using the cost of the consent decree as justification for reneging on a campaign pledge.

“Are we pitting getting right with our police against poor people?” David Carl Olson, lead minister at First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, asked Monday.

The Baltimore City Council passed the bill by a veto-proof majority of 12 votes. But despite supporting the initial bill some lawmakers, such as Councilman Edward Reisinger, have publicly expressed hesitation to override a mayoral veto.

The veto was officially received by the council during a meeting Monday. Under the city charter, the council has 20 days after receiving the veto notice to vote to override the bill. The council could not take action on the bill in the meeting because the City Charter requires that five days must pass before the council can take action.

But the council is not scheduled to meet again until April 24. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who sponsored the legislation, tried to garner the signatures of 10 council members needed to force a special hearing to consider the veto. But she was only able to get the signature of seven colleagues.

“There’s not going to be a council meeting and there will not be an override unless the (city) council president calls one,” Clarke said.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said the fate of the bill hasn’t been decided, and that there’s still time for a potential veto override. But it all depends how much support its backers can muster for defying the mayor.

“If the votes aren’t there, (Young’s) not going to bring it to the floor,” Davis said.