ANNAPOLIS — A coalition of progressive groups and legislative Democrats say they will push for an increase to $15 per hour in the state’s minimum wage.
The call for an increase comes less than a year after the state phased in the final increase to $10.10 passed five years ago. Lawmakers and advocates say more needs to be done to support the working poor.
“We know there’s a lot of folks that is out there struggling in Baltimore City or the Eastern Shore and we want to make sure those people are represented,” said Sen. Cory McCray, D-Baltimore City.
The freshman senator did not sponsor the bill when he was a delegate but will take the lead on the bill this year in the Senate.
“This is my lane,” said McCray. “This is Cory McCray’s lane.”
Maryland phased in the final step of an increase to $10.10 per hour in July.
Under a proposal that is expected to be filed by lawmakers in the House and Senate, the state’s minimum wage would increase to $11 on July 1. The wage would continue to increase by $1 annually through 2023.
The bill is similar to legislation introduced last year.
Included in the bill is a provision that would guarantee increases for caregivers who work with those with developmental disabilities and a phase-out of the tipped wage exemption.
Also included is a provision providing automatic annual increases in the minimum wage tied to inflation. The provision is similar to one in a gas tax increase law passed in 2013. It would eliminate the need for the legislature to revisit future increases, which are often controversial and difficult to build support for.
McCray cited recent polling that he said shows support for the increase, as well as early indications of support from House and Senate leaders.
“You have to fight,” said McCray. “It’s about what the bill looks like when it comes out. That’s very, very important, and when you don’t have a governor who may be supportive of it, you have to be very mindful of those things.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he believes there is strong support for an increase.
“It’s going to happen this year,” said Miller, but he left open the question of support for tying future increases to inflation and said the legislation should address the difference between rural and urban areas.
“It’s one of those issues where I don’t think the House and the Senate are going to agree initially, and it might come down to the last days of the session,” said Miller. “We’re going to fight like hell to avoid that.”
Mike O’Halloran, Maryland director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said an increase would hurt small business owners.
“Many small businesses will be faced with significantly higher labor costs that they simply cannot afford, and the result will be a reduction in workers hours and the elimination of jobs,” said O’Halloran.
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who enters his second term on Wednesday, signaled he may oppose attempts to increase the minimum wage.
“We already have one of the highest minimum wages in America,” Hogan said Wednesday. “We’re by far the highest in region and one of the highest in the country. If we jump it to $15, we will be more than twice as high as Virginia, that is $7.25. Now, does that put us at a competitive disadvantage?
Hogan said the disparity could cause businesses to think twice before coming to Maryland and cost the state “as many as 100,000 jobs.”
“So, yeah, we want to help but is (an increase) helping or hurting the people we’re trying to help? That’s the discussion I think we need to have over the next 90 days rather than say, “Hey, it sounds good. We have signs, the strive for 15, everyone should get 15. I don’t want to turn around in 90 days and say, ‘Hey, all the businesses are leaving again.”