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Hogan vetoes minimum wage, school start bills

Gov. Larry Hogan signs legislation providing unemployment benefits to Maryland federal workers in the event of a government shutdown. At left is Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., and on right is House Speaker Pro Tem Del. Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County. (Bryan P. Sears)

This was the scene on Tuesday, when Gov. Larry Hogan signed legislation providing unemployment benefits to Maryland federal workers in the event of a government shutdown. At left is Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., and at right is House Speaker Pro Tem Del. Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County. On Wednesday, Hogan announced he was vetoing three other measures. (Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Three high-profile bills passed early by the General Assembly have been vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Hogan, in two announcements late Wednesday, announced he was vetoing bills to increase the minimum wage; end his executive order on school starts after Labor Day; and strip the Office of the Comptroller of enforcement authority over alcohol wholesalers and distributors.

In rejecting the minimum wage bill, Hogan said the measure could “could cost us jobs, negatively impact our economic competitiveness, and devastate our state’s economy.”

“I think we all share the goal of helping working families enjoy the prosperity of our state, and here again, we have much more work to do,” Hogan wrote in his veto letter. “I would submit to you that no matter how laudable the goal, we must carefully consider the policy implications of a dramatic and untested increase in the minimum wage.”

The governor expressed concerns that phasing in an increase to $15 an hour for all businesses by 2026 would put the state at a competitive disadvantage compared to neighboring states, many of whom are already at rates lower than the current $10.10 per hour wage in Maryland.

“The Fight for $15 sends a message that the State of Maryland values working-class families who play an invaluable role in our economy but are struggling to afford basic living expenses,” responded Sen. Cory McCray, D-Baltimore City and the sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation. “Like the majority of our state’s voters, the Maryland Senate recognizes that now is the time to raise the minimum wage to $15.”

Alissa Barron-Menza, vice president of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, predicted a veto override in the legislature as soon as Thursday. She called on businesses to consider increased the wage faster than the phase-in period prescribed in the bill.

“That would avoid incentivizing people to work for larger businesses, which would increase turnover for small businesses and undercut the customer service that keeps people coming in their doors,” said Barron-Menza.

Business groups, including the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, applauded the governor’s veto.

“This was the right thing to do,” said Mike O’Halloran, state director of the National Federation of Small Business. “Saddling Maryland small businesses with a 48 percent increase in labor costs after a 39 percent increase in the last four years will be extremely tough to manage and for some impossible. Fortunately, the governor heard the pleas from our members and recognized the unintended consequences of such legislation.”

“Our hope is legislators realize that tens of thousands of jobs are likely to be eliminated, and hours cut — leaving those they intend to help with no paycheck,” said O’Halloran. “We ask them to sustain the governor’s veto.”

Hogan called the remaining bills “politically motivated.”

The General Assembly this year passed a bill to allow county school boards to set their own academic calendars — repealing Hogan’s executive order mandating post-Labor Day school starts.

“A post-Labor Day school start is better for our families and helps protect the more traditional end of summer,” Hogan wrote in his veto letter. “In addition, starting school after Labor Day improves health and safety for students, teachers, and education employees who are in some cases required to report — in the second hottest month of the calendar year — to schools that lack air conditioning.”

Earlier this year, Hogan vowed to challenge any such legislation at the ballot box. The House amended the Senate Bill to add language that would set the wording for how it would appear on the ballot — something typically done by the Secretary of State. Some lawmakers have questioned whether such a provision is legal.

“Perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of Senate Bill 128 is the politically charged actions that legislators took in recently amending to directly control the ballot language — a clear attempt to change the outcome of the referendum,” wrote Hogan. “This is highly irregular and a thinly veiled attempt to manipulate the will of our citizens.”

Lawmakers also passed legislation this year that appeared aimed at cowing Comptroller Peter Franchot because of his outspoken advocacy on issues such as easing laws governing the state’s craft brewing industry. The legislature had created a task force over the summer that recommended stripping Franchot’s office of enforcement authority over alcohol wholesalers and distributors saying such a move would be a public health issue.

Hogan Wednesday said he didn’t buy it.

“This legislation is not necessary, serves no purpose, will waste taxpayers’ money and disrupts a well-ordered and completely functional regulatory system,” Hogan wrote in his veto letter. “Simply put, House Bill 1052 is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist. This is personality-driven, petty, partisan politics at its worst.”

Del. Warren Miller, R-Carroll and Howard and sponsor of both the bill that created the task force and the one Hogan vetoed, said he disagreed with the governor’s characterization.

“A lot of work went into the task force, and the bill represents a lot of hard work on behalf of the members that participated,” said Miller.

On Tuesday Hogan signed House and Senate versions of a bill creating an unemployment benefit for federal employees in Maryland who would have to report to work during a federal government shutdown but would not be paid.

The bills were part of more than a dozen laws passed early by the General Assembly. Hogan had until the end of the day Wednesday to decide to veto the bills, sign them or allow them to become law without a signature.

The fate of other bills was not immediately known. The House and Senate could begin taking up veto overrides as soon as Thursday. They have until the end of the session on April 8 to override the governor.



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