2017 | Politics

County Council Begins Second Attempt To Raise Minimum Wage to $15 Per Hour

Marc Elrich introduces new version of minimum wage bill; local business coalition says legislation should be withdrawn until county impact study is released

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Supporters of a $15 minimum wage rallied in front of the Montgomery County Council building earlier this year

Andrew Metcalf

County Council member Marc Elrich is preparing for another legislative battle over the county’s minimum wage.

On Tuesday the at-large member and county executive candidate introduced a new version of a $15 minimum wage bill after a similar bill was vetoed by County Executive Ike Leggett earlier this year. The new bill would raise the wage incrementally to $15 per hour by 2020 for many employers, while small businesses would have until 2022 to raise employees’ minimum wage.

The council had approved the previous bill by a 5-4 vote, lacking the 6-3 majority needed to override Leggett’s veto. Leggett had recommended the county study how the wage increase would impact the local economy before it’s approved.

The county executive’s office is working to complete that study now. Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield said Tuesday it will be completed within the next week.

Elrich included concessions in the new version that attempt to address the concerns of Leggett and the bill’s other opponents in hopes of generating additional support for it.

Elrich and the bill’s other council supporters—George Leventhal, Tom Hucker, Hans Riemer and Nancy Navarro—will still need to convince at least one other council member to support the bill in order to avoid Leggett’s potential veto.

“I hope we can get to a yes over the next couple of months,” Elrich told the council before explaining that he believes low wages are destabilizing families in Montgomery County and keeping them in poverty despite parents’ hard work.

“This legislation is not about the dollar amount,” Elrich said. “It is about the broad impacts of a minimum wage. It is not about whether someone flipping a burger deserves to be paid $15 per hour for that work. It is about whether she can use that wage to support herself and her family.”

The original version of the bill exempted small businesses with fewer than 25 employees from raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour until 2022. The new bill adds two classes of employees to the small business group that would not have to phase in the minimum wage increases until 2022—nonprofits and home healthcare businesses that receive at least 75 percent of their revenue from state and federal medical programs. Nonprofit leaders and home healthcare owners both testified during earlier public hearings about the hardship they’ll face if forced to raise employee wages.

The new bill also includes a provision for the county executive to cancel increases in the minimum wage in case of an economic downturn. If passed, the legislation in 2023 would tie future increases in the minimum wage to the consumer price index for urban workers.

The bill will now move through the committee review process before coming back before the full council. That probably won’t happen until the fall because the council will be in recess until September.

Council President Roger Berliner, who opposed the first bill, said Monday during a press briefing that he hopes to support the new version, but does not want to offer his opinion before he examines the study.

“In particular, we want to see what we can do for our small business community that, in my judgment, has always been bearing the brunt with respect to this,” Berliner said.

Council member George Leventhal took a shot at the new study before its release, saying he has been informed it only includes input from employers and not also from employees who stand to benefit from the minimum wage increase. In speaking with local business owners, he said he’s asked them to name a timetable for increasing the minimum wage and they’ve declined to offer one.

“We’d like to engage in practical and realistic conversation about this, but it’s difficult to do that if the employer community is not willing to engage in honest give and take to determine what schedule could be absorbed without harming the economy,” Leventhal said.

Council member Craig Rice said he wants the council to address his primary concern that it’s difficult for young black people to find jobs and that raising the minimum wage may exacerbate that problem.

“[A] $15 minimum wage does not help a person who does not have a job,” Rice said.

On Tuesday night, a county business coalition composed of local chambers of commerce and real estate groups issued a statement asking the new minimum wage bill to be withdrawn until after the study is completed.

“We believe it is irresponsible to introduce legislation to further increase the local minimum wage on the eve of a six-week recess without understanding the impact on Montgomery County taxpayers,” the statement said. “A county-commissioned study on the local minimum wage will be released in a matter of days, and more thoughtful legislation can be introduced with those facts on the table.”