A three-member Montgomery County Council committee voted 2-1 Monday morning to lengthen the implementation timeline for a $15-per hour minimum wage for large and small businesses for two extra years.
The amendment also would increase the definition of a small business from 25 employees or fewer to 50 employees or fewer. Large businesses under the amendment would be defined as having more than 50 employees.
The move alters the version of the bill submitted previously by Council member Marc Elrich.
The timeline under the amendment would require large businesses to raise the minimum wage by 2022 and small businesses to do so by 2024.
County Executive Ike Leggett recommended the slower timeline last month. It emulates recently approved minimum-wage legislation in Minneapolis. Council President Roger Berliner and member Craig Rice voted for the slower timeline, while George Leventhal voted against it.
Elrich’s bill that was introduced in July called for businesses with more than 25 employees to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2020 and smaller employers to do so by 2022. The bill was introduced after the original $15 minimum wage bill that narrowly passed the council was vetoed by Leggett in January.
The county’s current minimum wage is $11.50. The bill would increase it incrementally to $15.
The committee’s vote Monday likely will set up a showdown between the full nine-member council when it takes up the amended bill sometime later this year.
The council has been divided on the issue since approving the bill Leggett vetoed. Five council members—Elrich, Leventhal, Nancy Navarro, Tom Hucker and Hans Riemer—voted for the legislation the first time. Berliner, Rice, Sidney Katz and Nancy Floreen voted against it.
The 5-4 vote lacked the six-vote majority needed to override Leggett’s veto.
Berliner said Monday that the slower timeline that Leggett proposed is an opportunity for the council to compromise. He described it as “a constructive path forward.”
“If we do this too quickly, I believe we will do harm,” Berliner said.
Elrich said after the vote Monday that the council might revert to the faster timeline initially proposed in his bill.
“There are five votes for our version of the bill,” Elrich said. “So maybe the first thing we’ll do is amend it back and have a discussion.”
He described the longer timeline supported by the committee and Leggett as “a shaft job to working people.”
Elrich also pointed to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator to describe the economic differences between Minneapolis and Montgomery County.
The calculator notes an adult living in Montgomery County needs an hourly wage of $15.80 to support themselves, while in Minneapolis, an adult would need a wage of $11.36 per hour. The cost of housing is also more expensive in Montgomery County, with an adult needing to spend $15,600 per year on housing in the county compared to $7,800 in Minneapolis, according to the calculator.
One possible vote the supporters of the faster timeline may lure to their side is Rice.
Rice represents District 2 in the county, which includes Montgomery Village, and has said repeatedly throughout the debate he wouldn’t support increasing the minimum wage increase unless the county found ways to help get jobs for young black, Latino and other people struggling to find their footing in the workforce.
On Monday, he repeated the point, saying a higher minimum wage will not help people who can’t find jobs and might make it harder to do so, as businesses required to pay employees more money might hire more qualified workers.
He called for additional funding for job training and workforce programs to be allocated as part of increasing the minimum wage.
“We’re talking about a multi-million dollar approach,” Rice said.
He called for more funds for county-funded programs such as TeenWorks, which places teens and young adults with no work experience in nonprofit and public sector jobs, as well as Summer RISE, which places junior and senior high school students in private sector summer job shadowing programs. Summer RISE currently serves about 300 to 500 children while TeenWorks serves about 1,000 teens and young adults, Rice said.
“If you look at our neighbor, the District of Columbia, which has a higher unemployment rate, but which also has a summer employment program where they guarantee every single child will have access to a job, we have a lot of work to do,” Rice said. “That’s going to require a huge amount of investment.”
He said if his colleagues would commit to putting money in place to increase funding for these employment programs, he’d be open to raising the minimum wage at a faster rate.
Elrich said Monday he’d be willing to seek funds for the programs to possibly strike a deal, but would like to see a formal proposal from Rice first.
“He’s never put anything on the table,” Elrich said. “I’ve got ideas, but there’s no point in throwing them out there if he’s not going to support it.”
The council has not yet announced when it will take up the amended bill in a full council session.
On Monday, Leventhal also asked whether Leggett could get the $149,000 the county paid for the economic impact study done by the Philadelphia-based consulting firm PFM. Leggett and the study’s authors have said an error in it resulted in exaggerated job loss figures if the minimum wage were increased.
Leventhal noted that Leggett vetoed the first bill because he wanted a study on how raising the wage to $15 per hour would affect the county’s economy. But then last month, Leggett issued his recommendations for a slower implementation timeline without a corrected or new study.
“Can we get our money back?,” Leventhal asked. “Are the taxpayers still obligated to pay $149,000 for a useless study?”
Leventhal added that he didn’t expect an answer immediately, but would like one.
Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for Leggett, did not immediately respond to an email Monday asking whether the county would get a refund for the study.