Elrich Reignites Push For $15 Minimum Wage in Montgomery County
County Council member expects to introduce wage hike legislation Tuesday
Council member Marc Elrich
Months after a failed push to raise Montgomery County’s minimum wage again, County Council member Marc Elrich is gearing up for another attempt.
Elrich said he will reintroduce Tuesday a modified version of his earlier proposal to hike the county’s hourly wage to $15. The changes address some of the points raised by County Executive Ike Leggett in January when he vetoed the previous bill approved by the council. But Elrich Thursday predicted the proposal will continue to evolve during the legislative process.
The bill’s reappearance comes as officials await the delivery of an economic study on the possible ramifications of an increase to $15 an hour. However, Elrich said it’s time to get the ball rolling on boosting pay for working families.
“We’re having a ton of people who are trying to subsist on a wage that’s really inadequate,” said Elrich, who is running for county executive in 2018. “If you can’t feed your family and you can’t put a roof over your head … there’s something wrong with that.”
Elrich’s new proposal would gradually bump up the county’s minimum wage, starting out at $12.50 per hour in July 2018 and adding $1.25 each year until the rate reaches $15 on July 1, 2020. The bill would phase in the increase more slowly for certain employers, in an attempt to soften the impact. Nonprofits, employers with fewer than 26 workers and adult day care providers would have until July 1, 2022, to hit the $15 target. The measure also includes an “off-ramp” that would enable the county executive to cancel scheduled increases during an economic slump.
Starting in 2023, the minimum wage would go up each year based on a consumer price index for urban workers.
Elrich said his new proposal has won support from council members Tom Hucker, Nancy Navarro, George Leventhal and Hans Riemer, who were also his allies on the previous minimum wage bill.
The council passed that proposal by a 5-4 vote in January, but bill supporters weren’t able to secure the six votes needed for a veto-proof majority. In a memo explaining his decision to quash the measure, Leggett wrote that he supports a minimum wage hike over an appropriate timeframe but had concerns about the design of Elrich’s bill. That version of the bill also spread the wage hike over a three-year period, provided an extra two years for smaller employers and featured the “off-ramp” option.
Leggett argued the 2020 date was too soon and said raising the baseline wage to $15 could put county businesses at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring jurisdictions that allow lower hourly pay.
Washington, D.C., is the only other local jurisdiction where the minimum wage is on course to hit $15 per hour by 2020. On July 1, the minimum wage in Montgomery County went up from $10.75 to $11.50 per hour because of an increase approved by county officials in 2013.
A spokesman for Leggett said the county executive hasn’t seen Elrich’s proposal in detail and can’t comment on its specifics.
“The concerns that he had about affordability by businesses, especially small businesses … are still concerns of his,” spokesman Patrick Lacefield said. “He’s waiting to see the study that we commissioned on what the impact would be on the county in terms of business and employment.”
Elrich said he doesn’t buy the argument that raising the minimum wage will wreak havoc on county businesses; higher-paid workers show more loyalty to their employers and have more spending money to put back into the local economy, he said.
“That money is not going to wind up in luxury yachts and art. It’s going to wind up in food and clothes,” Elrich said.
The economic impact study is expected for release sometime this summer, but Lacefield said he didn’t have an exact date. Elrich estimated his proposal will go to a public hearing in late September.