by Megan Brockett
Capital News Service
The Maryland House of Delegates voted 89 to 46 on Friday to pass Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage.
If also passed by the Senate, the measure would gradually increase the base rate of pay for most workers from the federal level of $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2017.
O’Malley has touted a minimum wage hike as his top legislative priority this session, pushing the idea that a strong middle class fuels statewide economic growth.
The proposal that passed the House on Friday differs in significant ways from O’Malley’s original proposal, including a six-month delay in implementation, but Delegate Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s, chairman of the committee responsible for the changes, lauded the measure as a bipartisan effort.
“What we tried to do in the committee is make the best possible bill we could find,” Davis said.
The House Economic Matters Committee passed the proposal earlier this week after eliminating a provision that would have indexed the minimum wage to rise automatically with inflation. It also did away with an increase for tipped workers.
Davis said the delay would give businesses more time to prepare for the increase, and other supporters of the amended version said that doing away with the index ensures that lawmakers’ hands won’t be tied on the issue in the future.
But several Republican lawmakers said the proposed increase to $10.10 an hour is “extreme” and the changes made to the bill still fall short of offering adequate protection to businesses.
“This bill is far better than where it was before,” said Delegate Kelly Schulz, R-Frederick. “There is still work that needs to be done. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Schulz said the competition from businesses in surrounding states where the minimum wage is lower would be too much for businesses in Maryland and urged a more “logical” increase.
Other opponents, like Delegate Michael D. Smigiel, R-Cecil, spoke out against a hike of any size, rejecting the notion touted by supporters that a raise would help many residents who are struggling to support a family on $7.25 an hour.
He said raising the wage would increase the cost for businesses and force businesses to layoff employees.
Davis addressed the conflicting nature of the research that has been done on the effects of minimum wage increase, saying it’s largely a “split decision.”
But he called the bill a “socially responsible” measure that would benefit countless residents.
“I see [the bill] as giving what our fellow Marylanders truly want, and that’s a hand up and not a hand out,” he said.
In a written statement issued by his office Friday, O’Malley praised the passage of the measure: “Raising the minimum wage makes good business sense: when workers have more money, businesses have more customers, growing our economy in a way that works.”
The bill is now set to move to the Senate.
If it were to become law, Maryland would join 21 other states and Washington, D.C. in having a minimum wage above the federal level.
Capital News Service reporter Sarah Tincher contributed to this report.