Minimum Wage Hike Talks Continue

BERLIN — Using a platform provided by the Labor Day holiday weekend, Maryland Attorney General and likely Democratic nominee for governor Doug Gansler late last week announced support for a renewed effort to significantly raise the minimum wage in Maryland.
Early in the 2013 General Assembly session, legislation was introduced by two western shore lawmakers seeking an increase in Maryland’s minimum wage by degrees from the current $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour by 2015. The legislation failed when the Senate Finance Committee killed the bill by a vote of 8-3, but already there is a renewed interest in raising the issue again in the upcoming 2014 session.
Last Friday, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who is expected to announce his candidacy for governor at any time, used the backdrop of the Labor Day weekend to throw his support behind the effort to raise the state’s minimum wage. Gansler told supporters Marylanders currently working for the minimum wage are struggling in the slowly recovering economy.
“If you work for the minimum wage in Maryland, you live below the poverty line,” he said. “If you work for the minimum wage in Maryland, you have to work two full-time jobs in order to afford the average rent on a two bedroom apartment.”
Gansler called on state legislators to renew the effort to raise the minimum wage in Maryland during the upcoming General Assembly session, joining a host of politicians rallying support for the increase in advance of an election year.
“Clearly the time has come to raise the minimum wage here in Maryland,” he said “While the economy shows signs of recovery, too many working families are struggling.”
The legislation that failed earlier this year called for an increase in the minimum wage first to $8.25 this year, followed by an increase to $9 in 2014 and $10 in 2015. Starting in 2016, the minimum wage would be indexed, or adjusted, annually to keep up with the rising cost of living.
The failed legislation also called for an increase in the minimum wage for tipped employees, which caught the attention of resort lawmakers and business owners during the session, largely because tipped employees make up such a large segment of the workforce in and around Ocean City. Currently, tipped employees earn 50 percent of the minimum wage, or $3.63 per hour. If the legislation had passed as introduced, the minimum wage for tipped employees would be increased to 70 percent.
While increasing the minimum wage for all employees, including a modest increase for tipped employees, is clearly a favorite among the workforce in Maryland, it could have serious implications for the business community still struggling in a staggering economy, particularly small businesses in seasonal or resort communities that walk the thin line between success and failure.
Senator Jim Mathias (D-38), who serves on the Finance Committee, was among the eight senators who voted down the minimum wage hike last session. Mathias said at the time he could not support the legislation because of its potential dire implications on small businesses in his district. He said market factors and employee demand should continue to determine what the prevailing wage should be without the state mandating minimums.
Delegate Mike McDermott, who represents Worcester County, also did not support the legislation earlier this year, but the House never got to vote on it after the Senate committee killed it. McDermott at the time pointed to fragile balance between making it and closing up shop for many businesses in his district.