ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee picked up their discussion of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 from last week’s hearing.
On Monday, the committee did not vote or make any recommendations to the bill, as council member still waited for more information from their staff about the potential impacts.
Bill 12-16, has strong support on the council with five co-sponsors, with council members George Leventhal (D- At large), Hans Riemer (D- At large), Nancy Navarro (D-4), Tom Hucker (D-5) and the leading sponsor, Marc Elrich (D-At large).
Leventhal said the HHS committee will review the bill again at a work session before sending it to the Council for a vote.
If passed, the bill would gradually raise the current county minimum wage of $10.75 per hour to $15 per hour by 2020. Under a law passed in 2013, the minimum wage is already scheduled to increase to $11.50 per hour by July, 1 of 2017.
Bill 12-16 would raise the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour in 2018, $13.75 in 2019 and finally $15 per hour by 2020. Elrich said the gradually increase in the minimum wage would allow time for businesses to adjust for the increased costs.
Though the bill has enough co-sponsors to pass the council, Elrich said he wants to keep the bill intact while it stays in committee.
“I think the wage is worth more than just the wage,” Elrich said. “It fundamentally changes people’s lives and I think that there is a difference between being dependent on support from government and not being dependent on support from government.”
At the committee meeting Monday, council members Craig Rice (D-2) and Roger Berliner (D-1) said they were unsure of what increasing the minimum wage’s impact would be on employment and businesses.
Rice said he worries increasing the minimum wage will increase the willingness of businesses, particularly fast food restaurants and super markets, to use automated machines instead of people for low-wage jobs.
“Every time I check out, I check out through the automated teller, and that’s a job that used to be there, that’s a job that a person had before,” said Rice about his experiences at the grocery store.
Leventhal said it is possible increasing the minimum wage could incentivize business owners to move toward automation but added they are already moving in that direction.
At the public hearing for the bill last, several of the county’s business owners testified against the bill, saying they could not handle the increased cost from payer their low-wage workers more.
Some business owners suggested the council conducted a study to determine if the raising the minimum wage again is a good idea, but council members at the meeting on Monday shot that idea down, as they believe it would cost too much money.
Leventhal said a study would not do the County any good, because the outcome of the study would highly depend on who does it.
“I would be surprised that any credible objective study would be a slam dunk one way or another, “Leventhal said.
Josh Hamlin, legislative attorney for the County Council, said while other jurisdictions such as Seattle have passed a $15 per hour minimum wage, it is still unclear what the impact will be as the wage has not been increased yet.
Additionally, council staff and the County Council agreed they still do not know the impact to businesses from passing the last minimum wage increase in 2013.