Council passes minimum wage raise, now awaits Leggett’s signature
ROCKVILLE – After many debates, protests and public hearings, the County Council voted Tuesday to increase the County’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.
Now Bill 12-16 awaits County Executive Ike Leggett’s signature before it can become law. Patrick Lacefield, a spokesperson for the County, said Leggett has not decided whether he plans to sign the minimum wage increase in to law.
“We’re still reviewing it; we haven’t made a decision,” Lacefield said.
Leggett has three options with the newly passed minimum wage increase: signing it into law, vetoing it or taking no action, which would allow for the bill to become law without his signature. According to Lacefield, Leggett will have 10 days after he receives the bill to make a decision.
Leggett did not return a request to comment by publication time.
“I can’t tell you which one at this point is going to be chosen,” Lacefield said of the County executive’s three options.
On Tuesday, the Council passed Bill 12-16, voting 5-4. It was a rare split in the all-Democratic County Council, which fiercely debated the effects of raising the County’s minimum wage for months.
Leggett, who has yet to make a decision, said in November in a letter to the Council that he could not support the bill in its current form, requesting the Council delay the full implementation to 2022 and provide a so-called “off ramp” or delay in scheduled increases to the minimum wage in the time of an economic downturn.
Before the Council passed the minimum wage Tuesday, Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) proposed amendments including an “off ramp” and delayed the full implementation for businesses with 25 employees or less. But according to Lacefield, Leggett wanted the full implementation to $15 per hour delayed to 2022 for all businesses, not just one with 25 employees or less.
If it is signed by Leggett, Montgomery County would join jurisdictions such as Seattle, New York City, Washington, D.C., and California as places that have voted to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Council members Elrich, George Leventhal (D-at large), Hans Riemer (D-at large), Nancy Navarro (D-4) and Tom Hucker (D-5) voted in favor of the increase, while Council members Roger Berliner (D-1), Nancy Floreen (D- at large), Sidney Katz (D-3) and Craig Rice (D-2) voted against increasing the minimum wage.
“I hope that this makes an improvement in the community,” said Elrich, who is the lead sponsor of the bill. “I won’t make any claims about eliminating poverty, but I will say that money in people’s pockets changes the dynamic of their lives, and we ought to be doing this.
The County’s current minimum wage is $10.75 per hour and is already scheduled to increase to $11.75 per hour by July. Bill 12-16 would incrementally increase the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour by 2018, $13.75 per hour by 2019 and $15 per hour by 2020.
On Jan. 11, during one of Leggett’s budget forums in Silver Spring, protesters carrying a bullhorn and signs interrupted Leggett, demanding that he sign a minimum wage increase.
“Now I want you to understand that once we do this, and we will in fact do it in my opinion – 15 – the question is when we do it, circumstances and conditions,” Leggett told protesters at his budget forum. “What that will mean will be that fewer dollars will be left in the County’s budget as well, because we have to pay for all of the ancillary services, all of those in the nonprofit sector that will in fact now request the County to provide the additional resources for them in order to meet the $15 minimum wage. That’s several million dollars.”
The four members of the Council that voted against the minimum wage increase said they did not necessarily disagree with raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour but that they do not know what the economic impacts of raising the minimum wage will be.
Before the vote on the minimum wage bill itself, the Council took up a vote on an economic impact study for the minimum wage that was voted down 5-4.
“I’m concerned we are literally on the verge of voting for a wide sweeping economic policy without the benefit of any economic data that involves the unique situation of Montgomery,” Katz said.
The council hearing room was packed with mostly pro-increase attendees. As the council vote passed, people cheered, holding white signs with “Fight for $15,” a slogan popularized by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which fought to include a $15 minimum wage in the platform during the party’s convention in July.
During the bill’s public hearing, several business owners pleaded with the Council not to raise the minimum wage, saying it would increase costs and require them to cut hours or benefits for their employees or fire them altogether.
Katz, a former small business owner himself, said he sympathized with business owners’ concerns with the proposed increase in the minimum wage.
Members of the Council, both for and against of the minimum wage increase, agreed that economists are split on economic benefits of increasing the minimum wage.
Before he gave his comments, Leventhal played a short segment from National Public Radio’s business program, “Marketplace,” that made the point that economists are split on what the impacts of the minimum wage are.
Leventhal and other co-sponsors of the minimum wage increase called the proposed study a delay tactic. “Nobody knows what will happen in the future,” he said. “There is no consultant we could hire who could tell us with certainty what will happen in the future.”