County Executive Ike Leggett vetoed a bill that would have increased the County minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.
On. Jan 21, the bill passed the council 5-4, proposing to increase the minimum wage steadily each year till it reached $15 per hour in 2020. The current County minimum wage is $10.75 and is set to increase to $11.75 due to a previous County law passed in 2013.
In November, Leggett wrote a letter to the Council requesting the Council make changes, including delaying the full increase to $15 per to 2022 instead of 2020 and an “off ramp” that would allow the County to delay scheduled minimum wage increases in times of economic downturn.
While the Council passed amendments to the minimum wage bill that would delay the implementation for businesses with 25 employees or fewer to 2022 and give the County the “off ramp,” on Monday Leggett outlined four things that needed to be added to the bill before he signed it: The council would have to pass a resolution to commission a study on the economic impacts of the minimum wage, provide an exemption for small businesses, exempt youth workers and wait till 2022 to raise the minimum wage for all employers.
“It is my hope that a modified bill can be introduced in the near future and, similar to the 2013 bill, receive greater support,” Leggett said memo to Council President Roger Berliner (D-1). “Such an effort would send a stronger and clearer message to our County and to the rest of the State.”
Council member Marc Elrich (D-at large), the lead sponsor of the minimum wage bill, said he thought the amendments the council added to the bill were a fair compromise to Leggett’s proposal.
“We thought that it met most of his concerns,” Elrich said.
Elrich said he was especially concerned about Leggett’s support for an economic impact study on the minimum wage, saying it could be biased.
“I think the study is a waste of time,” Elrich said. “To find out what you can’t know is just wrong.”
While Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) said at his Monday morning news conference that it was his understanding at the time of the vote that Leggett would ultimately veto the bill, the County executive’s veto came somewhat as a surprise to Elrich.
“It was undetermined what he would do and he would think about it,” Elrich said. Leggett told him prior to the vote.
The debate about the minimum wage has divided the community. Proponents of increasing it say lower-income workers would get economic relief. Those against raising the minimum wage say they worry that another increase in the minimum wage could lead to job cuts at businesses.
Council members Elrich, George Leventhal (D-at large), Hans Riemer (D-at large), Nancy Navarro (D-4) and Tom Hucker (D-5) voted to increase the minimum wage, while Sidney Katz (D-3), Craig Rice (D-2). Nancy Floreen (D-at large) and Berliner voted against the bill.
Though it is perhaps unlikely, the council can override the County executive’s veto with sixth vote. All four members who voted against the minimum wage increase strongly spoke against increasing it in the County, while supporting increasing it nationally or on the state level.
“I don’t think it’s impossible,” said Elrich about getting a sixth vote to override the County executive’s veto. “Or to talk with the executive and say, ‘There’s room here for compromise, you know. If we give you these other things, does this meet generally the concerns you have.’ But you don’t know until you talk.”
If eventually passed, the minimum wage would increase incrementally to $12.50 per hour by 2018, $13.75 per hour by 2019 and $15 per hour by 2020.
Before his veto Leggett expressed skepticism about increasing the minimum wage, worrying what it would do to the County budget.
“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 before he vetoed the minimum wage bill. “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.”