ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland General Assembly’s override of Governor Larry Hogan’s veto on several state bills, including the $15 minimum wage bill, on March 29 was met with mixed reaction.
In addition to the $15 minimum wage legislation, the General Assembly issued an override of Hogan’s veto on the Community Control of School Calendars Act, which would allow school systems to choose to start school before Labor Day, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission bill, which makes changes to the production, sampling and sale of beer by a Class 5 brewery.
In his veto letter to the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate, Hogan cited the loss of jobs in Maryland due to the increased cost to employers, a total of 99,000 jobs, and the resulting loss of competitiveness in Maryland’s job market where small businesses will begin to leave the state for a state with a less expensive wage as reasons for his veto on the minimum wage bill.
“During the time I’ve been governor, Maryland’s minimum wage has increased four years in a row by nearly 40 percent to $10.10, which is by far the highest in the region and one of the highest in the nation,” Hogan said in the letter. “If the minimum wage increases to $15 per hour, small businesses would be facing a 48 percent increase in costs, which would make Maryland a more expensive place to do business.”
County Executive Marc Elrich gave his thoughts on a statewide raise in the minimum wage at a public hearing for the bill on Feb. 8 where state leaders and hundreds of advocates and opposers of the bill testified before the House Economic Matters Committee.
“Persistent poverty is the reflection of the persistence of low wages. In our economy, we have tens of thousands of working people who, despite getting up and working every day, do not earn wages that are sufficient to lift them out of poverty.”
Montgomery County approved a bill to raise its minimum wage to $15 in 2015 gradually, Elrich said, and since then employment has gone up, and unemployment has gone down.
“Most businesses pay more than the minimum wage and businesses we want to attract to Montgomery County, and I would assume the state, we’re all seeking to attract businesses that pay more than the minimum wage…I’m uninterested in bringing low wage jobs to Montgomery County so I can increase the amount of money I spend on food assistance, housing assistance and medical assistance. That’s not a strategy for economic growth, and that’s not a strategy for growing our tax base.”
The Fight For $15 Coalition has been instrumental in advocating for a $15 minimum wage showing up at General Assembly hearings to testify and holding a protest of Hogan’s $12.10 compromise in early March.
“As a high cost of living state, there is no place in Maryland where a single full-time working adult can pay for basic needs on less than $15 per hour today,” said Fight For $15 Coalition leader Ricarra Jones. “The state’s current $10.10 minimum wage isn’t working for Maryland households, and the governor’s proposal does nothing to change their fate.”
U.S. Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who represents District 5, has also been vocal in his support of the $15 minimum wage up to this point and said it is “an important step to raise wages and expand opportunity for workers throughout our state.”
“In Congress, House Democrats are taking action to raise the federal minimum wage,” Hoyer said. “I’m proud that we can look to Maryland as a model for improving the lives of families and ensuring they can make it in America. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure more individuals have access to the resources they need to succeed.”
Not everyone disagreed with Hogan’s veto. Organizations such as National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Maryland have advocated against the minimum wage increase on behalf of small businesses State Director Mike O’Halloran said the organization is disappointed in the override because small businesses have said before that it would be “devastating” to them.
“This will send Maryland in the wrong direction,” O’Halloran said. “By the proponent’s admission, this bill will cause pain in the small business community. There’s a misconception by many about who makes the minimum wage and who pays the minimum wage. These jobs are vital to our economy, and they are a way for workers to enter the job market, learn necessary soft skills, customer relations and responsibility.”
Additionally, Hogan called the Community Control of School Calendars Act and the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission bill “politically motivated.”
“This unfortunate legislation unravels years of bipartisan work and study by seeking to reverse the post-Labor Day school start for public schools,” he said in his veto letter for this bill. “Instead, Senate Bill 128 runs directly counter to an action favored by the vast majority of Marylanders.”
However, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) officials disagree with Hogan and feel that the veto was the correct decision in this case because the leaders of individual school systems know the needs of their county and know the best choice to make regarding the opening of school, said MCPS Department of Communications Supervisor Gboyinde Onijala.
“Our Board members have shared that they believe that local boards of education are best suited to determine what’s in the best interest of their students, staff and community,” Onijala said. “Each school district has different needs and addresses school issues in different ways, so local control regarding school calendars is critical to maintain.”