MoCo Council passes $15 wage but exec's veto threatens

A narrow 5-4 victory for the $15 minimum wage bill yesterday (Jan. 17) in Montgomery County is threatened by a veto from the county executive. Progressive Maryland and allies worked hard to build support for this critical effort to reduce inequality in Maryland's most expensive county. Context in the political blog Maryland Scramble, reposted here, shows candidates for the county executive race on both sides of the question.

 

/By Jonathan Shurberg/posted Jan.17, 2017 in Maryland Scramble/  

The Montgomery County Council, by a 5-4 vote, passed a bill this morning calling for a $15 minimum wage by 2020. Councilmember George Leventhal was kind enough to post a summary of the bill’s phase in procedures in response to my query on Facebook.

For companies with 26 employees or more, Bill 12-16 would extend the incremental increases set in County law to go up to $15 per hour effective July 1, 2020. Under the Bill’s transition provisions, the County minimum wage would increase to $12.50 in 2018, $13.75 in 2019, and $15.00 in 2020. For businesses with 25 employees or less, the wage would increase to $12 per hour in 2018, $12.75 in 2019, $13.50 in 2020, $14.25 in 2021 and $15 in 2022. Indexing of the wage for CPI increases would begin for all businesses starting in 2023. [Facebook post transcribed].

Because of the narrow margin, County Executive Ike Leggett could veto it and the votes for an override are not there. Leggett publicly expressed concerns with the new law to Bill Turque in the Post yesterday.

In an interview Friday, Leggett (D) expressed unhappiness with the lack of council consensus and heavy opposition from the business community. He said passage under these conditions could send a negative message that would hinder statewide and national advancement of the movement for a $15 wage.

“When you have four people [opposed] and as many businesspeople opposed to this and you don’t work to get a solution, that’s a recipe for a movement going nowhere,” he said.

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One of Leggett’s principal objections to the Elrich bill is the time allotted for phasing in the rise to $15. Leggett has said he wants an extension from 2020 to 2022 to minimize disruptions or hardships for businesses.

Elrich said Friday that he plans to propose a 2022 deadline for small businesses with 25 or fewer employees. But it is not clear that will be enough for Leggett.

“I want to see how all this shakes out,” Leggett said. “I’d have to look at that and analyze it. I’m not going to negotiate publicly about it.”

Elrich, one of the leaders of the 2013 regional effort to raise the minimum wage in Montgomery, Prince George’s County and the District to $11.50, said he is ready to negotiate. But he has had trouble connecting with the county executive.

“Things are still fluid,” he said. “I’m waiting to hear something from the executive. We proposed changes we thought addressed most of what he wanted.”

Five Councilmembers voted for the bill: Marc Elrich, George Leventhal, Tom Hucker, Nancy Navarro, and Hans Riemer. “No” votes came from Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen, Sid Katz, and Craig Rice.

For those keeping score at home, two rumored County Exec candidates voted yes (Elrich and Leventhal), while three voted no (Berliner, Floreen, and Rice). Will this become a wedge issue in the coming campaign? Very possibly.

Now we wait to see what Leggett does. He should sign the bill. Even a $15 minimum wage hardly constitutes a living wage in Montgomery County, but it comes a lot closer than current law.