Del. Dereck Davis's bill HB 317, which would prohibit local governments from raising the minimum wage higher than the state's, had a rough time at yesterday's (Feb. 8) House hearing. Progressive Maryland member Bobby Bartlett's testimony enraged Davis, as the video indicates.
Testimony of Progressive Maryland activist Bobby Bartlett to Maryland House Economic Matters Committee RE: HB 317 -- February 7, 2017
My name is Bobby Bartlett, I am a resident of Germantown, Maryland, Legislative District 39. Over the course of my life, I have held several jobs that paid less than $15 per hour, all but one for a nationwide chain of businesses, and in several cases after I had earned a four-year college degree. Like so many of my fellow millennials, I was fortunate in those situations that I was able to live with my parents to avoid a situation of abject poverty and in one instance I stood on my own, thanks to state-subsidized affordable housing, but thousands upon thousands more people in Montgomery County alone are not so fortunate.
HB 317 is truly a remarkable piece of legislation, in the sense that it violates both conservative and progressive principles. Conservative, in the way that it undermines principles of federalism and devolution of authority, and progressive in the sense that it undermines wage equality and the empowerment of the working and middle class.
What this bill would do is increase the power of the state to the end effect of holding families down in poverty. It serves no constituency except for the wealthy interests that force the public to subsidize their profit margins with public services that pick up the slack for their sub-living wages.
In my home of Montgomery County, our duly elected council passed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. This was not done in haste, but after considerable deliberation of the effects, given our experience with a raise a few years earlier to our current $10.75 per hour level.
Regrettably, our executive took a stand against the working people of Montgomery County and vetoed that bill, placing himself on the side of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan against the official platform of the Democratic Party. In spite of that veto, the fight is hardly over and it would be a farce for the State of Maryland to take away our opportunity to try again to push toward economic justice. Larry Hogan and Donald Trump both won their elections because too many Democrats stayed home. If their own party will not take a stand against the massive income inequality in our state, why should they be motivated to do any differently come the next election?
While I would support an effort from the General Assembly for a $15 per hour minimum wage statewide, I can appreciate the notion that a $15 wage carries different implications for both businesses and workers in Bethesda, than it does for businesses and workers in Brunswick or Cambridge. Pre-empting local authority prevents that distinction from being made and forces a one-size-fits-all solution on all the stakeholders -- workers, employers, taxpayers, local governments and unions.
Prohibiting local action on minimum wage increases makes state action less likely because there will be no local data or anecdotal evidence that could show the benefits of a mandatory living wage in action, and no ability to build momentum towards a state law with successive local victories.
For the sake of Maryland’s working families, the future of the Democratic Party and out of respect for our local communities and their duly elected representatives, I urge the committee to reject HB 317.