by Kevin C. McCormick
On March 20, the Baltimore City Council voted 11-3 to approve a bill that would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. If ultimately enacted, the minimum wage would be the highest in Maryland.
Under the proposed legislation, the minimum wage for employees working in the city would rise to $15 an hour by 2022. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees would have until 2026 to reach that threshold. There are exceptions for employees younger than 21 and workers who participate in training programs through the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Employment Development.
Currently, Maryland’s minimum wage is $8.75 per hour, a figure that is scheduled to increase to $10.10 by July 2018. Under the legislation, Baltimore’s minimum wage would rise with the state minimum wage increases scheduled for 2018 and 2019 and then continue to rise until it reaches $15 in 2022. If Baltimore ultimately enacts the legislation, it will join other progressive cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., in adopting a $15 minimum wage.
The bill was introduced and tabled in August 2016 because of concerns that it would drive businesses out of Baltimore. However, eight new council members were elected in November, and many of them favor the legislation, even though it may have negative repercussions for small businesses.
Under Baltimore City Council Rules, since the council has passed the legislation, it will be up to Mayor Catherine Pugh to approve or veto it. In the past, she has stated she does not favor the legislation because it would place an undue burden on small businesses like her own.
As a politician, Pugh recognizes that with only three dissenting votes, the council will probably override her veto, so her position on the legislation will probably depend on the effect her vote will have on her political future in Baltimore. She is expected to make her decision within the next few days.
The Baltimore City Department of Finance estimates the proposed increase in the minimum wage will cost the city more than $150 million in the next seven years because some city employees would see their wages rise.
Not surprisingly, most business groups believe the progressive legislation will hurt Baltimore employers in the end and force some businesses to close or consider relocating, resulting in a loss of jobs for Baltimore workers.