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Pugh says $15 minimum wage could force her Baltimore small business to close more often

Baltimore business owners "can't afford" a $15 minimum wage, mayor says.

Mayor Catherine Pugh on Wednesday expressed strong reservations about a bill mandating Baltimore businesses pay a $15 minimum wage by 2022.

Pugh, a small business owner, said the bill being considered by the City Council could cause her consignment shop to close an extra day per week.

"People can't afford to pay these kind of wages," Pugh said of the council's proposal. "What would I do as a small business? Close my store another day. Just can't afford it."

Pugh and her business partners, including Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, own 2 Chic Boutique in Pigtown, a consignment shop that sells designer clothes.

She urged the City Council to fully consider the bill's ramifications on jobs in Baltimore. During her campaign, Pugh told a local union she would sign a $15 minimum wage bill. She did not say Wednesday that she would veto the bill, but urged caution. 

"Please, please don't do this in haste. Look at your surrounding jurisdictions," she said. "Sometimes the unintended consequences can be greater than the outcome itself."

From 1990 to 2010, Baltimore lost nearly 100,000 jobs. Over the past three years, the economy began to turn around — adding 12,000 new jobs.

But Pugh said she is worried a $15 minimum wage — which, when implemented, would be nearly $5 higher per hour than the rest of Maryland — could harm the city's job growth, encouraging businesses to move to the surrounding counties.

"Baltimore does not need to be the hole in the doughnut," she said. "We are the poorest jurisdiction. We have the highest unemployment. Go on the Westside. It's empty storefront after empty storefront. ... I'm not so sure this is the best way to be helpful."

A majority of the City Council — including Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young — said this week they are backing a $15 minimum wage for some workers in Baltimore.

Asked by The Baltimore Sun, Young and 10 others on the 15-member council said they support legislation that would raise wages for the lowest-paid workers in the city. A similar proposal was narrowly defeated without Young's support last year.

Some businesses and business advocacy groups are voicing their opposition to the proposal, saying it could cause employers to fire workers or move out of the city.

Under the measure, low-wage employees 21 and older at large companies would receive incremental raises until the minimum wage reached $15 an hour in 2022. Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees would have until 2026 to pay their workers at that rate.

The minimum wage in Maryland is $8.75 per hour. It is scheduled to rise to $10.10 an hour by 2018.

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