Gov. Martin O'Malley issued a call Thursday for a higher minimum wage in Maryland, urging supporters to join him in a "long and difficult effort" to win approval for an increase from the current hourly rate of $7.25.
In a letter sent out by his federal political action committee, O'Malley urged supporters to sign a petition urging an increase, calling it the way to "give dignity to every Maryland family that works hard and plays by the rules."
While the letter appears to signal the governor's intent, it does not yet represent official policy. Spokeswoman Nina Smith said it was "premature" to say whether O'Malley would include such a proposal in his legislative package for the General Assembly session that begins in January.
O'Malley's message, sent out by his O' Say Can You See PAC, does not propose a specific figure to which the minimum wage should be raised. Proponents in Maryland, including legislators and political candidates, have widely talked about a new minimum wage of about $10.
The governor's email was coordinated with a push on social media.
O'Malley posted a message similar to his email on Facebook. Within three hours it had gathered more than 250 "likes" and more than 50 comments ranging from fierce opposition to encouragement to run for president.
In a message Thursday on Twitter, O'Malley took his message directly to low-wage workers.
"If you're a minimum wage worker, I'd love to learn about your story," O'Malley's tweet read. A link led to O'Malley's petition.
By using his federal PAC and social media to spread the word of his support for a higher minimum wage, O'Malley ensures that his message will reach a national audience at a time when he is openly contemplating a run for president in 2016.
"He's using his federal PAC to say, 'Here's what I'm in favor of' to build support among those folks," said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
O'Malley's message comes as the minimum wage is among the leading issues in the race to succeed him. While Republican candidates have been cool toward any increase, all three Democratic contenders have gone on the record in favor of a higher minimum wage.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has said he would support raising the minimum wage to $10 in 2015. Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County has called for a "living wage" of $16.70 an hour. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, whom O'Malley supports, has backed an increase without proposing a specific amount.
Increases in the minimum wage are gaining support in states around the country. This week, New Jersey voters decided to raise the minimum wage by $1 and to put future inflation adjustments in the state Constitution.
The measure passed with the support of about 61 percent of voters. Norris noted that on the same day, New Jersey re-elected Gov. Chris Christie by about the same margin. Christie, a Republican with whom O'Malley has clashed in recent years, vetoed a similar wage measure before voters overruled him.
New Jersey became the 20th state to adopt a minimum wage higher than the national standard of $7.25.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun