Gov. Martin O'Malley said Wednesday that he supports the idea of increasing the state's minimum wage automatically to account for inflation as part of legislation he called his top priority of this year's legislative session.
In an interview, O'Malley reiterated his call for the General Assembly, which has just convened for its annual 90-day session, to raise the state's minimum wage above the current federal level of $7.25. The governor said 21 states -- none with higher median incomes than Maryland -- already have minimums above the federal level.
"Maryland has typically been a leader and in the forefront of this," he said.
So far the governor has not spelled out many details of his plan, including the level at which it should be set, but he told reporters that he favors indexing future increases to the cost of living -- much as the state did with the gas tax in last year's legislative session.
The governor said there has been a propensity in government to write hard numbers into laws for things that should be adjusted automatically for inflation.
O'Malley also said he is open to the idea of having varying minimum wage levels "within reason" for different regions of the state -- another idea that has been widely discussed as a possible part of the expected legislation. He said the statewide minimum wage should be kept as a "backstop" for local wage levels.
Legislatures have generally been wary of indexing, seeing it as a surrender of their authority. But Maryland lawmakers put aside those qualms last year when they agreed to allow the gas tax to increase with inflation -- ensuring a steady flow of transportation revenue and sparing them tough votes down the line.