Baltimore finance officials warned City Council members Tuesday against raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022, saying the measure would cost taxpayers $115 million over four years due to higher wages for city workers.
Deputy budget director Bob Cenname noted that the minimum wage for the rest of the state would be nearly $4 lower and the city could lose hundreds of jobs.
"There is a pretty good consensus among economists that for every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage there is a loss of employment levels," Cenname said.
A majority of the City Council — including Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young — have said they are backing a $15 minimum wage for some workers in Baltimore. The bill could face a vote by the council's labor committee Wednesday.
Councilman Eric T. Costello, an opponent of the bill who chairs the council's budget committee, arranged for Tuesday's hearing on fiscal impact. He said the increased costs could results in layoffs in an already cash-strapped city.
"There could be 800 full-time salaried employees of the city that could lose their jobs," Costello said. "That's a lot to stomach."
Even so, a majority of City Council members appeared poised to back the legislation, arguing that a wage increase could help lift people out of poverty.
City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, who chairs the labor committee, argued that increasing the minimum wage would boost incomes for Baltimore residents who are struggling to get by. She said the city as a whole would benefit from their improved financial status.
"We spend all this money on police," Sneed said, noting that a majority of officers don't live in Baltimore. "If people are actually making more and living in Baltimore City, that's less vacant properties, that's less money we have to spend cleaning up vacant properties. It's just investment in our communities."
Sneed's committee is set to hear testimony on the bill Wednesday at 5 p.m. If her committee approves the legislation, it could go to the full council for a vote as early as Monday. It would then be up to Mayor Catherine Pugh to decide whether to sign or veto the bill.
During her campaign, Pugh told a local union she would sign a $15 minimum wage bill if it came to her desk. Since then, she has expressed reservations about the bill, but has not said she would veto it. Pugh has said she would prefer for any minimum wage hikes to be done at the state level.
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.
Baltimore's economy, which hemorrhaged jobs for years, has recently begun to turn around. From 1990 to 2010, Baltimore lost nearly 100,000 jobs. But over the past three years, the city has added 12,000 new jobs.