Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Republican delegation backs bill that would give counties control over minimum wage decisions

A bill making its way through the House of Delegates that would give counties the power to set their own minimum wages has perked the ears of some Republican delegates.

Del. Neil Parrott, R-District 2B, introduced a bill into the House of Delegates that would allow counties to set their own minimum wages at a rate that could be no less than the state or federal minimum wage.

He said the reasoning is because of the disparity of the counties in Maryland. Both Howard and Montgomery counties have some of the highest income levels in the country, while areas in Western Maryland have some of the lowest.

"We are not looking at one Maryland; Maryland is very, very different," he said.

The bill is, in part, a response to a bill House Speaker Michael Busch, D-District 30, has put forward by way of the O'Malley administration to bring the minimum wage up to $10.10 an hour by 2016. The minimum wage in Maryland has been $7.25 since 2009.

Currently, 21 states have a higher minimum wage than Maryland.

Parrott's bill would expand upon something delegates in Montgomery and Prince George's counties have already done. In the last year, those counties have partnered with the District of Columbia to bring a region-wide minimum wage of $11.50 by 2017.

The bill would allow the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to regulate each county's minimum wage. Currently, Montgomery and Prince George's counties face issues of how the minimum wage would be enforced. The two counties will likely have to set up new programs in order to enforce the law. This puts the onus back on DLLR, he said.

The wage would be based on where the employer is headquartered, not where the work is done. So, for example, a contractor for a company based in Carroll County being paid the minimum wage that does work in Montgomery County would still receive the Carroll County wage.

Legislators representing Carroll, such as Del. Justin Ready, R-District 5A, said he's of two minds for the minimum wage increase. He said ideally, it would be a national standard so it wouldn't be as difficult for businesses. That being said, the county model does make sense in his eyes.

"If we have some counties that really want to commit economic suicide by paying $15 an hour minimum wage, I would prefer that, rather than them say these counties need to come up higher," he said.

Both Ready and Del. Nancy Stocksdale, R-District 5A, said the minimum wage should stay at its current rate.

Because the governor supports a $10.10 minimum wage, it will likely pass, Stocksdale said, which means she supports Parrott's bill.

The bill would put the minimum wage rate back into the county's hands, she said.

"There are counties who do not want the minimum wage increased. They may not need to raise the minimum wage in Garrett County and Carroll County," Stocksdale said.

Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 9B, said the difference between her opinion and that of proponents of raising the minimum wage is that she's not thinking about how it will affect big corporations.

"They're thinking about Wall Street, not Main Street," Krebs said. "In Carroll County, we think about Main Street."

A rise in the minimum wage would affect rural counties much more than urban counties, she said, because small businesses cannot afford to pay more people higher wages.

Parrott cited the unemployment rate in Maryland, which varies by as much as 10 percentage points between the highest and lowest rates of unemployment. In Montgomery County, unemployment is at 4.5 percent, while in Worcester County, unemployment tops 14 percent, as of November 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Carroll's average unemployment rate for 2013 is 5.8 percent.

At the moment, both bills are in committee and likely only one will make it to the House of Delegates for its final passage.

Parrott said though typically a committee will try to move just one bill forward, he could see a situation where both the county choice bill and another minimum wage bill could make it out of committee.

Republicans in the Carroll House Delegation agreed that, between the two, they'd rather have a county minimum wage bill. Del. Donald Elliott, R-District 4B, did not return several phone calls seeking comment.

"In light of the fact people are really pushing [for a minimum wage increase], I believe the best bill for Maryland is the county choice bill," Parrott said.