xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Howard County Council approves bill to increase minimum wage to $16 per hour by 2026

The county’s minimum wage is set to rise to $16 per hour by 2026 after the Howard County Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday in support of legislation introduced by members Opel Jones and Christiana Rigby.

County Executive Calvin Ball will decide whether to sign the bill into law, making Howard the county with the highest minimum wage in Maryland.

Advertisement
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

According to the Maryland Center for Economic Policy, the bill “will benefit one in four employees who work in Howard County, which equates to 40,000 working people.”

The current minimum wage in Howard is $11.75 per hour. Maryland minimum wage rates increase to $12.50 per hour in January and are scheduled to increase to $14 per hour by 2024 for businesses with more than 15 employees. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

Advertisement
Advertisement

In casting his vote in favor of the bill, Jones called it an “historic victory.” Jones was voted the new council chair at the beginning of the meeting, replacing council member Liz Walsh who finished her one-year term as chair.

“I am ecstatic about the bill,” Jones said. “The impact of this legislation will relieve the financial burden of tens of thousands of Howard County workers.

In a news release sent following the meeting, Jones said the legislation would “benefit 25% of the county’s Asian and Pacific Islander workers, 30% of the county’s working women, 33% of the county’s African American workers, 51% of the county’s Latinx workers, and 75% of workers in low-income families. Leading and legislating through an equitable lens by not delaying economic justice and prosperity for one out of four families who may struggle to provide adequate housing, proper clothing and food for their families is paramount.”

Rigby also championed its passage.

Advertisement

“The purpose of the minimum wage is to set a floor that prevents poverty and allows families to provide the basic needs of life,” Rigby said, following her vote. “This legislation does not provide a living wage but is a strong first step toward a more equitable wage standard for workers in our county.”

Council members Deb Yung and Walsh also voted in favor of the bill. The proposed schedule for businesses with 15 or more employees was approved at $14 per hour, effective April 1, increasing to $15 in 2023 and $16 in 2025.

An amendment to the bill on Monday slightly changed the minimum wage requirements for county businesses with fewer than 15 employees. The new language sets the minimum wage for these businesses at $12.50 by April 1, with an increase to $13.25 in 2023, $14 in 2024, $14.75 in 2025, $15.50 in January 2026 and $16 in July 2026.

“It was a very small compromise as small businesses have had some challenges through COVID,” Jones said.

In casting his lone vote against the bill, council member David Yungmann said that while he appreciated compromises made on the many amendments to the bill, he was “still troubled” that the bill would make life harder for Howard County business owners.

“Even with the amendments we adopted tonight, lots of Howard County businesses now find themselves saddled with higher costs than their competitors in adjacent counties,” Yungmann said. “I still think we should have waited to see what the [state] legislature was going to do in the next 60 days.”

On Monday night, when the council took up the bill, the members reviewed a letter sent by Del. Courtney Watson, a Democrat representing the county in the state legislature and a council member from 2006 to 2014. In the letter, Watson requested that the council table the bill until discussions regarding minimum wage were held at the state level.

Maryland already has a law in place that gradually increases minimum wages statewide. Starting Jan. 1, employers with 15 or more workers will be required to pay $12.50 per hour. The rate increases to $13.25 in 2023 and $14 in 2024. For businesses with fewer than 15 employees, the minimum wage was set at $12.20, rising to $12.80 in 2023 and $13.40 in 2024.

Jones said he was surprised to see the letter from Watson now, as the Howard County bill has been discussed for some time.

“We have this bill in front of us and may vote on it. We don’t know what the state bill looks like, and it may supersede our bill,” Jones said. “A lot could happen in the spring, and I am not comfortable waiting for it.”

Leonardo McClarty, president and CEO of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, said after the meeting that he was not surprised the bill passed. He had hoped the final version would have been a “little more friendly to the business community.

“Businesses are still trying to recover from the pandemic,” McClarty said. The council “made the decision. Employers will just have to make their adjustments.”

Kelly Klinefelter Lee, chairperson of Living Wage Howard County, said the bill’s passage was a “significant first step toward economic justice for Howard County’s low-wage frontline workers.” She is pleased that the bill included the requirement that the council review and discuss the minimum wage and cost of living every four years.

Klinefelter was among the dozens who provided testimony about the minimum wage issue at a November council meeting. During her testimony she said a “true living wage” for Howard County would be about $22 per hour.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement