As Maryland lawmakers got back to work Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan expressed concern about the consequences of increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.
“It sounds really good to just, without any real discussion, say: ‘Hey, people should make more money, especially people that are in their first job,’” Hogan said, but he questioned whether raising the wage would put Maryland at a disadvantage for attracting businesses. He noted that neighboring Virginia’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
“Is it helping or hurting our economy? And is it helping or hurting the people that need the help the most?” Hogan asked.
Hogan said the state’s economy is moving in a positive direction, and he wouldn’t want to reverse progress by chasing away businesses because it would be more expensive for them to operate in Maryland.
Advocates have been pushing for years to boost Maryland’s minimum wage, which is $10.10 per hour, and Democratic lawmakers are expected to file legislation to increase it.
Proposals in recent legislative sessions have sought to phase in an increase over five years and then tie the minimum wage to inflation for automatic increases.
In addition to phasing in an increase, there’s talk this year of setting different minimum wages for different parts of the state — such as a higher wage in central Maryland than on the Eastern Shore or in western Maryland.
A bill has not been introduced, but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch said Wednesday they want to raise the minimum wage.
“We are the wealthiest state in the country,” Busch said, but despite that, “many people are struggling to make ends meet.”
Busch told delegates he would “make that one of our priorities in this four-year term.”
In addition to the push from Busch and Miller, members of the Legislative Black Caucus support an increase as one of their priorities for the 90-day session that began Wednesday. At a news conference with caucus members, Ricarra Jones of the Maryland Fight For $15 campaign said the support from the caucus will help.
“If you work full time, you shouldn’t have to make impossible choices between paying your rent or paying your BGE bill or buying your kids school supplies or putting food on your table,” she said. “Many of the legislators who are going to be sworn in today, they made this part of their platform, because they understand we live in one of the wealthiest states in the country, yet 80 percent of folks are living paycheck to paycheck.”
The minimum wage increase faces opposition from groups representing businesses.
“Small business owners would love to pay their employees $15, $20 or even $25, but the reality is they have to be able to balance their books, too,” said Mike O’Halloran, Maryland state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
O’Halloran’s group estimates that 99,000 jobs could be lost in Maryland if the minimum wage is increased to $15.
He prefers the state to expand job-training programs, which would help workers in minimum-wage jobs move up to higher-paying positions.
“We applaud the governor’s efforts, particularly when it comes to job training programs he’s put forth,” O’Halloran said. “Those are what the legislature should be focusing more of their efforts on.”
The Maryland Chamber of Commerce also has concerns. Lawrence Richardson, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs, said lifting the minimum wage to $15 not only affects minimum wage employees but also those making just over the minimum wage.
He’s watching to see if lawmakers will go through with the idea of the different minimum wages for different regions. That could create bureaucratic problems for companies with multiple locations — such as stores — especially if they move employees around.
“We haven’t seen a bill. It’s going to depend on how it’s worded,” Richardson said. “We’re going to have conversations with all parties involved.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.