Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller predicted a big fight over raising the minimum wage in Maryland and publicly urged his colleagues to look for compromise.
Miller said he doesn't believe the proposal backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley will pass his chamber, and that while there is broad support for a wage increase, the state will have to allow different regions to have different wages.
"I'm trying to find way out of dodge," Miller told reporters, adding: "I'm telling you right now: it's going to be a very tough sell."
O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown this week backed a proposal to lift the minimum wage from the federal $7.25 an hour to $10.10 in 2016, and tie future increases to inflation. The proposal comes as Maryland's two largest jurisdictions hiked their local wages to $11.50 by 2017.
Miller, who said he believes some wage increase will pass, criticized those jurisdictions for acting alone.
"Personally, I think what Prince George's and Montgomery County have done is a tremendous disservice to their state and their community," Miller said. The higher wage, he said, creates a political challenge for passing a state-wide wage lower than $11.50 and it discourages chain businesses from launching new enterprises in those counties.
"The only possible solution is to have different standards for different areas of the state," Miller said. "It's not going to be for every county, but certain for the rural versus urban county."
While no legislation to raise the wage has been introduced, the issue is expected to dominate the session and debate is expected to begin in the House of Delegates.
Maryland voted once before, in 2005, to increase the wage to $1 above the federal level. The $7.25 level has been in effect since 2009, although 21 states and the District of Columbia have higher wages.
Miller said it is a challenge to finding a dollar amount that will gather support from a majority of senators. "I'd like to see what seven and a quarter plus inflation looks like. I think that's good starting point."