A bill to increase the minimum wage in Montgomery County has the support of a majority of the county’s council, but the fate of the bill is unclear because the two most powerful office holders in the county oppose it.
Council President Roger Berliner announced via Twitter Monday that he will bring up for a vote the bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2020 at the council’s first session after its winter recess.
The minimum wage is now $10.75 an hour and will increase to $11.50 in July 2017.
Four council members voiced support for the bill at a Health and Human Services Committee meeting last week and a fifth council member who was absent from the meeting, Hans Riemer, confirmed his support to WJW. This gives the bill the five votes it needs to pass the all-Democrat council.
But Berliner said that at the Jan. 17 session he first will bring up for a vote a bill to fund a study of the effects of the proposed minimum wage increase.
Should the bill to fund a study pass, he would hold off on a vote to raise the minimum wage. But if he lacks enough support for a study, Berliner said he would hold a vote on the minimum wage bill — and vote against it.
County Executive Ike Leggett — who could veto the bill should it receive only five votes — wrote in a memo to the council last month that he also does not support the current version of the bill.
The council could override a veto from Leggett, also a Democrat, should the bill garner the support of more than five council members. But the four remaining council members, including Berliner, voiced skepticism about the bill at the Health and Human Services Committee discussion last week.
Council members Berliner, Nancy Floreen and Sidney Katz called for additional study of the effect a minimum wage increase would have on businesses and employment in the county. Council Member Craig Rice said that he opposed the bill because “high minimum-wage rates lead to unemployment for non-white teens.”
There may also be room for compromise between council members supporting the legislation and Leggett.
In his memo last month, Leggett said that he “[supports] the effort to move toward $15 per hour over an appropriate time frame and under certain conditions” but he opposes the current bill because it could put Montgomery County at a “competitive disadvantage” compared to nearby areas where the minimum wage is lower.
He suggested implementing the $15 minimum wage over a longer timeframe, creating exceptions to the minimum wage and enabling the county executive to halt the gradual wage increases in the event of an economic slowdown.
On Monday, Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for Leggett, said Leggett is reviewing the issue and possible changes to the legislation.
Should the Montgomery County minimum bill increase to $15 an hour and other counties not raise their minimum wages, Montgomery County’s minimum would be twice that of Fairfax County, 50 percent higher than Frederick than Howard County and 30 percent high than Prince George’s county, according to a report by the council’s legislative attorney and legislative analyst.
In June, the District passed legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2020.
One Jewish group is on the record calling for approval of a $15 minimum wage.
“We feel very strongly that it’s important not to delay this bill and not to do a study,” said Laura Wallace, a community organizer with Jews United for Justice. “We want this legislation to go into effect so that workers, businesses and nonprofits have adequate time to plan.”
Wallace dismissed the argument that raising the minimum wage would hurt overall employment, saying that there haven’t been adverse effects following the county’s latest minimum wage increases, which went into effect in 2014, and that increasing the minimum wage to $15 hasn’t hurt the economies of San Francisco and Seattle. She added that the legislation would boost economic activity.
“The money people make when you increase the minimum wage doesn’t go into a trust fund somewhere and isn’t socked away,” she said. “It’s going directly into stores when the community and people pay for their needs. They need this money, and it’s going directly back into the community.”
However, Ilaya Hopkins of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce said during the committee meeting last week that the bill was “too much, too soon and with too little analysis on the real costs and impacts to this county and this local economy as a whole.”
“What we need is the data here in Montgomery County analyzed and thought about and considered from the perspective of residents of Montgomery County and businesses of Montgomery County,” she said.
Emily Bruno, owner of Denizens Brewing Co. in Silver Spring and an opponent of the proposed increase, told the committee this summer that had the minimum wage been $15 when she opened her brewery in 2014, she could not have started her business.
“While you might think this is a great public policy outcome for your re-election campaign, what this means for small businesses is a massive and debilitating increase in payroll,” she said.
She added that a $15 minimum wage would increase her company’s payroll by 30 percent and “wipe out” the profit the company made in 2015.
But Devora Kimelman-Block, the founder and CEO of the Silver Spring-based kosher meat company KOL Foods, said that she supports raising the minimum wage increase because it would “put money in the pockets of 100,000 county residents who will spend increased earnings at local businesses,” “reduce employee turnover and hiring and training costs” and “increase productivity and customer satisfaction.”