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Minimum Wage Hike Debated Before Maryland Lawmakers

Would an increase in Maryland's minimum wage boost workers into the middle class, or boost unemployment as business owners cut staff?

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, left, and Gov. Martin O'Malley testify Tuesday in favor of raising Maryland's minimum wage to $10.10. Capital News Service photo by Ethan Barton.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, left, and Gov. Martin O'Malley testify Tuesday in favor of raising Maryland's minimum wage to $10.10. Capital News Service photo by Ethan Barton.

By MEGAN BROCKETT

Capital News Service

Business owners, low-wage workers, economists and community leaders crowded into an overflowing House committee room Tuesday to offer testimony alongside Gov. Martin O’Malley on a handful of proposals seeking to change Maryland’s minimum wage.

Echoing last month’s State of the State address, O’Malley urged members of the Economic Matters Committee to support an increase of the state’s minimum wage, saying that a hike would put money into the pockets of Maryland’s middle class and strengthen the state’s economy as a whole.

O’Malley has touted a minimum wage increase as his central priority this session, throwing his support behind the Maryland Minimum Wage Act of 2014. The bill would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016 and bump the base rate of pay for tipped workers from 50 to 70 percent of the minimum wage, indexing both rates to the cost of living beginning in 2017.

“This is a reasonable step to take. It is the right step to take economically,” O’Malley said. “If we want a stronger economy, if we want more customers for businesses, if we want economic growth, then we should raise the minimum wage.”

More than 100 witnesses signed up to testify both in support and opposition of a minimum wage increase, lining the walls of the committee room early on and trickling into an overflow room set up down the hall.

Much of the early testimony, including statements from Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, said that an increase in the minimum wage would pull many full-time workers who earn the base pay, and their families, above the federal poverty line.

"We’re failing our workers if we’re telling them that they can work a full day … and yet be unable to go home and support their family,” Brown said.

Other supporters, like Charmington’s Cafe owner Amanda Rothschild, said that a minimum wage increase would benefit small businesses by increasing retention rates and saving businesses money on turnover. Rothschild said a hike would also benefit her business because it would allow more low-wage workers in Baltimore, where her cafe is located, to spend money at her coffee shop.

But many other small business owners and representatives from companies like DavCo Restaurants, which operates more than 150 Wendy’s restaurants in the region, said a minimum wage hike would seriously hurt them, forcing them to cut jobs and potentially shut down.

Many called the governor’s bill extreme, arguing that an increase to $10.10 an hour would come as a shock to businesses.

Louis Santoni, president of Santoni's Marketplace & Catering in Baltimore, said that a $10.10 minimum wage would cost his business three times its average net profit.

“I was listening to our governor earlier today … and he said the most important thing is developing the middle class. Well, that’s who I am. I’m the middle class,” Santoni said. “I’m the job creator. I’m the one who’s putting my house on the line and investing and bringing kids into work for their first job."

Both sides battled what they pointed out as misconceptions -- the misconception that all business owners are rich, for the hike’s opponents; while proponents of the increase argued that it is a misconception that most minimum wage workers are teenagers.

Santoni, like others, asked lawmakers to consider one of the more moderate bills that call for a smaller, one-time increase.

Another set of minimum wage bills is scheduled to go before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.

Chuck Burton February 13, 2014 at 10:58 AM
What about all the other people out there? If minimum wages go up nearly 40%, shouldn't everyone's pay go up a similar amount?. Prices, also? And where does government get off telling employers how much to pay their people? Isn't that the mark of a dictatorship? Just asking...
jag February 13, 2014 at 02:16 PM
"Isn't that the mark of a dictatorship?" Huh? No, it's the mark of a society. They're called laws. Here in the U.S. we used a system called a representative republic in order to decide who makes the laws. Get it?
Chuck Burton February 13, 2014 at 04:01 PM
jag, you didn't answer my other questions. And is this law fair to others who have worked to gain promotions, but will now earn nothing more than minimum wage again? Unless everyone's wage goes up by the same percentage. And how well are you represented by the professional politicians who do just about anything to buy votes so they can pass laws and regulations that will buy them more votes and keep them in one office or another, on the public's dime?
jag February 13, 2014 at 04:22 PM
Yes, common sense and capitalism dictate that if job A. commands minimum wage and job B. commands minimum wage+X% then both jobs will see corresponding increases. Otherwise the employer of job B. won't be able to fill the position if they don't offer a market rate salary. If being a burger flipper and being a burger flipper boss both pay $10 bucks then obviously everyone will just be interested in the easier job. The market will demand raising wages across the board.
Chuck Burton February 13, 2014 at 05:04 PM
And is someone going to increase my savings by almost 40%, as the prices of things go up to pay those higher wages? Otherwise, my savings go down in the value of what they buy, and I may be living under a bridge in retirement, instead of getting along in at least moderate comfort. You might be keeping me company, too, as your retirement funds lose buying power, too. But I'll bet the professional politicians won't be with us. They will make sure their retirement is comfortable, as they milk more out of us.
McGibblets February 14, 2014 at 04:30 AM
Unemployment for teen black males is around 38% currently. What exactly do they think a higher entry level wage will do do that? Foooooools
Chuck Burton February 14, 2014 at 10:24 AM
Exactly, McGibblets! Pass such damfool laws and the next time you go to Mickey D, you won't be met by someone at the counter; you will punch in your order on a screen, scan your credit card or cell to pay, and pick up at a window. All they will need in back is 2 or 3 people on the grills, and 1 packer, instead of the 10 or more you find now.
Zinzindor February 16, 2014 at 01:12 PM
Chuck Burton is completely wrong. Fast-food restaurants won't invest in automation to replace minimum-wage workers --- even though they are doing exactly that in much of Europe. And McGibblets is completely wrong. Increasing the minimum wage won't exacerbate already intolerably high rates of unemployment among young blacks. Instead, the money will magically appear in the paychecks of minwage workers, and no one will lose any money. See, that's easy! Just close your eyes and believe. Zinzindor LeviathanMontgomery.wordpress.com

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