By Ilana Kowarski
A bill to raise Maryland’s minimum wage to $10 an hour died in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. It was defeated in an 8-3 vote with several senators explaining that they opposed the legislation in spite of their sympathy for low-wage workers because the timing was not right for a wage increase.
Finance Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton said that he has supported minimum wage hikes in the past but could not justify it in a down economy. “I think this bill would put people out of work,” said Middleton, D- Charles.
If passed, SB 683 would have gradually increased the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 over the next three years. For months, labor organizations and religious organizations have been lobbying for the bill’s passage, and tonight The Raise Maryland coalition will be holding a candlelight vigil as they mourn the death of the minimum wage bill. Members of the group will march through Annapolis to protest the Senate committee’s rejection of the increase.
Sponsor had tried to save the bill with amendments
Before the committee vote, Del. Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George’s, who had sponsored the same bill in the House, HB1204, was hopeful, arguing that it was inconceivable for Maryland legislators to increase regressive gas taxes and refuse to raise the minimum wage.
After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Robert Garagiola, the Montgomery County sponsor of the bill, said, “A good foundation was laid for moving this legislation next year.” He noted that there were 24 co-sponsors in the Senate.
To appease opponents of the wage hike, Garagiola had offered several amendments which lowered the amount of the proposed wage increases and postponed their implementation. He suggested a compromise in which pay increases began six months later than originally proposed, and said that he was willing to stop minimum wage increases once the hourly rate was raised to $9.50.
“The reason for the smaller increase upfront is that we’re still getting out of the doldrums of the recession,” Garagiola said, acknowledging widespread concern that mandatory wage hikes would stifle economic growth.
Middleton asked Garagiola if he had the go-ahead from labor lobbyists to lower the proposed minimum wage, and he replied that they were all willing to accept a smaller wage increase if that was the only way to get a raise.
Only three votes for bill
Despite numerous attempts to garner support for his bill, Garagiola only convinced two of his fellow Finance committee members to vote in its favor, Baltimore City Democrat Catherine Pugh and Prince George’s County Democrat Victor Ramirez. Eight of the 11 Finance Committee members voted against Garagiola’s bill, even after it was stripped of a provision that would index the minimum wage to the consumer price index.
Though he did not support this change to the bill, Garagiola said that he was willing to accept it if that meant that the bill would pass despite his conviction that minimum wage workers should get automatic wage increases when the cost of living goes up.
“If we believe that there needs to be a floor of wages in this country, then that floor should not be eroded,” Garagiola said, but his words fell on deaf ears.
Increase would result in layoffs, one senator says
Sen. James Mathias Jr, D-Lower Shore, said that his experience as a businessman led him to believe that minimum wage increases would result in layoffs, since businesses are struggling to survive as it is.
“Ordinarily I go for the worker, but I tell you, if there is no place to work, the worker doesn’t get anything out of a wage increase,” he said, adding that small businesses were facing brutal economic conditions and were frequently unable to compete with national chains.
Baltimore County Democrat Katherine Klausmeier said that she felt an obligation to serve the interests of her district’s small businesses which are still hurting as a result of the recession.
Fellow Democrat Delores Kelley said that she knew many start-up owners that would have to close their businesses if the minimum wage hike passed.
Republicans made similar arguments. Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin summed up the view of the committee majority when he said, “If you make things more expensive, you get less of them, and we need more jobs. This bill ends up hurting the people it is intended to help.”