Poll finds strong support for minimum wage hike; state employees pensions considered too low

By Len Lazarick


Photo by Daniel Borman

Photo by Daniel Borman

A new poll found strong public support for increasing Maryland’s minimum wage to $10 an hour, a step being pushed for the upcoming General Assembly session.

The poll by Goucher College also found the majority of the Maryland public regards current pensions for retired state employees as too low, and also thinks all Maryland workers, not just those employed by the state or local governments, should have a pension.

Assessing the name recognition of politicians, the Goucher poll found that U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat who is considering a run for governor, had significant name recognition throughout the state, only exceeded by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler, who have been on the statewide ballot twice.

The poll was conducted by the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College in Towson Oct. 27-31, contacting 665 Maryland residents by land line and cell phone. It has a margin of error of 3.8%. Unlike other public polls released to the media, such as the Gonzales Research poll, the Goucher center surveys residents regardless of whether they are registered or likely voters.

Public employee pension questions

Looking west from the State House steps, thousands fill Lawyer's Mall, Bladen Street and Rowe Boulevard for the "Keep the Promise" rally against pension changes in 2011.

Looking west from the State House steps, thousands fill Lawyer’s Mall, Bladen Street and Rowe Boulevard for the “Keep the Promise” rally against pension changes in 2011.

The poll’s three questions on state employee pensions were formulated by Kromer in consultation with MarylandReporter.com, which is working on a pension project funded by the Abell Foundation.

The poll asked two different questions about state employees. Half the respondents selected randomly were asked: “Do you think the average pension for a retired state employee is too little, too much or about the right amount?”

About 36% said “too little,” 21% said “about right,” 11% said “too much,” but almost a third (31%) said they didn’t know.

However in a second question, respondents were told “retired state employees receive an average annual pension of $12,000 per year” — a figure from the state pension system’s annual report. Nearly three out of five respondents (59%) said that was too little, and 26% said it was about the right amount, and the number who said they didn’t know was down at 9%.

Two thirds of the respondents said that “All Maryland workers, not just those employed by the state or local governments, should have a pension,” with half of those (33%) strongly agreeing. About 28% disagreed.

Hughes Center director Mileah Kromer, political science professor, said she was “surprised” how much the information about state employee pensions changed the responses.

Questions were not asked about state teacher pensions, averaging about $19,000 in one plan and $33,000 in an older version, because teachers overall have higher average salaries than state employees, and questions about the compensation teachers, police and firefighters tend to skew toward more positive results.

Support for minimum wage

However there was little change in the results when survey respondents were given more information about the state’s minimum wage.

Asked “Would you support or oppose raising the state minimum wage to $10 per hour?,” almost half the respondents (48%) strongly supported the idea, regardless of whether they were told the minimum wage was currently $7.25. Another 21% to 26% supported the proposal, meaning almost three-quarters of the populace supported the wage hike that a legislative committee rejected last year. Only 22% to 27% opposed the idea.

Legislative leaders are now backing the idea.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger

Name recognition for candidates for governor

On the name recognition questions, callers only said they were “going to mention the names of some people in the news,” and were not given any titles.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown was recognized by 62%; Attorney General Doug Gansler by 58%; U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, 49%; Harford County Executive David Craig, 31%; Charles County businessman Charles Lollar, 23%; Del. Ron George, 22%; and Del. Heather Mizeur, 13%.

Brown, Gansler and Mizeur are Democrats running for governor; Craig, Lollar and George are Republicans running for governor. Ruppersberger is considering a run, and his name recognition is “really good,” Kromer said. “It’s a memorable name.”

Ruppersberger has been in the national and local news recently as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee with oversight of the National Security Agency, which is in his 2nd Congressional District.

Kromer said Gansler’s name ID was probably enhanced by recent negative publicity, and the question is whether he can turn that into a campaign advantage.

 Characteristics of new governor, legislative priorities

In other questions, the survey asked “what is a characteristic you would like to have in the new governor” to be elected in 2014. People were allowed to answer whatever came to mind and no categories were suggested, Kromer said.

The top categories were: “Honest/Truthful/Trustworthy, 19% and “Cares/Has compassion for all Marylanders” 13%. Kromer said some people said they wanted a governor to “represent all Marylanders, not just rich people.” In a third category, 8% of respondents wanted a governor focused on the “economy, jobs and fiscal responsibility.”

Asked what they most wanted the state legislature to concentrate on when it begins its session in January, 17% said economic and budgetary issues; 15% said taxes; 13% said jobs and unemployment; 12% said education, and 7% said health care.

Finally, in results similar to a Gonzales poll released last month,  Gov. Martin O’Malley’s job approval rating was evenly divided with 41% favorable and 40% unfavorable. Democrats largely had a favorable opinion (55%) and Republicans overwhelmingly did not (71%), with half of independents sharing that opinion.

About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Pudentain

    When you raise the minimum wage it increases costs to businesses. Businesses raise costs to consumers. This is called inflation. Soon those at minimum wage are at the same standard of living as before the wage increase. Then some smart politicians call for a minimum wage increase…
    We need people to do simple low pay jobs because we want low costs to consumers. Usually it’s unskilled or inexperienced people. These people can get educated or more experienced and then they rise above the minimum wage, usually by getting better jobs. Then new unskilled or inexperienced people take those jobs. Thus, regulation is unnecessary.
    How about we let market factors decide, and let individuals strive to improve in free society.

  2. Cookie Batch

    Ruppersberger SCUM – NSA Patsy sold his soul to the devil

  3. Bubbles

    Let’s see….we pay State of Maryland employees a lot to sit on their rumps at work so we should naturally pay them a lot to sit on their rumps at home when they retire. I can’t wait to get out of Maryland!

  4. Gabriel J. Michael

    It’s unclear to me how they calculated the average annual benefit payment, so I’m emailing them with a question about it. In any case, that number will not include Social Security benefits and private savings, and does not account for the length of time a person worked for the State, which could have been as little as 10 years.

    • abby_adams

      In looking at the MD Dept of Budget & Management web page, most state employees have social security & medicare coverage under the Section 218 portion of the SSA act. Not every department participates so not every state employee is covered under SSA. I agree that giving a rather low ball pension figure, which seems to be the amount of pension exclusion on MD income tax forms, would give many of those polled the impression that these retirees are living on $1000 a month without any other source of income. Another reason why I don’t trust polls.

  5. md observer

    A drive-by question will evoke impulsive answers:

    “In Maryland, retired state employees receive an average annual pension of about $12,000 per year. Do you think
    the average pension for a retired Maryland state employee is [too little, too much, or about the right amount]?”

    It would help to know if the average is mean, median, or mode; each having a bias likely significant to the dollar amount.

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