By Len Lazarick
The same poll last week that found 60% of Maryland voters support making the minimum wage $15 — with 43% strongly supporting the idea — also found that support for the move passed by the House of Delegates Friday dropped sharply when voters were told it would raise prices and cost jobs.
The Restaurant Association of Maryland added those questions to the poll by Gonzales Research & Media Services.
“The abstract concept of a legislated mandatory $15 minimum wage for all workers in Maryland has, at first blush, resonance for many voters in the state,” Gonzales wrote. “However, when presented with concrete possible outcomes of a mandated minimum wage, voter attitudes shift markedly.”
For instance, “79% of Democrats in Maryland favor the idea of a law requiring all employers in Maryland to pay their workers a minimum salary of $15 per hour,” Gonzales said. “But when asked their opinion about a $15 minimum mandated wage if it were to result in higher prices for goods and services, support drops to 59% with Democrats. And, when asked about a $15 minimum wage if a consequence was a loss of jobs for low-skill workers, such as those in the fast food industry…support among Democrats plunges to 23%.”
“When Maryland voters understand the stark reality of this legislation, they overwhelmingly do not support it,” said Marshall Weston Jr., president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, representing 2,000 of the state’s restaurants. “Forcing restaurants to pay a $15 minimum wage for entry-level, unskilled workers will not only drive up prices for consumers, but will also result in employers cutting back employees’ hours, eliminating jobs, and turning to technology so they can survive in a highly competitive industry.”
In a concession to the restaurant industry, the bill retains the current exemption for tipped employees, who may be paid less than the minimum wage.
The potential negative consequences of raising the minimum wage to $15 cited in the polling were cited repeatedly in testimony before the House Economic Matters Committee and in prolonged debate on the House floor last week. Despite that, the bill, HB166, passed the committee 17-7, with all Democrats voting for the bill, and it passed the House 96-44, with only two Democrats voting against the measure.
Committee amendments raised the minimum wage to $15 over four years from the current $10.10. That minimum had been raised gradually from $7.25 in 2014, so over the course of nine years Maryland’s minimum will have more than doubled if the bill becomes law.
The Senate Finance Committee must now consider the bill.