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Maryland Gubernatorial Candidates Split on Minimum Wage

Some candidates for governor had other ideas on Marylanders feeling nickel-and-dimed.

How do candidates for governor feel about raising the minimum wage? (Credit: Braintree Patch)
How do candidates for governor feel about raising the minimum wage? (Credit: Braintree Patch)

By Megan Brockett, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

When Gov. Martin O’Malley claimed a minimum wage increase as his top priority of the 2014 legislative session, his final as governor, he sparked a firestorm of debate between lawmakers in Annapolis and the handful of candidates fighting to succeed him.

O’Malley is now expected to sign into law a measure that would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by July 2018. The base rate of pay for most workers in Maryland currently stands at $7.25 an hour, on par with the federal rate.

The seven major gubernatorial hopefuls were split down party lines on the issue, according to their responses to a Capital News Service candidates’ questionnaire submitted while the session was underway.

The diversity of their answers reflected the nature of the battle fought this session by Maryland legislators and the debate still happening around the nation, including at the federal level.  Earlier this year, President Obama called on Congress to raise the minimum wage for all workers to $10.10 an hour by 2015.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat and O’Malley’s pick for governor, had backed the administration's original measure, which would have raised the Maryland minimum wage to $10.10 an hour two years sooner than the measure ultimately passed by the legislature, and increased the base rate of pay for tipped workers.

“I have worked with ... O’Malley, non-profits, businesses, labor, and our partners in the General Assembly to raise the minimum wage for all Maryland workers,” Brown said in his response. “I stand behind our Administration’s proposal … which raises the statewide minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and indexes future wages to the cost of inflation.”

The version that emerged from the General Assembly did away with provisions that would have pegged the minimum wage to inflation and raised pay for tipped workers. It also added in extra exemptions for certain businesses.  

Attorney General Doug Gansler, another Democratic candidate for governor who has backed a minimum wage increase, said he also supported the indexing provision.

Lawmakers on the House Economic Matters Committee decided to ax the indexing measure in part to avoid tying the hands of legislators down the road.

But Gansler said that the current minimum wage is “so far behind inflation that it is difficult for families to make ends meet without public support for food, housing and medical care.”

“The real costs of low-wage work are high for taxpayers and employers,” he said. “No Marylander who works 40 hours a week should struggle to put food on the table or pay basic bills.”

Grassroots candidate Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, said that even before the changes made by the House, O’Malley’s proposal would not do enough to help low-wage workers.

She criticized the absence of an indexing measure and the “loopholes” that exist for seasonal workers.

“While I voted in favor of legislation this session to increase most minimum wage workers to $10.10 per hour, it will still leave far too many in poverty,” she said. “This is a step in the right direction but not the relief middle and low-income families deserve.”

Mizeur, who unsuccessfully fought to amend the bill on the floor of the House, is pushing a plan in her gubernatorial campaign that would raise the minimum wage for non-tipped workers to $16.70 by 2022. It would also boost wages for tipped employees and peg both rates to increase with inflation.

Republicans voiced loud opposition to a minimum wage hike, arguing that an increase would hurt small businesses and force business owners to layoff workers.

Charles County businessman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar said that “study after study” has shown a raise in the minimum wage would lead to job cuts.

In an underperforming job market, he said, he wants to make sure that those currently with work don’t lose their employment as a result of a hike that businesses can’t afford.

Lollar said he would instead work to eliminate the “74 new taxes and fees” that have reduced Maryland’s middle class while expanding its lower class.

“We want to make your dollar stronger rather than decrease its value,” he said.

Republican candidate Larry Hogan, an Anne Arundel County real estate broker and leader of the conservative advocacy group Change Maryland, said that the minimum wage debate in Annapolis is “a symptom of a much bigger problem in Maryland – a lack of economic growth” that has resulted in stagnant wages.

Hogan said that a minimum wage increase would force employers to layoff thousands of entry-level workers.

“The next governor will have to work very hard to attract new businesses to Maryland to make up for these job losses,” Hogan said.

GOP candidate and Anne Arundel County Delegate Ron George echoed the fear that a hike would translate to job cuts without having much of a positive impact.

He said the majority of minimum wage workers are people between the ages of 16 and 24 who have no dependents.

“[The minimum wage] is meant to provide young people work experience and allow for seasonal businesses to operate in Maryland making us a tourist destination with greater economic impacts felt across the state,” George said.

Republican candidate and Harford County Executive David Craig said he favors an elimination of the state income tax over an increase in the a minimum wage.

“By [letting Marylanders keep] more of their own well earned money instead of seeing the state spend it, a change in the minimum wage would be unnecessary,” Craig said.

With O’Malley set to sign the bill into law, Maryland is on track to join the more than 20 states with minimum wages above the federal level.

The gubernatorial primary election will be held June 24.

Mark April 10, 2014 at 11:24 AM
Bob H. says: ".....incompetent occupant of the WH". Is he referring to the same person that has had 24 months of straight job increases and has controlled spending OR is he referring to the Fox/Nugent/Limbaugh/O'Reilly conveyor belt of whiny-ass conservative distortions. Wait, let's talk about Benghazi again....
MG42 April 10, 2014 at 12:23 PM
So, will employers be more willing to take a chance on a low skilled worker if they have to pay them a higher wage? This hurts low skilled workers. It's much easier for a low skilled worker to get a job selling drugs than find an employer who will pay them more than their skills justify. SWPLs "helping" the poor, so dumb.
Zinzindor April 10, 2014 at 02:03 PM
Looking cynically: This minimum wage increase is a way to garner favor with the electorate, without incurring wrath of the general populace for increasing taxes. Less cynically: It's an example of stunningly ignorant policymaking. The gubernatorial candidates (and the governor and most of the General Assembly) promote the idea that the paycheck increase is magical: the money comes from nowhere. Or worse, it comes from the pockets of rich employers. But what are the likely outcomes of the legislation? Where does the money actually come from? There are a number of possible ways that employers can counteract the increase in costs. These include cuts in benefits, cuts in training, shifting to automation, shifting to more part-time work. Worst of all: laying off low-skilled workers (who can't be expected to bring $10.10 per hour in value to the business), or declining to hire them. Governor O'Malley and these candidates claim to be helping society's worst-off, but they aren't. Society's worst off are the ones who can't get a job at that wage, and this legislation is a direct assault on their well-being. You can't find advocates of the increase who acknowledge that the money doesn't come magically, or that there will be negative consequence for low-skill workers. They are either blind, or simply don't care. And when fast food restaurants start substituting order-taking machines for clerks, few will think to blame the politicians. LeviathanMontgomery.wordpress.com
Roger April 11, 2014 at 06:13 PM
Sure is easy to see who is antichrist.
Dennis Gilpin April 15, 2014 at 06:37 PM
Zinzindor, You sound like you understand business. In many cases these " low paying" jobs mean the difference between being homeless and keeping your family together. Eliminate just a percentage of them and our state might go from one of the leading states in Home foreclosures to number one. None of the people who voted for this probably ever had to depend on a minimum paying job. Eastern Baltimore city and county has experienced the loss of many jobs as companies have either closed or relocated. At this point the economy is fragile and involving politics in this, is a recipe for disaster.

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