Campaign seeks to boost minimum wage in Maryland -- Gazette.Net


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This story was updated Jan. 22.

Progressive groups are resurrecting a campaign to raise the minimum wage in Maryland from its current $7.25 to $10 by 2015.

Headed up in the General Assembly by Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola (D-Dist. 15) of Germantown, the campaign, called Raise Maryland, is made up of about 20 organizations, including unions, immigrant groups and Progressive Maryland, a nonprofit advocacy group for various progressive issues and a perennial supporter of efforts to boost the minimum wage.

“This is anti-poverty legislation, economic development legislation, and it’s middle class, working families legislation,” Garagiola said.

Garagiola’s proposal, which he plans to introduce in the next week, would gradually raise the minimum hourly wage to $10 — to $8.25 in July, $9 in 2014 and $10 in 2015 — and ensure that future rates increase with the cost of living.

The minimum wage for workers who garner tips, like waiters and waitresses, would go from the current 50 percent of the full minimum wage to 70 percent.

Even though the bill has yet to be introduced, the campaign launched at a news conference Tuesday in Annapolis. Advocates said that the hike would boost wages for more than 536,000 workers in the state.

“You know, we boast that Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the union,” said Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Dist. 25) of Mitchellville, who plans to sponsor the legislation in the House of Delegates. “Well, do you know how much it costs to live in one of the wealthiest states in the union?”

Minimum-wage employees working full time earn $15,080 annually, advocates said.

A similar effort to raise the minimum wage in 2011 fell flat during the General Assembly session. Garagiola said a slowly recovering economy could boost the bill’s chances.

“There are a lot of indicators that the economy is getting better, our fiscal situation is getting better, and we have a strong coalition behind this initiative,” said Garagiola, adding that he expects a number of co-sponsors in the Senate.

While Garagiola and other proponents said the wage increase could pump nearly $400 million into the economy and support about 3,400 additional jobs as minimum-wage earners gain spending power, other groups say the pay hike will hurt entry-level job seekers and force businesses to cut workers.

“Dramatically raising the cost to hire and train entry-level employees will reduce job opportunities in Maryland — it’s simple economics,” Michael Saltsman, research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute, a nonprofit research organization, said in a statement.

Currently, 19 states plus Washington, D.C., have minimum wage rates higher than Maryland’s $7.25, which is also the federal minimum wage.

hnunn@gazette.net