- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Del. Peter F. Murphy stood apart from his colleagues in support of a minimum wage increase Monday morning during the Charles County Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative breakfast in Waldorf.
A co-sponsor of a bill to gradually raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by July 2015, Murphy (D-Charles) maintained his support of the measure by noting that the current federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25 equates to an annual income of $15,080 — below the federal poverty line for a two-person household — and that the minimum wage would be $10.55 had it kept up with inflation over the last four decades.
But the rest of the county delegation said they opposed a minimum wage increase, citing an economy still in recovery from recession.
Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) voted for an increase to the minimum wage in 2006 and said he could do so again “if the economic times were different.”
“I think there’s justification for it. It’s just not the time to do it,” he said.
Middleton said he didn’t think the minimum wage proposal had enough votes in the Senate to pass and that legislation requiring employers to provide workers with seven paid sick days is likely dead after being voted down in a House of Delegates subcommittee.
Del. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles), who sits on the House Economic Matters committee, said the state should let the federal government decide when to increase the minimum wage.
“None of the wage bills have had any movement in our committee,” she added. “In this economy, I don’t think any of us are looking forward to doing anything with that.”
The state’s minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour, but state law requires that workers be paid the federal minimum wage if it is higher.
“There’s a tornado of misinformation up in Annapolis, to think that somehow if you increase the wages, automatically everyone does better, because apparently the money just appears, and they don’t really talk about who has to pay it and how many people have to get terminated in order to meet this minimum wage requirement,” Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) said.
Del. John F. Wood Jr. (D-St. Mary’s, Charles) said raising the minimum wage would keep businesses from providing high school students with summer jobs.
“This is not the time to raise wages. Every businessperson out here is struggling. Nobody is hiring people, and to raise wages at this time of year, it’s going to hurt,” he said.
Murphy said lawmakers should consider wage increases comprehensively, and consider ways to alleviate the burden on small businesses via tax credits or reduced regulations.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that people who are in business want to pay their employees more. They want to keep their employees. They don’t want turnover. They want productive, useful, long-term employees,” Murphy said. “But we have to be also aware of the kinds of restrictions and things that we’re putting on small business that cost them money in other areas.”
Forum moderator Phil McDonagh of SunTrust Mortgage, co-chairman of the chamber’s 25-member legislative committee, chimed in that increasing the minimum wage “creates a cascading effect of wages for all employees, and that cost gets very, very dramatic.”
McDonagh asked Wilson and Murphy whether they believed proposed legislation banning assault rifles, requiring licenses for handguns and restricting gun sales to mental health patients would actually reduce crime.
The state Senate passed the bill last month. It has yet to make it to the House floor, but Wilson, a former prosecutor, said the parts of the bill he has seen do not target criminals.
“I could deal with parts of it if it was common sense,” he said. “The reason it’s frustrating is because it’s not going after the bad guy. … It looks like it’s merely just grandstanding.”
Wilson said increasing the penalties for possessing unregistered firearms would be a better way to cut down on gun violence, and that the bill’s mental health provisions likely would spur some people to simply not seek treatment.
Though he co-sponsored the bill, Murphy noted that the legislation has since been altered and said he was unsure of how he would vote on it.
“The way this bill is geared, in my opinion, is that it’s targeting the wrong people. The people that are getting treatment, the people that are in counseling are not the problem,” Murphy said.
Jameson said her office was at one point getting 50 emails per minute on the gun bill, and has received more than 800 emails from Charles County residents “overwhelmingly in opposition.”
Middleton reiterated his support for a new state law limiting growth on septic systems — widely known as the “septic bill” — but said lawmakers need to come up with a way to compensate land owners for the property value they stand to lose.
As a member of the House Environmental Matters Committee, Wilson has dealt with Gov. Martin’s O’Malley’s (D) proposal to apply the state’s 6 percent sales tax to gasoline, but he remained skeptical that it would benefit Southern Maryland.
“It impacts those of us that live in the outlying the communities the greatest. However, most of the money goes to the communities closer to the Beltway and Baltimore city,” he said. “I don’t want to rely on promises of something they may give us in 20 years, because we have to get through tomorrow.”
Middleton cautioned that it ultimately might not matter how loudly rural legislators object to a gas tax increase.
“I hope that you all realize that we come up against some strong, strong forces in Annapolis,” he said. “When you take Prince George’s, Montgomery and Baltimore city and get them on the same wavelength, they’re unstoppable, and that’s what’s happening with the gas tax.”
“The only people I think that like the gas tax in Maryland is right down the road about 20 miles in Virginia,” Wood said.
Wilson’s committee also has reviewed proposals to institute statewide bottle and bag taxes. He voted against instituting a bag tax in Prince George’s County last year.
“We’re just in a very delicate stage in our community and our country, so to put any additional challenges on either the businesses or consumer might tip the scales back out of our favor,” he said.
Murphy is sponsoring a couple of bills that he said would help small businesses — one that would allow counties to give gas stations a property tax credit toward installing generators so they can stay open during prolonged power outages and another that would exempt pharmacies that only dispense medical devices from requirements that they have a pharmacist on staff. Both bills have cleared their respective House committees.
He also asked for help in pushing another bill that would let judges fine those who commit animal cruelty in order to pay for the animals’ subsequent care.
Jameson noted that a local bill allowing Charles County businesses with liquor licenses to sell nonalcoholic drinks an hour earlier Monday through Saturday was in the Senate after passing the House unanimously. Another bill authorizing the county to abate building violations and assess the cost to the owner’s property tax bill also appears headed for passage, she said.
However, a proposal to permit golf carts on public roads in Cobb Island once again has stalled in a House committee and almost certainly will not make it out of the chamber, Jameson said, prompting a few sympathetic chuckles.
“How will the people on Cobb Island survive?” McDonagh asked, tongue-in-cheek.