Elrich Proposes 'Regional' Minimum Wage Increase, But Faces Uphill Battle
County Councilmember Marc Elrich on Tuesday introduced a bill that would increase the county's minimum wage to $11.50 per hour in a unique regional effort that would join Montgomery County with Prince George's and D.C. In August, Elrich announced he would propose a $12 an hour minimum wage for the county. On Tuesday, Elrich said after consulting with Prince George's County Council Chair Andrea Harrison and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, he moved his number down to $11.50 per hour to match proposals in those jurisdictions and establish a regional minimum wage. Maryland's minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which is the federal minimum wage. That number comes out to a $15,000 yearly salary, which Elrich and supporters say leaves workers well below what is necessary in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the country. His new bill would phase in the raise over the next three years, raising the minimum wage to $8.50 starting July 1, 2014. "I originally thought we would put in the bill and it would get modified in public hearings and we'd make sausage like we always do," Elrich said. "But in those conversations I felt I needed to make some adjustments to the bill that I thought reflected some of the best thinking and some of the legitimate concerns that were raised. "This is a unique opportunity for region-wide solidarity and I think this is a great example of regionalism, of all us confronting a similar problem and trying to take similar actions," Elrich said. "I thought that regionalism in this case was more important than going it alone in Montgomery County." Councilmembers Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) and Nancy Navarro (D-East County, Mid-County) joined Elrich to co-sponsor the bill. Ervin said she was initially concerned Elrich's effort might hamper the push to increase Maryland's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in next year's Maryland General Assembly. Ervin, Elrich, County Executive Isiah Leggett and state lawmakers will hold a press conference on Wednesday in Takoma Park to promote raising the state minimum wage. The state bill would raise the minimum wage in stages to $10.10 an hour by 2016 and index it to the cost of living afterward. "We are witnessing in this country millions of people try to make a living on $7.25 an hour. We know that's not possible and then we wonder why those children and those families are not doing well in school, we wonder why they don't have enough to eat, we wonder why they don't participate in the public life of their communities because all they do is work," Ervin said. "So I rise to what Marc Elrich has put on the table, a very powerful message that we mean business in Montgomery County. We mean business not just for the people who own the businesses but for the people who make the businesses prosper." Supporters of the state minimum wage cite research that shows 472,000 Marylanders would benefit from the increase, putting $466 million more in their pockets in the next two years. The research says businesses would benefit from nearly half a billion dollars in new consumer spending and would create more than 4,000 new full-time jobs. Elrich's push will likely face an uphill battle. Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) on Tuesday said he will not co-sponsor the measure, saying the state minimum wage measure will make the biggest impact. "I don't doubt for a moment and I know in my heart that people can not live on a minimum wage in Montgomery County," Berliner said. "I also believe that this effort to make it regional is an important one, but I would say to Mr. Elrich, at least from where I sit, in terms of Montgomery County's competitiveness...that we're looking at Frederick, we're looking at Howard, we're looking at Fairfax, we're looking at Arlington. We're looking at a whole broad array of jurisdictions with whom we are in competition and we need to understand before we act on this, in my judgement, what impact this will have on our competitiveness." Councilmember Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) also went on the record as against the bill, saying the county can help poorer families by phasing out certain taxes. Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At large), chair of the Health and Human Services Committee that will work on the measure, said he will not support the bill now. But he promised a fair discussion of in his committee. There will be a public hearing on the proposal at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 24.