The County Council Health and Human Services Committee voted to make two amendments to the current proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The HHS committee voted 2-1 to extend the implementation period by two years and change the definition of a small business from one of 25 employees or less to 50 employees or less.
“It’s very difficult to project what can to happen in the future. We have a madman in the White House,” said Council member and HHS Committee Chairperson George Leventhal (D-at large). “We don’t know where the economy is going to go. Currently the economy remains strong despite the uncertainty of our federal leadership.”
Bill 28-17, Council member Marc Elrich (D-at large) introduced in August, would increase the County’s current minimum wage of $11.50 per hour to $15 per hour. While the bill originally proposed increasing the County minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020, the committee vote extended the time frame to 2022 for large businesses with 51 employees or more and 2024 for small businesses with 50 employees or less.
Committee members Roger Berliner (D-1) and Craig Rice (D-2) voted for the changes to the minimum wage bill, while Leventhal was the one vote against the changes on the committee. The changes follow recommendations by County Executive Ike Leggett, who vetoed a previous attempt by the Council to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.
“Like my colleagues I am bullish on our ability as a County to prosper, we have work to do in that regard,” Berliner said. “But if we do this too quickly I believe we will do harm. Small business in Montgomery County is large business.”
Rice, who voted against the last bill to increase the minimum wage, said he worried what increasing the minimum wage would do to African-American and Latino youth in his district who often rely on low-wage jobs that would be at risk if the Council voted to increase the minimum wage. Rice, instead, suggested the Council increase funds for its various youth work force programs, saying it would do more to help young working people in his district.
“I think people should understand how incredibly vast the spread of poverty has grown throughout Montgomery County…it’s not going to be fixed by the minimum wage,” Rice said.
Elrich, who is the lead sponsor of Bill 28-17, said he was sympathetic to Rice’s concerns, but said the Council should focus on the bill to increase the minimum wage and discuss increased funding for youth employment programs separately.
“We need to do what we can do to set this thing in motion in my view and we need to deal with these other issues as soon as we can put things on the table,” Elrich said.
In January, the Council voted 5-4 to increase the minimum wage, the four dissenting council members – Roger Berliner (D-1), Craig Rice (D-2), Sidney Katz (D-3) and Nancy Floreen (D-at large) – said they needed to see a Montgomery County study on the minimum wage before they could be convinced they could vote for it. While the bill passed the Council, Leggett vetoed the proposal, asking for the Council to fund a study on the impact on increasing minimum wage.
In August, Philadelphia-based PFM Consulting released its study, saying the County would lose 47,000 jobs, but weeks after the firm released the study, its managing director Dean Kaplan admitted that PFM made a mathematical error when conducting the study and that the previously projected job loss numbers were overestimated.
The entire County Council will have to vote on the amendments to the bill for them to take effect.