The Montgomery County Council faced a significant roadblock to their efforts to raise the county minimum wage, after county executive Ike Leggett vetoed Bill 12-16, which mandated that it be raised to $15 per hour.
This bill, which would raise the current minimum wage of $10.75 per hour (soon to be $11.50 per hour) to $15.00 per hour, was passed by the county council on Jan. 17 in a close 5-4 vote. Council members were divided on the reasonability of instituting a $15 per hour minimum wage, trying to weigh the benefits of possibly decreasing county poverty with the potential costly consequences to local businesses. Due to the bill being passed by only one vote, the council was deprived of the seven votes necessary to overrule Leggett’s veto and many suspected he would reject it. “I predict that today’s vote is not the final word, that we will indeed have more time to discuss this matter and get a balance that works for everyone,” Council President Roger Berliner said after the council voted to approve the increased minimum wage bill, according to wamu.org.
Not even a week later Leggett issued his official veto of Bill 12-16 on Jan. 23, citing the potential damage it could pose to local businesses as his primary reasoning. He was especially concerned about how the institution of a higher minimum wage would affect the ability of these businesses to compete with the neighboring counties whose minimum wages would be significantly lower. Frederick, Howard and Anne Arundel counties all follow the state minimum wage of $8.75 per hour (soon to be $10.10 by July of 2018) and Prince George’s County, whose minimum wage will reach $11.50 by the end of the year, making it the only other surrounding county to have adopted a minimum wage higher than the state’s requirements, rejected a $15 minimum wage last year.
Leggett also expressed doubt in regards to whether or not Montgomery County would be able to sustain a $15 minimum wage given most of the places that have already done so are tourist destinations.
“Unlike Seattle or New York City, we are not a ‘destination city’ that draws great numbers of business travelers or tourists that will be able to afford higher costs for short-term visits. Our residents will essentially shoulder the bulk of the cost,” Leggett said in a letter to the county council informing them of his veto.
While Leggett vetoed Bill 12-16, in his letter to the county council he made it clear that he was not opposed to the institution of a $15 minimum wage, but merely believed that certain amendments must be made to ensure that the county’s businesses are not inadvertently harmed. He suggested several steps that could be taken to prevent him from vetoing the bill in the future: the conduction of an economic study on the effect it would have on businesses, a provision exempting small businesses and youth workers and the promise that the full $15 minimum wage would not take full effect until 2022 (two years after Washington D.C.’s $15 minimum wage is adopted).
The students here agree with Leggett’s proposed alterations to Bill 12-16. They are especially advocates for the differentiated treatment of smaller and larger businesses. “I think minimum wage should be higher for larger companies and stay the same for small businesses,” senior Katie Fairhurst said.
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