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Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber: Cap Minimum Wage At $10.10

By Aaron Kraut

Friday - 11/22/2013, 2:30pm  ET

County Councilmember Marc Elrich (file photo)The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, other chambers and business groups around Montgomery County are lobbying against a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $11.50 per hour.

The bill, from Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At large), has at least three supporters for a total of four votes on the nine-person Council. To pass the bill needs five votes, a critical number ahead of Tuesday’s scheduled full Council vote.

The bill is part of a regional effort in Montgomery, Prince George’s and D.C. for an $11.50 per hour minimum wage tied to the consumer price index, the measure for cost of living.

In an email to members on Friday, the B-CC Chamber urged its members to contact the five other councilmembers (see this detailed summary of where everyone stands at political blog Maryland Juice) and tell them to cap any minimum wage hike to $10.10 per hour with no indexing:

For the past several weeks, the B-CC Chamber has been working with other chambers and business groups in Montgomery County to persuade Council members to delay consideration of Council member Elrich’s bill that would set the minimum wage in Montgomery County at $11.50 an hour that would be phased in over three years, beginning in July 2014 and indexed to increase with the consumer price index in future years.  Based on a survey of businesses in the county, this increase is too much too fast and the indexing could result in a county minimum wage that is far higher than the state’s, unless the state legislature also passes a minimum wage tied to indexing.  Yesterday, the County Council HHS Committee voted (2-0) in favor of Elrich’s bill, this despite the fact that the proponents’ own economists told them that $11.50 is too high.  They did amend the bill to exempt teens age 18 and under working fewer than 20 hours per week and set the minimum wage for tipped employees at 50% of the County minimum wage. This bill will go to the full Council for a vote this Tuesday.  IT WILL PASS – possibly unanimously — unless the business community is able to persuade some Council members to make some changes that would make it less burdensome for employers.

David Moon over at Maryland Juice, a proponent of a minimum wage hike and House of Delegates candidate in Takoma Park, paints the picture a little bit differently:

In recent weeks, a battle has been brewing among government officials in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and the District of Columbia over efforts to pass minimum wage increases at the local level. Councilmembers in all three jurisdictions are poised to move a “regional minimum wage” of $11.50/hour that is indexed to the consumer price index (aka a minimum wage that increases as the cost of living rises). Note that a person working 40 hours week and who takes no vacations would make $23,920/year under the proposed $11.50/hour rate — keeping them just above the $20,000 poverty line. Given the record high wealth inequality we’ve witnessed over the past few decades, this hardly seems like a radical proposal.

But efforts are afoot to weaken the bills in a way that threatens to derail the tenuous arrangement between a coalition of Councilmembers in MoCo, Prince George’s & DC, who have all agreed to move an $11.50/hour minimum wage. While compromising on the effect amount of the wage increase would normally seem like fair game, in this instance, Prince George’s lawmakers have a ready majority for $11.50 an hour but are waiting for Montgomery to act before pulling the trigger. A failure to pass the same rate increase will throw all sorts of unpredictability in the process and threaten to derail a historic economic justice pact between governments in the ever-expensive DC Metro region.

Also to be hashed out on Tuesday is if a county minimum wage bill would exempt tipped employees for teenagers 18 and younger and what the phase-in period would be the raise.

A few on the Council, including Bethesda’s Roger Berliner, have said they’d prefer to wait and see what the state legislature does with the issue in 2014. Gov. Martin O’Malley has backed a push to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour.

The minimum wage now is the federally-mandated $7.25 per hour.