WASHINGTON – Lawmakers who supported the increase to Montgomery County’s minimum wage were celebrating Thursday afternoon.
Maryland State Delegate Tom Hucker declared that it’s no longer an either-or proposition. With the new law, the county doesn’t have to be split into factions like pro-worker and anti-business.
The logic is that when more workers make more money, more money gets pumped into the local economy.
“We’re seen as better for working families, we’re also seen as pro-business,” Hucker told a packed audience at the bill signing for the new minimum wage in Rockville.
But Montgomery County business owner Roberto Pietrobono would beg to differ with Hucker’s pro-business claim. Pietrobono, who owns the Olazzo restaurants in Silver Spring and Bethesda, and is about to open a third called Gringos and Mariachis, says he’s “outta here.”
In a letter to Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, Pietrobono called the minimum wage bill anti-restaurant and says he plans a move to D.C. The 41-year-old businessman was raised in Montgomery County and wants to stay but says, thanks to this bill, he’ll move to a more business-friendly jurisdiction, like the District or Virginia, if he expands again.
For Pietrobono, the wage increase itself isn’t a business killer, but it is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
While the District of Columbia is often tagged as difficult for businesses, Pietrobono says that isn’t so true for restaurants. He says Montgomery County’s liquor licensing bills are “archaic” and adds it’s ironic that the minimum wage bill was passed as the county is trying to boost the “night time economy,” which Pietrobono says is fueled by restaurants and bars.
The legislation passed 8-1 in the Montgomery County Council and will raise the minimum wage in stages to a high of $11.50 an hour by October of 2017. Pietrobono says his staffers already get above the minimum wage, and that his business can handle the added expense, but a startup businesses could find it next to impossible to operate.
Prince George’s County’s Council has passed a near mirror image of the Montgomery County bill, and the District of Columbia is considering similar legislation.
WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.