ANNAPOLIS – The General Assembly has already raised Maryland’s minimum wage by a dollar an hour this year, to $6.15. But some supporters of the increase said that doesn’t keep up with inflation and propose that the state constitution should be amended to allow state officials to adjust the minimum wage annually to match inflation.
Delegate Neil F. Quinter, D-Howard County, along with seven other Democratic delegates, is proposing a constitutional amendment that would allow the Maryland Commissioner of Labor and Industry to adjust the minimum wage each year based on inflation. If approved by the General Assembly, the measure would be placed on the November ballot.
Washington, Oregon and Florida have adopted similar legislation and Vermont will begin indexing its minimum wage at the beginning of next year.
Quinter said that people’s expenses rise because of inflation and so should their wages.
“Gas prices go up, food prices go up, energy rises, rent rises, and they all do this automatically,” without going through the Legislature, he said.
During testimony before the House Economic Matters Committee Thursday, a few delegates voiced their concern about putting an indexing provision in the state’s constitution. But Quinter, who is proposing the bill for the first time, said it has a greater chance of becoming law if the people vote on it.
“I think the reality is that the governor (has proven) that he is not going to increase the minimum wage,” he said. “So if we were to do this by statute, I am absolutely positive that the governor would veto it.”
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich in fact did veto the minimum wage increase passed by the Legislature last year, and among the Assembly’s first orders of business this year was overriding that veto and approving a boost in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour.
Kevin Griffin Moreno, senior policy advocate for the Job Opportunities Task Force, testified that he supports the amendment because it “arrests the erosion of the value of the minimum wage.”
Much of the testimony in opposition to the amendment focused on the problems perceived with the minimum wage in general and not on the specific idea of indexing it for inflation.
Robert Worcester, president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, said raising the minimum wage would eliminate the bottom rung of the job ladder.
“If you chop off that bottom rung of the ladder, then the people that need it the most don’t get that bottom rung,” he said. “They don’t get that first job.”
David Carpenter, vice president of human resources for Wendy’s, argued that restaurants on the Maryland border could lose business to neighboring states if the wage is increased.
“If wages have to continue to rise our prices may also have to continue to rise, forcing customers to go somewhere else to spend their dollars,” he said.
But toward the end of the hearing, Terry Neimeyer, chairman of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, brought everyone back to the issue when suggesting alternative solutions to Quinter’s proposed amendment.
“There should be public debate and the legislators should make a decision, and that decision shouldn’t be automatic,” he said. “By making it automatic makes you lose control.” Delegate Susan Krebs, R-Carroll, echoed Neimeyer’s sentiments when she asked, “What belongs in our state constitution and what doesn’t?”