ANNAPOLIS – In his final State of the State address, Gov. Martin O’Malley urged members of the Maryland General Assembly to come together and pass legislation increasing the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, telling lawmakers Thursday that a thriving middle class is the key to a thriving economy.
O’Malley touted the “measurable progress” made statewide during his tenure, highlighting advances both social and economical, but he was critical of the fact that Maryland has lagged behind other states in moving to increase a minimum wage that he said is no longer one that anyone can live on.
“This is not how our economy should work,” he said. “No person who works full time and plays by the rules should be forced to raise their family in poverty.”
O’Malley has pushed a minimum wage increase as his main priority this session and formally came out in support of a bill earlier this week that would gradually raise the wage from the federally set rate of $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016. The bill would also begin indexing the minimum wage to inflation in 2017 and increase the base rate for tipped workers from 50 to 70 percent of the minimum wage.
But a potential increase, which has widespread support from Democratic lawmakers, faces broad opposition from Republicans in both the House and Senate, and Senator David Brinkley, R-Frederick, dedicated a portion of his Republican response to addressing concerns that a hike would hurt businesses and lead to job losses.
“If I, as a business owner, have only so much to allocate to payroll, and I wish to continue to stay open for business, two things are going to happen,” Brinkley said. “Fewer people will be on my payroll and I will look longer and harder at accelerating automation for my operation, perhaps putting … less-skilled workers out of work.”
But O’Malley, pounding his fist on the podium and urging lawmakers to act swiftly, said that an increase would bolster the middle class and invigorate the state’s economy.
O’Malley also addressed the failures of the state’s health care website, calling the site’s botched launch “a source of great frustration” and pledging improvement.
“We learn from both success and failure,” O’Malley said. “Sometimes failure kicks the deepest spur.”
It was one of just a few moments in O’Malley’s address that were markedly somber, a departure from the jovial and nostalgic tone that defined much of the governor’s optimistic speech, which included his reflections on his seven years in office.
O’Malley recounted early challenges brought on by the recession and praised the state’s recovery, touting Maryland’s status as one of only 17 states that has recovered all the jobs that were lost during the economic downturn.
“Not only is Maryland stronger than before,” he said, “Maryland is cleaner, smarter, safer, healthier, more entrepreneurial and more competitive than she was before the recession hit.”
O’Malley, who is widely believed to be considering a run for president in 2016, recalled landmark legislation passed during his tenure, including a law permitting gay marriage, sweeping gun control reform and a repeal of the death penalty. He also commended what he said have been laudable advancements in restoring the Chesapeake Bay, reducing childhood hunger and lowering infant mortality rates.
O’Malley also told lawmakers that establishing universal prekindergarten and stronger domestic violence laws should be considered priorities for the session.
Capital News Service slideshow with audio by Amanda Salvucci.
Capital News Service video by Margo Shear and Mike Kettelberger.