Mayor Pugh Decides to Veto Proposed $15 Minimum Wage Increase

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Still via Periscope/Mayor Catherine Pugh

Mayor Pugh today reneged on a campaign promise to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, saying she would rather follow the state’s timeline for increasing hourly wages and will veto a proposed increase approved this week by the City Council.

In her announcement, Pugh said, “It is important that as the chief executive officer of the city that I take into consideration all the needs of all the people in Baltimore.”

She was sympathetic to supporters of a wage increase, saying, “I don’t think there’s anybody that wants more to see the minimum wage increase than I do.”

However, she said she would rather follow rest of Maryland’s lead on boosting wages. “I believe it is in the best interest of the city that we follow the state,” she said.

In planning her decision, Pugh said she spoke with former Mayor Kurt Schmoke and policymakers in counties outside of Baltimore, as well as nonprofit leaders and ministers from within the city.

Pugh’s stance on the measure remained unclear for days. Leaders of unions and some nonprofits pointed out that the mayor promised Baltimore’s AFL-CIO chapter during her campaign last year that she would approve a $15 minimum wage increase if she were elected.

Supporters of an increased wage criticized the mayor for her decision, saying she “broke her promise.”

“We are deeply upset that Mayor Pugh has broken her campaign pledge by vetoing this legislation, which promises to give tens of thousands of workers higher wages and the opportunity to lead self-sufficient lives,” said Ricarra Jones, chair of the Fight for $15 Baltimore Coalition, in a statement. “As a state senator, Mayor Pugh was a strong supporter of a livable minimum wage and explicitly promised to sign the Baltimore wage bill as mayor. Today, she has made clear that promises are made to be broken. The voters will remember her turn-around.”

Baltimore City Council members approved the measure to boost Baltimoreans’ minimum wages to $15 an hour by 2022 in an 11-3 vote on Monday night. Mary Pat Clarke of the city’s 14th district introduced the measure. Councilmembers Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, Leon Pinkett and Eric Costello voted against it.

Only last fall, the Council opted not to approve the wage hike, but with an influx of freshman lawmakers, all of them Democrats, the new Council approved the bill with nearly a large enough margin to override a mayoral veto.

Councilman Brandon Scott was absent from the vote, but he has said previously that he supports a $15 minimum wage in Baltimore. His would be the 12th vote needed to overturn Pugh’s decision.

City officials have said the hike could cost taxpayers an additional $115 million over a four-year period as city employees get raises. That cost estimate also wouldn’t account for the potential economic fallout of small businesses moving from within the city limits to avoid having to pay their employees more, opponents have argued.

Supporters of the increase have pushed back, citing studies that say minimum wage increases do create significant job losses and economists’ estimates that it would boost income or more than 80,000 workers in Baltimore.

Shortly after the Council approved the bill, the Baltimore Sun editorial board published an argument against the wage boost, writing, “Baltimore is already at a big disadvantage when it comes to property and income taxes. Why make matters worse?”

Maryland’s minimum wage is set to increase from $8.75 to $9.25 an hour on July 1 of this year, and to $10.10 an hour by 2018.

Lawmakers carved out exceptions within the bill. Small employers, or those with $400,000 or less in annual revenue or fewer than 50 employees, would have smaller incremental annual wage increases leading up to a $15 minimum wage in 2026.

Employees under age 21, teens participating in the city’s YouthWorks program, some interns, disabled employees and Maryland Zoo in Baltimore employees would be exempt from the higher wage requirement.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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2 COMMENTS

  1. $15 at 40 hrs/week is a salary of $31,200/year. National Association of Colleges and Employers says 2016 College Graduates make $50,566/yr. So the 21 year old employee, can make 62% of the college graduate salary without any of the trouble or expense of getting good grades, taking SAT tests, filling out the FASFA, getting and paying or forbearing loans. Plus, with that salary, you get the OBAMAcare subsidy worth about $4,632 for free; and as an extra bonus, you could get the affordable housing at Port Covington, paying a fraction of what it costs others….alas, Pugh was feeling Grinchy.

  2. The Mayor undoubtedly took a long, hard look at this question and regretfully recognized that the costs outweighed benefits of moving faster than the State as a whole. She would quite likely embrace a faster pace if state-wide. While the Governor is a Republican, it’s important to note that Democrats have long controlled the Legislature as well as the Governorship, yet concluded that moving the minimum wage faster was not a priority. Pugh was pushing for faster as a State Representative, but was in the minority in her own party at the time.

    Given the recent news of budget shortfalls and declining city population, IMO, she was wise to reconsider the campaign promise. Believe in a higher minimum wage- Push for this state-wide. Even then, there’s the challenge for those near the borders of our state and our neighbors. It’s simply not an easy issue.

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