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ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland House of Delegates already has approved a bill to raise Maryland’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. As the bill awaits action in the Senate, Del. Neil Parrott attempted Tuesday to interest the House Economic Matters Committee in his bill to let counties set their own minimum wage.
“I know we passed one last week, but I’m not sure that’s gonna make it through the Senate,” Parrott, R-Washington, told committee members. “So I think I want to give another option as we look at the minimum wage.”
But the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the $15 minimum wage, opposes Parrott’s bill, too, its lobbyist told the committee.
Under Parrott’s bill, counties could set their own minimum wage, as long as it is at least the federal minimum, which is $7.25. It would eliminate the state minimum wage.
“Allowing each county to choose their own minimum wage rate would allow them to choose the minimum wage that would best help the citizens in their own counties, and best help the businesses in their own counties,” Parrott said, “and try and balance that so that they can have businesses that thrive, and citizens that have the best minimum wage that makes the most sense for that area.”
But Lawrence Richardson, vice president for government relations for the Maryland Chamber, said having each county set its own rate could prove be a “bureaucratic nightmare.” Smaller businesses that operate in more than one county would have to meet different payroll requirements in each, he said.
“We know there has been discussion of regionalization” of the $15 minimum wage bill, he said, which would allow regions of the state with lower median incomes and more competition with other states to set their rates lower than $15.
“But … the cost to business would be problematic,” Richardson said.
Republicans on the committee weren’t buying that argument.
Larger businesses already outsource their payroll, said Del. Mark Fisher, R-Calvert. “Is this so complicated that these companies can’t figure that out? We heard company after company testifying how (the $15 minimum wage) was gonna hurt their business.”
Del. Steven Arentz, R-Kent/Queen Anne’s/Cecil/Caroline, wanted to know how many members on the Eastern Shore support the Chamber’s position. Richardson said he wasn’t sure how many did, but said “this is the direction I’ve been given by our members.”
Arentz countered that he didn’t believe letting counties set their own minimum would be “onerous” for businesses. “I don’t think they would agree with you,” he said.
”I know the hotels in Ocean City would enjoy this,” added Del. Johnny Mautz, R-Caroline/Dorchester/Talbot/Wicomico.
Other legislators noted that some businesses, mainly in Western Maryland and on the Shore, already deal with differing minimums if they have locations in neighboring states. Letting states set their own minimums, Fisher added, would make counties more competitive with each other.