- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett is weighing whether to approve or veto a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 — legislation that narrowly passed the all-Democrat County Council.

“We are reviewing [the legislation],” Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield said in an email. “No decision yet.”

Montgomery County is the first metropolitan jurisdiction to approve a minimum wage increase since the District enacted a wage hike last year.

County lawmakers on Tuesday approved the bill in a 5-4 vote, meaning the council would be unlikely to override a veto if Mr. Leggett strikes down the legislation.

In April, Mr. Leggett, a Democrat, voiced conditional support for raising the minimum wage, saying the change should be delayed until 2022 and the county should have a mechanism to stop the increase in case of an economic downturn.

The measure approved Tuesday picks up where the last hike ended. The county’s minimum wage would increase to $12.50 in 2018, $13.75 in 2019 and $15 in 2020.

At-large council member Marc Elrich, who wrote the legislation, acquiesced to some of Mr. Leggett’s requests on the dais Tuesday. Mr. Elrich included a provision that would allow businesses with fewer than 25 employees to delay implementation until 2022.

Another amendment allows the county executive to stop the incremental increases in years when county unemployment increases or the national economy decreases over two consecutive quarters.

But Mr. Elrich didn’t accept the changes easily: “We have negotiated against ourselves to create a bill that would get the county’s executive’s support. I hope he can sign this bill.”

Mr. Elrich also chided fellow lawmakers who said businesses would flee the county and those that stay might lay off employees to pay for the increase.

“I want to talk about how hard it is to adjust. It’s hard to adjust to being poor. Not much has been talked about how the heck you live on $1,300 a month,” Mr. Elrich said. “I know how people adjust to that. They send they send their kids to school hungry. Poverty is not healthy. It’s not healthy for anybody. I’m trying to make it possible so tens of thousands of Montgomery County residents have the word ‘adjust’ back in their vocabulary.”

If the bill becomes law, the county would join relatively few jurisdictions, including California, New York City and Seattle, in raising the minimum wage.

In 2013, the District and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties passed legislation to increase minimum pay to $11.50 by 2018.

But Prince George’s County last year decided against considering a $15 minimum wage bill, with lawmakers saying the county needs more economic drivers before increasing pay is a viable option.

The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not changed in seven years.

Some on the Montgomery County Council want the county to make the same decision as Prince George’s. At-large member Nancy Floreen said the county should focus on creating jobs rather than raising the minimum wage.

“At the end of the day, what people want are jobs, and they want an economy that supports those jobs and the opportunity for advancement,” Ms. Floreen said. “I don’t think this bill helps that.”

Council President Roger Berliner echoed those concerns, saying Montgomery County can’t take the risk of driving away business because it isn’t a destination like Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle or even the District.

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