July 2, 2015

Baltimore Sun: Minimum wage increasing for 53,000 Marylanders as new laws take effect

Thousands of Maryland workers will get an immediate pay raise Wednesday as the state-mandated minimum wage jumps from $8 to $8.25.

The modest bump is part of a longer path to $10.10 in 2018. The minimum wage increase was approved last session after lively debate with opponents saying it could put too much pressure on businesses and supporters saying families need the extra money to make it in today’s economy.

Mary Anne O’Donnell, chief administrative officer and assistant director for Catholic Charities, said the increase in minimum wage will move families one step closer to making at least enough money to handle necessary living expenses.

As of now, working 40 hours a week nets only about $17,000 a year, even with the raise, she said.

“It’s really hard to make all the bills in a month,” O’Donnell said. “This is a step in the right direction.”

The increase in wages is estimated to impact about 53,000 Maryland workers making at or below minimum wage, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014 data. This makes up about 4 percent of the hourly paid workforce.

More workers are estimated to benefit from the increase as employers work to maintain wage ladders.

While county specific numbers of minimum wage workers weren’t available, the Maryland Department of Legislative Services estimated that 245 seasonal employees in Anne Arundel County would be impacted by the wage increases.

Kadyja Green lives near Fort George G. Meade. She makes minimum wage working at Love Ones, a lingerie store. While she likes the work and meets interesting people, she said the “small” 25 cent increase isn’t going to change her life.

She still struggles to make it month to month as she works nights and cares for her two year old daughter. While she wants to get paid more, she finds it hard to make time for training or affording college to find better paying work.

“It should be going up faster,” Green said. “It is impossible to live off minimum wage.”

This is the second time this year the minimum wage has increased. In January, the wage jumped from $7.25 an hour to $8, generating an estimated $84 million in increased wages for workers and $55 million in consumer spending, according to Economic Policy Institute research data.

Even with potential consumer spending boosts, businesses have raised issue with the wage increase. Owners say it puts financial pressure on their bottom line in a still recovering economy.

Those in the food service industry were especially concerned about an increase to minimum wage. Gavin Buckley and Jody Danek run three restaurants in Annapolis.

“It’s a little bit harder for a business like ours,” Buckley said. “We require a big workforce to do what we do. It’s not like retail, where one person can run the whole shop. I need 30 people to run a whole shop. … But everyone needs to make a living wage. We understand that.”

Ray Sears runs three Papa John’s franchises in Annapolis. A majority of his employees make more than minimum wage, while delivery drivers are paid at that rate when they are not making a delivery.

His staff previously planned for the changes by slightly increasing the cost of some pizza toppings and the cost of delivery.

“It’s time. So many prices have gone up and just the cost of living here, especially in the Annapolis area, that it’s time (to increase minimum wage),” Sears said.”Minimum-wage jobs weren’t created for somebody trying to head a family.”

However, one of the challenges he faces is for employees who make about $9 an hour, previously about $2 above minimum wage. As the minimum wage increases, that person will be viewed as a minimum-wage worker.

“All of a sudden, they’re starting to consider themselves a minimum-wage employee as minimum wage goes up,” Sears said. “Then it gets tough when you have to start moving everybody up. It creates a big challenge.”

These concerns caused the state’s minimum-wage law to shift before its final passage. The original draft had the $10.10 wage finalized in 2016, but amendments to the bill lengthened the distance from $7.25 to $10.10 to 2018.

While supporters swallowed the compromise, some critics thought the state made a mistake when setting the minimum wage on a schedule.

Del. Herb McMillan, R-Annapolis, said he supported a modest wage increase but lamented that it was set to automatically increase.

“I’m happy for it to go up this year,” McMillan said. “What concerns me is the automatic increases — who knows what will happen to the economy.”

“The government shouldn’t run on autopilot; someone needs to be flying that plane. That’s my view, but then again I’m a pilot.”

The minimum wage won’t be the only increase to take place Wednesday.

Daily parking at Anne Arundel’s largest parks will increase from $3 to $6. Daily parking fees at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, Fort Smallwood and Downs parks in Pasadena, and Kinder Farm Park in Millersville will be affected. Yearly parking permits will remain at $20.

The changes were spearheaded by County Executive Steve Schuh’s administration, which considered the decision to drop the rates under County Executive Laura Neuman last year “unsustainable.”

Fans of summer getaways will be getting a discount if they use the state’s toll roads. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge’s tolls are reduced from $6 cash to $4 and $5.40 E-ZPass to $2.50 E-ZPass for two-axle vehicles.

The Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge, which carries U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River in Harford County, also received reduced rates from $7.20 to $6 for two-axle vehicles.

McMillan said he was glad to see the tolls decreased but added that was being offset by the increased parking fees.

“It is a shame for fees in Anne Arundel parks to go up,” he said. “It is sad some of (Hogan’s) toll decreases are being offset by the fee increases in Anne Arundel County.”

Here are other changes going into effect on Wednesday, which marks the start of the 2016 fiscal year:

•Stormwater runoff repeal: The bill that was passed by Maryland lawmakers will no longer require counties to tax their residents for runoff. Now Anne Arundel and eight other counties, as well as Baltimore City, have to report to the state how they are meeting their runoff reduction goals. Anne Arundel’s stormwater fees were not repealed at the local level, and residents are still paying.

•Sex trafficking victims and community college: A new law will allow community colleges to charge in-region fees for sex trafficking victims. This allows the victims to pick and choose their school location, potentially removing them from uncomfortable environments. The legislation was spearheaded by Sen. Bryan Simonaire and Del. Meagan Simonaire, both R-Pasadena.

•Gas tax increase: Maryland’s drivers will be paying 1.8 cents per gallon. The increase is part of the motor fuel gas rate, which was raised from 2 to 3 percent as of today. The tax has increased from 23.5 cents per gallon to 32.1 cents since 2013.

Originally posted on the Baltimore Sun, available online here.