The following are statements from the three members of the Montgomery County Council who are running for county executive on Tuesday’s unanimous compromise vote raising the county’s minimum wage to $15:
Council President Roger Berliner:
“I am proud to have cast my vote for this amended bill. Today is a day when we proved that people of good faith and of passionate views can come together to find common ground.
From day one, I felt our task was to reconcile competing truths: the worthy cause of lifting up working people who struggle to make ends meet and the need to mitigate economic harm to our small business community, the economic engine of our County. From day one, I thought the measures before us did not find the right balance, and with the support of the County Executive, we gained the time we needed to get this right – to reconcile these competing truths.
No legislation is perfect and I am sure there will be those who find fault in this measure as amended. But it is often said that politics is the art of compromise. It is an art that, regrettably, has been lost in too many jurisdictions. It is an art that is critical to governing well.
I want to commend Councilmember Elrich, my colleagues, the many advocates who have fought for a $15 minimum wage, and the small business representatives who have been constructive voices in our deliberative process. Bottom line: Today marks an important day for workers in our County and reflects our community’s shared goal of increasing prosperity for all.”
Councilmember Marc Elrich:
“This is huge. What we have done today is express our commitment to raising the wage to $15 for all workers in this county. People who work deserve to earn a decent wage. This bill will help them earn enough to put a roof over their heads, feed their families and not have to choose between food on the table and medical visits. It also includes indexing for inflation, which is essential to ensuring that wages increase at the same rate as our cost of living.
I taught in a high-poverty school in Montgomery County for 17 years, and I saw up close the effects of poverty. I watched poor children come to school hungry and unable to focus on learning. Poor children live in homes where their parents are highly stressed about how they will be able to continue to afford rent and other basic necessities of life. That stress has an enormous impact on the children, and those impacts have lasting effects. Raising the minimum wage can help address these issues and is thus good for families and schools. It is also good for neighborhoods and the economy; when poor families have more money to spend, they will spend it at local businesses.
While our County is one of the wealthiest in the country, we have too many people living in poverty despite working long hours. More than one-third of our residents are renters, and many of them are using half of their income just to put a roof over their heads. We have a responsibility to ameliorate that situation, and this bill brings an enormous improvement for many.
I understand the concerns expressed by some that raising the wage will harm small businesses and certain other organizations. Numerous studies have looked into the effects of local minimum wage increases and found that they raise wages without negatively impacting employment; however, we listened and attempted to address concerns by providing slower phase-ins for mid-sized and small businesses, non-profits, and home and community based health care providers heavily dependent on Medicaid funding. The bill also allows a pause in the increases if local economic conditions warrant it.
I want to thank my colleagues for working together to find a bill that we could support. I appreciate the unwavering support of my cosponsors, Councilmembers Tom Hucker, George Leventhal, Nancy Navarro, and Hans Riemer. And I’m grateful to Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Sidney Katz, and Craig Rice for expressing their concerns and working with me. This bill begins a year later than I would have preferred for large businesses, but we now have a clear path to $15 for all our workers. And because this bill includes indexing for inflation, we will not repeat the national mistake of letting the minimum wage lose value over time.
When President Franklin Roosevelt put forward the original minimum wage, it was explicitly intended to meet basic needs. Today, we are recoupling wages to the original purpose of the minimum wage.”
Councilmember George Leventhal:
“My biggest regret about this debate is that we have heard so little from the workers who earn $11.50 per hour. Mr. Leggett’s study did not interview them, and although I made sincere efforts to recruit witnesses, we had very little testimony from minimum wage workers. They may be afraid to criticize their employers. They may have irregular work schedules. They may not have access to information about the County Council’s work. But when we are making decisions about those who need the most help from government, I would like us to follow the dictum, “No decisions about us, without us.”
Lo que más lamento de este debate es que hemos escuchado tan poco de los trabajadores que ganan $11,50 por hora. El estudio del Sr. Leggett no entrevistó a los trabajadores, y aunque hice esfuerzos sinceros para reclutar testigos, teníamos muy poco testimonio de trabajadores que ganan el salario mínimo. Tal vez tienen miedo de criticar a sus empleadores, o pueden tener horarios de trabajo irregulares. Es posible que no tengan acceso a información sobre la labor del Consejo del condado. Pero cuando estamos tomando decisiones sobre aquellos que necesitan la mayor ayuda del gobierno, me gustaría que siguieramos el dictamen, “no decisiones sobre nosotros, sin nosotros.”
Having said that, my vote for this bill today is a sign of my great confidence in the future of Montgomery County’s strong, robust, diverse economy. I understand there will be winners and losers. I do not take lightly the concerns of employers who will find that a wage mandate makes it difficult for them to pay the rent, keep the lights on, or even stay in business. However, the evidence of the past few years is that a rising minimum wage has not correlated with a rise in unemployment. Our County’s unemployment rate has gone down each year. I believe in the future of this County and I believe rising incomes at the bottom will benefit merchants, because increased spending money in the pockets of those with fewer resources is spent right away, on groceries, clothes, gasoline and other consumer goods that are sold by some of the very people who are complaining most vociferously about the minimum wage increase. I believe our County has a bright future, and I want everyone who lives here to participate in shared prosperity.
Further, I have been sitting on this dais for 15 years and I recall previous debates where affected parties exaggerated the negative effects of the legislation before us, which ultimately passed without harm. One of the very earliest controversies I encountered here was over the prohibition on smoking in bars and restaurants in 2003. Restaurant owners told us their world would come to an end if their customers were not allowed to stay in their establishments late at night, drinking lots of alcohol and smoking lots of tobacco. You can imagine how I felt about that, as Chairman of the County Council’s Health Committee. Councilmember Phil Andrews doesn’t serve here anymore, but each year after enactment of the smoking prohibition, he used to issue a press release marking the fact that restaurant tax revenue had increased every single year and that there was no adverse effect of prohibiting smoking – in fact, the evidence showed the opposite.
So as I vote for this bill, I’m thinking about my friend Fergal Murphy. Fergal works for the minimum wage at Home Depot. He shows up for work early in the morning – frequently at 6 a.m. He lifts heavy packages and pieces of lumber. He has a family to support, and a mortgage to pay. His family scrapes together a living, but the additional thousands of dollars per year in income this measure will provide will make a big difference for the Murphy family, and its ability to buy groceries, clothing, medicine, gasoline, and to send their kids to college. I am sympathetic to the concerns of employers in this County, but today I’m voting for the workers.”