City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke Tries to Save Minimum Wage Bill

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Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, lead sponsor of the city’s $15 minimum wage bill, has launched a last-ditch effort to save her legislation, which Mayor Catherine Pugh vetoed on March 24.

In an interview with the JT on Friday, Clarke (D-District 14) said she is working tirelessly to get a special meeting to override the mayor’s decision with one final vote.


Clarke needs 10 council members to sign a petition for the special meeting by Monday or the veto will be upheld. So far, she said, she has the support of six council members.

“It’s disappointing and frustrating that we worked two terms to get this passed but only took four days to veto,” said Clarke, who has led the charge for more than a year to pass a $15 minimum wage in Baltimore. “We think this is a major opportunity to make a big impact in terms of economic equality across the city, one that we can’t afford to miss out on.”

The council, which next meets on Monday, would need 12 of its 15 members to vote to override the veto. But a charter amendment could prevent such a vote from even taking place.

The veto is scheduled to be logged at the next council meeting, giving council members 20 days to override it. But because the subsequent council meeting is not slated until April 24 — one day after the deadline — Clarke would either need Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young to call for the meeting or a letter with 10 signatures from her colleagues. Those signatures would mean a meeting must be held.

Clarke said Young rejected her request for him to schedule another meeting to hold the vote, prompting her to start the petition for the special meeting.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, denied Clarke asked Young to call for a special meeting, saying, “[Young] doesn’t want to act unilaterally. I think what we know is that when consensus is built, that’s a better way to act.”

Even with a special meeting, the bill appears to lack the support it would need to be signed into law.

Councilman Edward Reisinger (D-District 10), who previously voted in support of the bill, told the JT on March 23 he would not vote to overturn the veto.

Without Reisinger, there would not be a veto-proof majority. He would join fellow councilmen Eric Costello (D-District 11), Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (D-District 5) and Leon F. Pinkett III (D-District 7) in opposing the bill. Costello, Schleifer and Pinkett all previously voted against the legislation.

For his part, Reisinger cited the financial strain he felt the bill would put on city taxpayers, noting a report released by the Department of Finance earlier this month. The report concluded the bill would cost taxpayers $115 million over the next four years because of higher wages for city workers. It also warned that it could cost the city hundreds of jobs.

“I want to give her some consideration,” Reisinger said of Pugh. “I made a commitment and honor to vote for the bill on the second and third reader, but the veto vote is a different issue. She made a lot of compelling arguments.”

Davis, meanwhile, said Young fully supports the legislation, but as things stand now, the bill appears to have hit a dead end.

“Let’s not lose sight of the reality,” Davis said. “We have a councilman [Reisinger] on record saying that he’s reconsidered his support of the bill and that he has come to a different conclusion. So the focus is that the votes aren’t there to override this veto.”

Under Clarke’s bill, which passed the City Council on March 20 with an 11-3 vote, the minimum wage would gradually rise to $15 by 2022. Current state law mandates $8.75 per hour, which will increase to $9.25 in July and $10.10 in July 2018.

Pugh, speaking at a news conference after her veto, said that “it is in the best interest” of the city to follow the state’s lead when it comes to wage hikes. She also expressed concerns that the increase would make Baltimore “an island,” creating a competitive disadvantage with surrounding counties and discouraging new businesses from opening in the city.

“What I am doing is making sure that Baltimore City is not the hole in the doughnut, that we will follow the state’s lead,” Pugh said.

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

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