Democratic Executive Isiah Leggett of Montgomery County, Maryland signed legislation Monday that requires a $15-an-hour minimum wage for businesses in the next few years, despite opposition from local business owners and the county's Chamber of Commerce.
Under the new law, businesses in the wealthy county with at least 51 employees must pay $15 an hour by 2021, businesses with 11 to 50 employees will need to adopt the new wage rate by 2023, and businesses with 10 or fewer employees must pay the wage by 2024, the Washington Post reported.
Montgomery County, located just north of Washington D.C., is now the first jurisdiction in Maryland to adopt a $15 minimum wage, and the second in the region behind the nation's capital.
Advocates of the new wage are now seeking to capitalize on the new legislation, vowing to use it to help push a statewide $15 minimum.
Leggett, who is in the third year of his third and final term in office, touted the new law at the signing.
"Montgomery County has done what is right, what is appropriate, and what is reasonable under the circumstances and conditions," he said, adding that the debate over the bill was one "we should take a great deal of pride in."
"In most debates there are gives and takes," Leggett added, referencing his back and forth with the all-Democratic county council over the timeline for implementing the $15 wage and the definition of small and large businesses.
Leggett vetoed legislation back in January that would have raised the minimum wage to $15 in a shorter period of time, citing his concern about triggering employee layoffs by overburdening businesses.
The county executive then commissioned a study to examine the effects of raising the minimum wage to $15. The study found that Montgomery County would lose approximately 47,000 jobs by 2022 if the minimum wage went to $15, and that the wage increase would result in an aggregate loss of $396.5 million of income in the county by 2022. The consulting group that conducted the study, however, found that it made a "computation error" and overestimated the number of local jobs that would be lost.
Still, local business leaders oppose the new law, arguing it will put Maryland's largest jurisdiction at a disadvantage compared to its neighbors. One councilman told reporters on Monday that he received angry phone calls in the wake of a vote last week to create the current timetable for implementing the $15 wage.
"There are people that are unhappy," Councilman Roger Berliner (D.) said.
The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce also has concerns about the jurisdictions's competitiveness to attract businesses.
"What kinds of policies are we putting in place that will attract and retain the employer of the future, who in turn is going to attract and retain the employee of the future?" asked Gigi Godwin, president and CEO of the county's Chamber of Commerce.
Despite the frustrations of local businesses and the County Chamber of Commerce, the bill's lead sponsor, Democrat Marc Elrich, said he is confident that business owners will be "creative and smart" in managing their businesses.
"The truth is, it's the law," he said.