ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland's minimum wage will increase in steps over several years from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, under legislation signed Monday by Gov. Martin O'Malley.
The wage will rise from $7.25 an hour to $8 in January. After that, it will reach $8.25 in July 2015 and $8.75 in July 2016. It will go up to $9.25 in July 2017, before reaching the top amount in 2018.
The Democratic governor, who is considering a run for president in 2016, made the minimum wage increase a top priority of his eighth and final regular legislative session.
O'Malley, who is term limited, said the minimum wage hike dovetailed with other initiatives during his tenure aimed at lifting people out of poverty and increasing opportunity for all state residents. The governor noted increases in school construction funding, holding back on college tuition increases and increasing infrastructure spending on wastewater facilities and transportation as other hallmarks of this two terms in office with Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is running for governor. O'Malley said the wage hikes were needed to help families now relying on minimum-wage jobs.
"It is not fair, it is not right, it is not just that people should play by the rules, work 16-hour days and still be raising their children in poverty — not in our state," O'Malley said.
The final bill approved by Maryland lawmakers was scaled back substantially in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, compared to what O'Malley initially proposed. For example, lawmakers took out a provision that would have indexed the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.
Lawmakers also delayed when increases would take effect. For example, the House of Delegates delayed when the wage would increase from July 1 to Jan 1 in the next three years, making the $10.10 increase effective Jan. 1, 2017. The Senate delayed the increases even further, with the top scale put off until July 1, 2018.
Still, the measure's passage added a victory to the governor's list of accomplishments as he considers a White House bid. His initiatives have been criticized by outnumbered Maryland Republicans as too liberal and harmful to businesses and the state's economy.
U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who served as labor secretary in O'Malley's administration, returned to Annapolis to applaud the minimum wage increase. Perez said President Barack Obama, who supports a national minimum wage increase, often says change doesn't start in Washington.
"Change comes to Washington, and the example that you have shown here in Maryland and the example in states like Hawaii, Connecticut , West Virginia, Minnesota, Delaware— these are states that just in the last couple of months have raised the minimum wage," Perez said. "You are leading."