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Maryland Passes Minimum Wage Raise, But With Major Drawbacks For Progressives

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On Monday, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill that will gradually raise the state's minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, the very number on which congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama have set their sights.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who is expected to sign it into law. But while the bill's passage marks a victory for state Democrats and advocates for low-wage workers, it also comes with some notable drawbacks for progressives.

For starters, it won't peg the minimum wage to an inflation index, as left-leaning Democrats had sought. That measure was ultimately pulled in order to placate conservative Democrats as well as Republicans. While at least 10 other states now index their minimum wages for inflation, Maryland will have to continue to legislate new raises every few years (unless Congress decides to peg the national minimum wage to inflation).

In a significant win for the state's restaurant industry, the final legislation also doesn't raise the state's tipped minimum wage for restaurant servers, who can be paid well below the standard minimum wage before tips. That rate will hold steady at $3.63 per hour, although restaurants will still be obliged to make up the difference if a server's wage after tips doesn't reach the standard wage floor.

In a conversation with HuffPost Live (above), Maryland State Del. Keiffer Mitchell (D) said that the tipped minimum wage was left untouched because many lawmakers, including Democrats, were concerned about putting the state's restaurants at a competitive disadvantage against neighboring states like Delaware and Virginia.

As for dropping the indexing, Mitchell said he would have preferred it stayed in the bill. But he said the legislation probably wouldn't have survived with it.

"I think the minimum wage legislation that we passed is good; it's not perfect. The main thing is that we had that $10.10 number," Mitchell said. "I probably would have liked to have seen it indexed. But the reality is we have to get votes. You have conservative Democrats that we have in some of our conservative areas that just weren't ready for that indexing."

Like Maryland's more progressive wing, Congressional Democrats also want to see the federal minimum wage pegged to inflation, a move that could render future debates over the issue obsolete. They also want to raise the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13, which hasn't changed since 1991. The legislation's prime backers have said both elements are non-negotiable. Republicans, however, have shown little interest in moving a minimum wage bill at all.

"During floor debate, I was talking with some of my Republican friends, they were saying $10.10 was high," Mitchell said. "I was reminding them, had we implemented a minimum wage as it relates to the cost of living, it would be a lot higher than $10.10. But that's the nature of politics sometimes. I'm glad it's $10.10. And hopefully the federal government, with all the acrimony, will actually do something."

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