Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan came to Annapolis to testify in support of Senate Bill 135, which establishes an Ocean City promoter’s license for liquor. He is pictured with Sen. Mary Beth Carozza.

Del. Wayne Hartman and Sen. Mary Beth Carozza made it clear this week that they stand with the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association against the minimum wage bill that would give restaurant servers $15 per hour by 2025.

“I’m against it,” Hartman said. "If this legislation would pass, first of all, I think most servers would tell you they could make better than minimum wage, so I think it would hurt most workers.”

“Those owners can’t start paying those employees $15 an hour. That’ll reflect in menu prices. It’ll change the whole way we’d reward a server for going to a restaurant. I think it would be hurtful to the industry as a whole.”

Carozza, meanwhile, is working against the bill by reaching out to local businesses to let them know they can testify for the bill hearing in the Senate, which is tomorrow, Friday. 

“Payment of Minimum Wage Tipped Employees would (harm) both employees and employers in the hospitality industry,” Carozza said in a statement.

Restaurant operators currently pay tipped employees a base hourly wage to which the tip amount the employee receives is added. If this combined wage is not equal to the required hourly minimum wage, the restaurant operator is required by law to make up the difference.

In other developments, Hartman on Monday was preparing for two bill hearings that occurred this week — HB599 which provides a tax credit for public safety officers and HB741 which reduces the corporate income tax in Maryland from 8.25 percent to 6.25 percent over the next several years.

HB599 would enable legislation that doesn’t do anything per se, Hartman said. It costs the state and county nothing. But the bill does allow counties to create their own definition of public safety officers.

“They can include whoever they want in this group and give them a tax credit,” Hartman said. “If the county is having a particularly hard time recruiting fire and EMS (personnel) they can list them as public safety officers and give them that tax credit.”

“It’s crazy in a way that it gives the county complete flexibility in defining (‘public safety officer’) but also it gives the county the power to … take away the cap of $2,500 and allows them to create a cap they feel is either desired or needed.”

HB741 will help Maryland compete in the Mid-Atlantic region for new businesses, Hartman said.

“If we want to be serious about attracting businesses to Maryland, this is something we need to do,” Hartman said. “These companies look at the corporate tax rate before figuring out where to go.”

Hartman pointed out that the tax rate is 6 percent in Virginia, 6.5 percent in West Virginia and Pennsylvania is in the process of reducing its rate from 8.99 percent to 4.99 percent.

Hartman added that the fiscal note for the bill left something to be desired.

“The fiscal note was short in showing the benefits brought to Maryland by having employers reinvest in existing businesses, expanding employees and revenue of who we attract to Maryland. Those companies are creating jobs. Those people who are earning salaries are paying tax on it. It’s just a constant compounding of the benefit.”

“I feel that the fiscal note was shortsighted and we’re out of line when we look at our neighbors as far as our corporate tax rate.”

On Monday, Gov. Wes Moore presented his bill for an overall $15 minimum wage, something that Hartman sees as potentially harmful for some workers.

“To me, moving the minimum wage to $15 per hour, first of all, most companies are already there,” he said. "My problem is it takes opportunity from our youth and other people. The people trying to earn a living wage deserve to earn $15. But (teenagers) at places like farms, I think an employer will think twice about hiring a 14- or 15-year-old at $15 an hour when they can get someone who is older and experienced. It takes away an opportunity for our youth to learn to work and interact with people. So many skills will be lost taking away these opportunities to youth.”

Over in the Senate, Moore testified in support of the SERVE Act — which would establish a program in which high school graduates would be paid for one year of service to their community before they begin college.

The bill establishes the Service Year Option Program, which would exist within the Department of Service and Civic Innovation, itself a new department created by Moore in the first executive order of his term.

“Executive orders always create a natural tension between the executive and legislative branches of government at the state and federal level,” Carozza said in a statement. “I’ve seen it both as a member of the executive and as a legislator. Both Sen. Gallion as a Republican and Sen. Augustine as a Democrat stood up to request that the legislative branch remain involved in the setup of a new department.”This story appears in the Feb. 24, 2023 print edition of the OC Today.

This story appears in the Feb. 24, 2023 print edition of the OC Today.

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