- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Republicans in the Maryland legislature are criticizing the state's chamber of commerce for "abdicated its responsibility" and not fighting hard enough to oppose Gov. Parris N. Glendening's effort to issue a project labor agreement for construction on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

"We are obligated to inform you that we waged this battle over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge without any meaningful assistance from the Maryland Chamber of Commerce," the Maryland Joint Republican Caucus said in a letter sent Monday to Maryland companies.

Project labor agreements (PLAs) require that government agencies assign all work to unions, at union wages and work rules, in exchange for guarantees that the workers will not go on strike.

President Bush on Saturday issued an executive order prohibiting the use of project labor agreements for federally funded construction projects, thus restoring open competition to the contract-bidding process on the Wilson Bridge project. It is now not clear who will perform work on the bridge and when.

The letter went on to say, "Having abdicated its responsibility to publicly oppose the Glendening/ Townsend Administration in Annapolis, the Maryland Chamber now has little credibility with the Bush Administration in Washington as well as the Republican members of the Maryland legislature."

Chamber leaders defended their stance on the issue of project labor agreements, saying they chose to fight against PLAs by meeting with Mr. Glendening in person rather than speaking out through the media.

"Some of the representatives wanted us to blast the governor, but we thought that would be detrimental to the process," said chamber President Kathleen Snyder. "We're delighted that Bush has signed the executive order. We've always been opposed to PLAs, but the Republicans disagreed with our strategy."

Nearly all Republicans and some pro-business Democrats in the General Assembly, along with the National Black Chamber of Commerce, spoke out against a PLA for the Wilson Bridge, arguing that taxpayers would end up paying $150 million more than necessary.

U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Maryland Republican, issued an angry letter in October to Miss Snyder voicing his frustration.

"Your lack of support makes it more difficult for pro-business legislators, such as myself, to change the direction of this state," Mr. Ehrlich wrote.

Miss Snyder was president of the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce between 1987 and 1992, when Mr. Glendening was Prince George's County executive.

The governor's PLA stance was anti-business, and the chamber should have spoke out against it publicly, Maryland House Minority Whip Robert Flanagan said in an interview yesterday.

"The governor's position was so far out of line with what reasonable people would do, it was incomprehensible that the chamber was silent," Mr. Flanagan said.

"This is not a single event. This is an organizational policy of not criticizing the governor. You can just simply go down the chamber's positions … and see that they've avoided confrontation."

Delegate James F. Ports Jr., Perry Hall Republican, echoed that sentiment.

"We stick our necks out all the time, and they need to be behind us," Mr. Ports said. "There's been enormous softening of the chamber's stances with this governor." Both delegates indicated softened stances by the chamber on the issues of homosexual rights and tax relief.

Miss Snyder, who said she was not given a copy of the letter by the Republicans, said she was offended by the Republican accusations.

"These statements are absolutely false," she said. "They are taking this to a level that is unfair and unnecessary."

It is not clear whether this latest rift signals Republicans' general displeasure with the chamber, or a call for changed leadership. As recently as two weeks ago, Mr. Flanagan and House Minority Leader Robert Kittleman scolded Miss Snyder in a letter after she sent an e-mail lobbying against a bill proposed by Delegate Don Murphy, Catonsville Republican, who is widely considered to be one of the more pro-business delegates.

Miss Snyder said she still hoped to meet with Mr. Kittleman and other delegates to make peace.

Maryland's Chamber of Commerce has 1,000 member businesses representing 500,000 employees.

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