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P.G. official fears slippery slope with exemption to regional minimum wage

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Prince George's County Council chairman Mel Franklin said he is concerned that a proposal to exempt amusement parks from the county's minimum wage law could destabilize the regionwide pact to increase wages and open the floodgates for requests from other industries.

A bill introduced by a county lawmaker Tuesday would allow Six Flags to continue to pay its seasonal workers at the lower rate of $7.25 per hour rather than the adopted increase that will reach $11.50 in 2017.

"Once Six Flags asks, a number of other entities or companies may ask as well with their own unique set of circumstances," said Mr. Franklin, a Democrat. "You could find a number of unique scenarios out there and you have to be careful to guard the integrity of the law."

Mr. Franklin spoke Wednesday about the legislation after attending a bill signing for the District's minimum wage law. Prince George's County, Montgomery County and the District all approved legislation last year to increase the minimum wage to $11.50 per hour.

But Mr. Franklin said he was open to listening to the arguments that Six Flags has regarding the necessity of the exemption.

"We really should give Six Flags the opportunity to make their case before the Council," he said.

Six Flags, which annually employs about 2,000 seasonal workers and is the largest source of summer youth employment in Prince George's County, already appealed to the County Council during hearings on the minimum wage bill. During hearings on the bill, a representative for the Upper Marlboro amusement park said the company worried how the bill would affect its profitability.

Council member Derrick Leon Davis, who represents the area where Six Flags is located and introduced the exemption legislation, said he waited to bring up the idea until after the passage of the county wide wage hike because he wanted to ensure smooth passage of the bill as part of the regional effort.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he doesn't think the county's exemption debate will have any impact on the regionwide accomplishment.

"I think as a regional effort we are done. It would be nice if Northern Virginia could join, but they don't have the authority," said Mr. Mendelson, a Democrat. "I don't think it will translate to the District at all and I don't think it will translate to Montgomery County."

In Maryland, where Gov. Martin O'Malley has made a statewide minimum wage increase a priority of his legislative agenda this year, Mr. Mendelson believes the regional movement can serve as a springboard for the state.

"I'm also hopeful that what happened with the two Maryland counties will support Annapolis doing something statewide," he said.

Mr. O'Malley announced Tuesday night during a rally in Annapolis that he supports raising the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour by 2016.

At the District's bill signing on Wednesday, Mayor Vincent C. Gray indicated that although the law has been adopted he still thinks there could be room for improvement. Additional action could follow the completion of a commissioned study being conducted by the Urban Institute that will examine the affects of a minimum wage increase in the District.

Mr. Gray said he plans to use results of the Urban Institute study to "see if there is something that would further improve the bill."

"It's a very popular thing to do. The council unanimously supported it. I supported it," Mr. Gray said of the wage increase. "Are there other factors we should be weighing in there? Is there an impact on jobs for example? Is there a wage level you reach where people start to shed jobs as a result of that."

Going forward with the amusement park exemption debate in Prince George's County, Mr. Franklin sees room for similar debate as well as the need for strict limitations within the proposed bill.

"We have to make sure that any kind of proposed exemption is very narrow, very unique," he said.

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