- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 18, 2005

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has decided to maintain a wage office he once wanted to close.

The decision follows a discovery Friday by a General Assembly attorney of a 1997 law requiring the Prevailing Wage Office to employ at least five inspectors.

James “Chip” DiPaula Jr., Mr. Ehrlich’s chief of staff, told the Baltimore Sun that the administration hadn’t been aware of the law, which doesn’t appear in state code books. He said the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation will rearrange its budget to maintain the five inspectors.

“We are in compliance, and we will be in compliance,” Mr. DiPaula said.

Union leaders were pleased but still worried about how well the governor would enforce the law, which mandates union-rate wages on state construction projects.

“I wonder if that means there’ll be the same inspectors that are currently there that have experience, or is he going to hire a bunch of new people that don’t know squat?” said Jerry Lozupone, executive secretary/treasurer of the Washington D.C. Building and Construction Trades Council.

“Funding it and giving them the tools to actually recover lost wages for people are two different things.”

Some in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly say Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, flouted his constitutional duty to enforce the state’s laws when it was reported that he planned to close the Prevailing Wage Office and an office that enforces other wage statutes.

Labor activists said Mr. Ehrlich was waging a back-door effort to abolish the prevailing wage by eliminating enforcement.

As a candidate for governor, Mr. Ehrlich pledged in a 2002 Teamsters union questionnaire to support and enforce the prevailing wage.

But his spokeswoman, Shareese DeLeaver, said the governor “has never been enthusiastic about artificial, government-mandated wage levels,” which he believes drive up state construction costs.

The General Assembly’s budget this year required the governor to keep the two wage offices in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Mr. DiPaula said that law overstepped the General Assembly’s budget authority and wasn’t binding.

However, the 1997 law, which General Assembly lawyers stumbled across, has been in effect and followed since fiscal 1999.

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