- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

LAS VEGAS — Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that the state’s Wal-Mart health insurance legislation has hurt the state’s effort to bring retailers to Maryland.

The governor and numerous county executives are in Las Vegas this week trying to attract retailers at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual convention. The event was expected to draw about 42,000 retailers, real estate developers and brokers, and city and state officials.

“I’ve been asked … ‘Why did the legislature pass the Wal-Mart bill?’ Mr. Ehrlich said. “My answer is they were wrong, and it sends a very negative signal to the country.”

The law mandates that private companies with more than 10,000 employees in the state spend at least 8 percent of their payroll costs on employee health benefits or contribute to a state insurance program.

The law did not name Wal-Mart specifically, but the world’s largest retailer is the only company affected by the legislation. The state legislature overrode Mr. Ehrlich’s veto earlier this year.

“Jack [B. Johnson of Prince George’s County] and I and other county executives, we have to live with the consequences,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

Mr. Johnson said he is hoping to bring Wal-Mart stores to the county but has concerns about the company’s practices. Wal-Mart has signed a deal to open at the Capital Plaza Mall in Landover Hills.

“I’m concerned about health insurance and a liveable wage,” he said. “The big boxes do have issues.”

Despite the legislation, Mr. Johnson said Costco Wholesale Corp., another big-box retailer, showed interest in opening a store in the county during a meeting Sunday.

Wal-Mart says the legislation has not driven it out of the state and is looking for new locations.

“What happened in the legislature does nothing for the insurance issue,” Daphne Moore, a company spokeswoman said yesterday, calling the law an act of “political wrangling.”

Maryland is the only state to pass “anti-big box” legislation. It was blocked in 24 other states.

Representatives from Target Corp. and Costco were not available for comment.

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