- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The nation’s first statewide living wage for government contracts plowed ahead yesterday in the Maryland legislature.

The bill would require state contractors to pay at least $11.30 an hour in urban areas and $8.50 an hour in rural areas. Maryland’s minimum hourly wage is $6.15.

The two-tiered pay provision was suggested after complaints that the original proposed wage of $11.95 an hour for the whole state wasn’t fair. The D.C. suburbs are among the priciest areas in the nation, but rural areas in the western and eastern reaches of the state aren’t nearly as expensive.

“The way it was proposed, it was not going to pass,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat. With two pay levels, Mr. Miller said, “I think it’s very palatable.”

Enactment of the standard would make Maryland the first state in the nation to require higher wages for state contracts than the minimum wage. Baltimore in 1994 became the first city to require living wages for city contracts, now required by more than 100 cities across the country. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties also have local living-wage laws.

The statewide bill moved quickly through the House yesterday, but there was plenty of griping about the proposal. Many said the measure was unfairly rushed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who campaigned on a living-wage proposal but hadn’t mentioned it often in months. As recently as a week ago, the measure appeared unlikely to pass this year.

But a last-minute push from Mr. O’Malley’s office in recent days brought the new proposal, the two-tiered wage system, which passed by a single vote yesterday in an early-morning committee meeting. In the afternoon, the full House called a final vote for the matter for today.

Several delegates privately complained of arm-twisting from the governor’s office, while others had substantive problems with the idea, especially the two wage levels.

“To me, that’s very discriminatory and doesn’t make much sense,” said Delegate Richard K. Impallaria, Baltimore County Republican.

Delegate Christopher B. Shank, Washington County Republican, said, “Work is work. … We should have one wage rate.”

Several other Republicans complained about the tiers, frustrating the chairman of the committee, Delegate Dereck E. Davis, Prince George’s Democrat. Earlier, he pointed out, living-wage opponents cited cost-of-living differences across the state as a major flaw.

“Now, when we’re trying to take that into consideration, we’re told the exact opposite, that it’s discriminatory,” Mr. Davis said.

Mr. Impallaria proposed an amendment to eliminate the two tiers, paying $10.63 statewide, but that amendment failed.

After a 40-minute debate on the two tiers, House members ultimately forwarded the measure to a final vote. Mr. Davis said the bill could be headed to the Senate by today.

A spokesman for Mr. O’Malley, Steve Kearney, defended the lobbying by the governor’s office to get action on the bill. He said a living wage was a cornerstone campaign pledge by Mr. O’Malley.

“The governor during the campaign said that the state needed to work to help middle-class and working families. This is keeping that promise,” he said.

Maryland’s legislature passed a single-wage living-wage bill in 2004, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. Lawmakers did not attempt a veto override, voting instead to raise the minimum wage, also over an Ehrlich veto.

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