O'Malley Makes 'Living Wage' a Law

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Maryland became the first state in the nation yesterday to require government contractors to pay their employees significantly more than the minimum wage under legislation signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

The "living wage" measure, which the General Assembly passed last month, will require contractors working in the Washington-Baltimore corridor to pay $11.30 an hour. For those in more rural counties, the minimum will be $8.50. The state's minimum wage is $6.15.

Advocates of the new law, which goes into effect Oct. 1, estimate that 50,000 workers could be affected.

The bill was among more than 200 that O'Malley signed in the third in a series of ceremonies after the 90-day legislative session, which ended April 9. Others signed yesterday include measures to freeze public university tuition in the fall and to offer Maryland's apology for participating in the slave trade.

O'Malley has not vetoed any bills passed during his first session as governor, but he reiterated concerns yesterday about legislation that would make twice-convicted drug dealers eligible for parole. He said he plans to meet with the bill's sponsor before making a decision about its fate.

The living wage bill, which advocates have pushed for nearly a decade, lets state contract workers know that "we are going to treat you in a fair and just and decent way," O'Malley said.

"It's the right thing to do," O'Malley said. "It's the fair thing to do."

The legislature passed a similar measure in 2004, but it was vetoed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who said that it would have significantly driven up the price of state contracts.

Republicans made similar arguments during the recent session.

Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley (R-Frederick) called the bill an "ill-conceived idea," saying that it would hurt contractors trying to grow their business and that it would worsen Maryland's budget problems. "We can't get our finances under control as it is," he said.

But advocates of the bill pointed to studies from U.S. localities with similar laws that showed modest cost increases.

Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery), a leading proponent of the bill, said yesterday that higher productivity and less turnover among the better-paid workers will offset employers' costs of higher wages.

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