As the Montgomery County Council prepares to exclude Silver Spring from impending "living wage" legislation, a variety of businesses and nonprofit groups are beginning to lobby for their own escape clauses in a bid to undermine key provisions of the bill even before it is introduced.
In recent days, apartment managers have warned County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) that Montgomery's public housing program could be in jeopardy if landlords are required to pay workers more than twice the minimum wage, or $10.41 an hour.
County social service officials say day-care centers that receive county vouchers could be hurt by the mandate. And some elected officials say it is unfair to exempt Silver Spring and not the county's less celebrated economic development efforts, including those in Wheaton and Germantown.
Meanwhile, organized volunteers fanned out across the county yesterday to encourage residents to call County Council members in favor of the bill.
Few previous legislative efforts have generated as much early anxiety as the living wage bill, scheduled for introduction Tuesday. For a county that has made "progressive" its prefix, the bill has prompted a debate over whether Montgomery cares more about its poor or middle-class residents at a time of great prosperity.
"Should government use its leverage to address a growing social problem in this county?" asked council member Philip Andrews, the Rockville Democrat drafting the bill. "We're a big enough county, a wealthy enough county, to address the issues facing the working poor. This county can afford to do it."
As envisioned, the bill would require all businesses that receive county contracts or economic development incentives to pay workers a so-called living wage of at least $10.41 an hour. It would be among the nation's broadest living wage provisions, reaching beyond contractors to affect any initiative receiving public funds.
But the reach of the bill has alarmed some who say it would jeopardize other worthy initiatives. And some, like Duncan, question the assumption that poor people are being neglected. Spending during the fiscal year beginning July 1 will increase on subsidies for child care, transportation, housing and other areas for low-income families.
"I could see their argument if we did nothing to help the working poor," Duncan said. "But we spend millions of dollars a year above and beyond what the state does to help these people."
Already, council members say the Silver Spring redevelopment project, which relies on $132 million in state and county money, will be excluded. Developers and prospective tenants had complained about the measure's potential effect. Eight of nine council members have signed letters pledging not to support legislation that applies to the Silver Spring enterprise zone.
Living wage advocates worry that the exemption chips away at the bill, but say the compromise is essential to save the rest of it.
"We don't buy into it," said Gino Renne, president of the Municipal & County Government Employees Organization, which represents 4,500 county workers. "But we have to be realistic. Politics being what it is, you either have the votes or you don't."