HAVING FAILED for excellent reasons in Montgomery County, the deceptively labeled "living wage" is about to stalk businesses in Prince George's County -- the last place around that needs threats to its development. County Councilman Peter A. Shapiro says he will be introducing an economic package including an adaptation of the proposal that Montgomery's council rejected in favor of fairer, more effective measures to assist the working poor. While Mr. Shapiro's bill is said to include these preferable approaches -- an earned-income tax credit, job training and incentives for businesses to create jobs -- inclusion of any "living wage" language should be rejected at the outset.

As promoted by organized labor and others, "living wage" legislation would require companies that contract with the county or that receive government economic development incentives to pay all employees a certain minimum rate; in Montgomery it would have come to more than twice the county minimum wage. Imposing out-of-line rates on some but not all businesses is not the same as raising a minimum wage that applies to employers across a jurisdiction.

Council member Shapiro so far has not specified a rate for the "living wage" but says he intends to improve on the bill that Montgomery rejected. This would include provisions protecting certain nonprofit organizations and smaller businesses from having to eliminate certain jobs. Then if you add exemptions for bigger businesses that commit to large developments sought by a county -- as happened in Montgomery when developers of Silver Spring and Wheaton projects threatened to bolt -- the whole "living wage" proposal winds up with more escape holes than a prairie dog village.

County Executive Wayne Curry is said to be reserving judgment. If he and the council wish to improve the business climate in Prince George's, they should stick to the other approaches suggested by Mr. Shapiro, which were approved by Montgomery when the "living wage" died there.