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The Washington Post reports that in the wake of last week’s vote by Maryland legislators to require large employers – specifically Wal-Mart – to spend an amount equal to at least eight percent of their payroll on health care benefits, or pay a penalty to the state’s health insurance program, organized labor is laying out plans to get other states to enact similar laws.

“Washington and New Hampshire are among the states labor activists view as most likely to follow in Maryland's footsteps,” the Post writes. “Similar measures also have been introduced recently in states including Colorado, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.”

Union advocates seem to believe that they may have finally found a weakness in Wal-Mart’s well-developed defenses. By using statistics to bolster their case – arguing in Maryland, for example, that Wal-Mart was the only company in the state with more than 10,000 workers that did not spend eight percent of its payroll costs on health benefits – and then saying that this means people without coverage are being covered by taxpayers, they think they have a case that will resonate with consumers and lawmakers.

The Post also reports that there are a number of different responses being considered by Wal-Mart, including 1) suing to overturn the law, and 2) moving a planned distribution center across the border to Delaware in retribution.

While one estimate is that the Maryland legislation could cost Wal-Mart roughly $3 million for each percentage point below the eight percent line, the general feeling is that Wal-Mart isn’t as worried about the money as it is about the precedent…and that it needs to do everything it can to make sure this law doesn’t capture the popular imagination.

The New York Times this morning reports that while there are legislators in some 30 states who have either indicated interest in similar legislation or have introduced similar bills, “it is doubtful that the campaign will steamroll across the country, policy analysts say. Because the other states' bills are written much more broadly, they are likely to draw more opposition from companies that watched the Maryland debate from the sidelines.”
KC's View:
We have to admit to feeling conflicted about the Maryland developments. We hate the idea of government creating these kinds of mandates, but we also think that the problem of people without health insurance creates enormous problems in this country.

The reality that every retail business will have to cope with is that the whole notion of pay-and-benefits is becoming the kind of grass- roots moral issue that could influence elections and the shape of government. And we suspect that there will be a lot of people as conflicted as we are – against government intervention, but somehow vaguely feeling that the current system isn’t working.