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Mooney acts to stop prevailing wage law

May 17, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

Maryland Sen. Alex X. Mooney is launching an effort to stop the state from setting minimum wage scales on school construction projects.

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His use of the Internet to help collect the 46,128 signatures needed to put the issue on the November ballot is a first for Maryland.

Standing in front of three portable classrooms at Williamsport Elementary School on Wednesday, Mooney criticized the prevailing wage law passed this year by the Maryland General Assembly.

The law will require contractors to pay workers set wages, based on the average wages of construction workers in each county.

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Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, contends it could increase the cost of building and renovating schools by 15 percent.

Supporters of the law, including Gov. Parris Glendening and labor unions, have said the effect will be negligible.

If the law had been in effect last year, it would have added three-tenths of a percent to construction costs, the governor's spokesman said.

Williamsport Elementary Principal Ray Barrett urged his students' parents to sign the petition.

"I support education," he said.

Williamsport is slated to get a $7.1 million renovation that will eliminate the portable classrooms and build a separate cafeteria and gym, which now share space.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said the prevailing wage law could boost costs for that project, which would push other schools further behind in the renovation schedule.

Michael Callas of Callas Contractors Inc. in Hagerstown encouraged registered voters to sign the petition.

Callas and other members of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. fought the law.

Earlier in the day, Mooney held press conferences in Annapolis and Frederick, Md., to announce the petition drive.

The petition drive needs to have one-third of the required signatures within two weeks. The rest are due by the end of June.

"This is ambitious. Some say it's an uphill battle," Mooney said.

Mooney has spent more than $6,000 of his campaign money to start the petition drive. He's hoping to get reimbursed by business supporters.

He mailed the petition Wednesday to 20,000 political activists statewide, asking them to collect signatures and mail them in.

Voters also can download the petition from his Internet Web site, www.educationmaryland.com.

"Alex is young, enthusiastic, and willing to try. I give him credit for that," McKee said.

Most members of the Washington County legislative delegation are supporting Mooney's efforts.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, was the only member of the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to vote for the prevailing wage law.

"It's a fairness issue for working people. Why would we pay a laborer more money to build the new courthouse downtown where we see criminals than we would pay a laborer that builds schools to house our children?" Donoghue said.

Mooney said two prominent Democrats, Treasurer Richard Dixon and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, opposed the law.

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