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Wal-Mart doesn't deserve planned override of veto

December 31, 2005|By George Michael

One of the first orders of business for the Maryland legislature this month as they return to Annapolis is the vote to override the governor's veto of the Wal-Mart bill. The battle might be bruising.

Actually we are not supposed to call it the Wal-Mart bill. The proper name is the "Fair Share Health Care Fund Act." Isn't that nice sounding? Who could be against someone getting their fair share? But the only company that the bill will impact is Wal-Mart. Sounds like discrimination to me.

The naming of the bill is a public-relations ploy. Liberals like to dress up their schemes in order to sell them to the public. It should be called the "Let's Raise Prices for Consumers and Drive Up Costs Bill." That would be a lot more honest. Unfortunately for its supporters, it doesn't sound as good for public relations.

Wal-Mart is a company liberals love to hate. This is hard to understand, given how much their constituents, the working class, which liberals claim to represent, benefit from shopping at the store. Many ordinary, working-class Americans love Wal-Mart.

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A study featured in a recent issue of World Magazine showed that Wal-Mart saves American families $263,000,000,000 a year. These savings add up to $2,329 per family. For those in the poorest one-fifth of the U.S. economy, the study revealed that Wal-Mart saved them 28.5 percent on their grocery bill. The study also showed that the savings help the poor and middle-class families the most since the average Wal-Mart family earns $35,000 per year, significantly under the average for many other stores.

In an article in The Washington Post last month, Sebastian Mallaby made the point that Wal-Mart's "everyday low prices" is a major force for poverty relief. He wrote, "Wal-Mart's $200 billion-plus assistance to consumers may rival many federal programs. Those programs are better targeted at the needy, but they are dramatically smaller. Food stamps were worth $33 billion in 2005 and the earned-income tax credit was worth $40 billion."

What's so bad about Wal-Mart? For one, union types don't like it. They feel threatened by the lower paying jobs at Wal-Mart. Small store owners don't like it. They feel they can't compete with Wal-Mart prices. Some of these folks have decided to use the political process to protect themselves from results they don't like.

Big stores do not drive every little store out of business. The Wal-Marts of the world do expose the weaknesses of marginal and inefficient producers. This is one of the great benefits of free market competition. We are all better off because of it. Little stores who offer great service and are willing to compete will do just fine. I still enjoy shopping at the small specialty stores that give me great service and are easier to visit.

And if you don't like Wal-Mart, don't shop there. If you think its policies are unfair, nobody is forcing you to buy their products. But beware. If the Maryland legislature can get away with this targeted tax increase, who says you or your employer won't be next?

Another big excuse to attack Wal-Mart is the issue of the part-time employees Wal-Mart hires. The store does this supposedly to save money on health care premiums.

The charge is that these poor, exploited workers will cost all of us in the long-run if we have to pick up the tab for their health care.

My wife works for the State of Maryland. Like many other workers employed by the state, she is a contractual worker. That means no paid holidays, no paid vacation, and no health care benefits. She is not complaining. She enjoys her work and understood the rules going in.

How can our state demand Wal-Mart pay health benefits to its workers when the Maryland legislature doesn't do the same for hundreds of its own full-time workers?

Before Del. John Donoghue, who represents Hagerstown and is one of the supporters of the bill, votes to override the governor's veto, he ought to answer this: Why force something very costly on a private company when the State of Maryland does the same thing? Why vote for something that, if passed, will end up costing his constituents a lot in terms of higher prices and less efficiency?

A big distribution center for Wal-Mart was planned for an economically depressed area on Maryland's Eastern Shore. With this anti-Wal-Mart bill, who could blame the firm if this large jobs-creating project were to be dropped? Our state delegates could have some serious explaining to do.

Citizens who fear the extra traffic congestion associated with a Wal-Mart store coming to their neighborhood have legitimate concerns. They can protest and use all legal means to block a new store. This is their right. But for state government to place burdens on one producer because you don't like their success and the competition they bring to the market is anti-free market and very short-sighted.

To listen to the propaganda put out by the left-wing Progressive Maryland organization, you'd think Wal-Mart employees are working in a Siberian gulag.

In the Post article mentioned earlier, Mallaby pointed out that when Wal-Mart opened a store in Glendale, Ariz., last year, there were 8,000 applications for 525 job openings. It must not be too intolerable to work at Wal-Mart.

To our delegates: Support the governor's veto. This is a bad bill. It is discriminatory because it only targets one store. It sets a bad precedent.

It is not the function of government to run a private enterprise operation. Government should clean up its own operation first. And Wal-Mart is an American success story. In the long-run, it benefits all Americans, even those who don't shop there.

George Michael is a

Williamsport resident

who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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