Stung by the Maryland legislature's passage of the so-called "Wal-Mart bill," the mega-retailer is now threatening to suspend plans to build a giant distribution center in that state. The retailer had planned to construct a new DC in Somerset County on Maryland's Eastern Shore—a move that would create as many as 800 jobs in that region.
The threat comes in reaction to passage of Maryland's Fair Share Health Care Fund Act, a controversial health care measure that would require the retailer and other large companies to spend 8 percent of their payrolls in the state on health care or face a hefty tax. The act was nicknamed the "Wal-Mart bill" because the retailer, which reportedly employs nearly 17,000 people in Maryland, is the only big employer in the state that falls short of that threshold.
The bill traveled a bumpy road to passage. First adopted by the state legislature in April 2005, it was vetoed by Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in May. But on Jan. 12, state legislators overrode his veto. Many Maryland politicians argue that taxpayers indirectly subsidize Wal-Mart's health care costs through government programs and hospital fees.
Wal-Mart was quick to protest the override. "This legislation does nothing to accomplish that goal [of assuring everyone access to affordable health insurance]," says Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark. "This vote was never about health care. This was about partisan politics ...."
What undoubtedly has Wal-Mart worried is the prospect that Maryland's action could boost similar efforts in other states. More than 30 states are considering comparable health care measures.