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SUNDAY, JANUARY 15, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Government acts when private sector doesn’t

The rap on Democrats is that they believe it is imperative for government to regulate business and industry.

Indeed, some Democrats are too quick to propose governmental regulations instead of leaving matters to free enterprise. But when the captains of industry and business fail, government has an obligation to step in.

That's why the nation has Medicare and Medicaid and the new drug prescription plan. Many people simply were not making enough money, or able to save enough, to pay for private medical insurance.

Maryland has become the first state to address a back-door taxpayer subsidy to some of the nation's wealthiest retailers. Specifically, Wal-Mart is the target of a law that requires companies with more than 10,000 in-state employees to increase the amount they spend on employee health care.

The law's reason is simple. Lawmakers said the cost of the nation's largest retailer's medical benefits forces some of its employees and their dependents onto Medicaid, which the state funds.

The phenomenon is nationwide. Last year, a report said that Wal-Mart employees accounted for 3,864 children on Alabama Medicaid rolls, costing between $5.8 million and $8.2 million.

Critics say Maryland set a dangerous precedent and that nobody forces people to work for Wal-Mart. Maryland now requires affected companies to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on employee health care or pay the difference into the state-supported Medicaid program.

Wal-Mart is not a sweatshop by the 19th century definition. Yet what Wal-Mart and other companies are doing gives rise to government regulations just as working conditions of that day did.

Most people have never heard of the Triangle Shirtwaist Co., a cut and sew operation in Lower Manhattan. On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at Triangle, claiming 146 lives, mostly immigrant women. The resulting outrage fueled the call for workplace health and safety standards and brought on future labor laws.

Ideally, now that Maryland has Wal-Mart's attention, the company will deal with similar issues nationwide and the need for legislation will disappear.

Maximizing profits the right way should be part of the American private enterprise system.

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