The Baltimore City Council will hear testimony Thursday on a controversial proposal to require large retailers in the city to pay employees a "living wage" — currently, $10.59 per hour.

Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports that the reactions have fallen along the familiar business-labor divide. Supporters say it would help workers who do not earn enough money to support their families; opponents say it would discourage retailers from moving into the city.

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Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke tells Scharper she was inspired to introduce the bill after listening to presentations about a planned Walmart store in Remington.

"The goal is that people who work hard can support their families without turning to charity or the government for help," said Clarke, who was council president when the city passed the nation's first living-wage law in 1994.

But Greater Baltimore Committee Chairman Donald C. Fry says the measure could force retailers to lay off employees or cut hours to cover the increased payroll, while leading stores to set up business in the surrounding counties rather than the city."We're having trouble attracting businesses in the first place," said Fry. "This is not the type of legislation that's helpful in growing the city's tax base."

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