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The Mayor’s Veto of a Bad Minimum Wage Bill was the Right Move

Mayor Gray did the right thing when he vetoed the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013 (LRAA), more colloquially known as the Wal-Mart bill. In vetoing the bill the Mayor said, “This bill will not modestly delay economic development in underserved District neighborhoods long deprived of jobs and retail amenities; it will kill economic development in these communities for a generation.” He went on to say, “The extremely delicate and significant work that has been done to revive long-stalled projects like redevelopment of the Skyland shopping center in Ward 7 would be destroyed if the LRAA became law-with no plausible alternative plans for jump-starting those projects.”

While I want to credit Councilmembers who voted for this bill with having good intentions I wonder how many were convinced to do so by constituents who didn’t want Wal-Mart in the District. We shouldn’t forget the outcry and consternation of some when the agreement to open Wal-Mart stores in the District was first announced.

The issue always comes to the fore regarding whether a job is worthwhile having if it isn’t accompanied by a living wage. Many would agree, especially those without one that having a job is better than no job and the reality is that those entering the workforce need to start someplace in building a resume and a future. Most individuals would rather work and possibly supplement their income with some form of government assistance than not work and live only on government assistance.

Youth unemployment in parts of the District is astronomical. The Mayor’s veto letter to the Council stated, “The bill is a job-killer, because nearly every large retailer now considering opening a store in the District has indicated that they will not come here or expand if this bill becomes law.” He went on to explain a big reason for his veto was, “The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development had estimated that the LRAA, if it became law, would cost the District 4,000 jobs in the first few years alone.” We have to question how some Councilmembers felt we could afford to turn our nose up at all those jobs.

There is no denying it is past-time to raise the minimum wage and President Obama has been trying to do so at the federal level without any success. We in the District have a minimum wage that is $1 higher than the federal requirement but that still doesn’t allow workers to make enough to live above the poverty level here. So we must move to raise it but the LRAA was not a well thought out bill and the sponsors didn’t have their ducks in a row when they introduced it. They weren’t assured that it would be veto- proof and it apparently isn’t.

Now that the bill has been vetoed and my assumption is the veto will be upheld the Mayor should quickly convene a meeting with members of the Council and the business community to put together a realistic bill that would raise the minimum wage for all workers in the District not just the few who the LRAA would have impacted. The bill needs to be realistic and gradually bring up the minimum wage. As the Mayor suggested in his letter accompanying the veto of the LRAA not even all of the few workers who would have been impacted by it live in the District.