Veto This Bill, Mr. Mayor
The District Council has passed the so-called “Living Wage” legislation. Like so many issues we talk about today, it is, of course, not over.
Now, it’s Mayor Vincent Gray’s turn to have the final say--or not.
The council--by the exact same vote (8-5) of the first reading of the legislation--voted for the bill--aka the Large Retailer Accountability Act--which forces large retailers like Walmart with more than a billion in annual sales and stores larger than 74,000 square feet pay a minimum (or liveable) wage of $12.50 an hour, which is over four bucks higher than the District’s minimum wage of $8.25 an hour and five bucks higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The mayor has 10 days from the time he gets the legislation to approve or veto it. So far, he has said neither yea nor nay. All indications are he might veto it, perhaps, as he’s said to the media, also tweeting the wage rate up by fifty cents or a dollar. District Council Chairman Phil Mendelson pushed this particular bill, which comes with Walmart after years of avoiding the District for store sites, starting three projects and is planning three more. This comes with the traditional hallmark of Walmart -- low wages but lots of jobs, and more important perhaps to shoppers, low prices. Prospects of the approval of the bill caused Walmart to threaten to shelve, in the very least, plans for three stores and perhaps stop construction on the other three. Mayor Gray -- who’s always been a hard-working supporter for bringing in new and major retail projects into the poorer wards of the District, including Ward 7, where he lives, as well as Wards 5, 4, 6 and 8 -- faces a dilemma. Passage of the legislation could threaten the Skyland Shopping Center project in Ward 7 which would not happen without a Walmart store as its lynch pin.
The timing for the legislation -- which could also affect such local retailers as Macy’s and Whole Foods -- seems strange and unnecessarily challenging, almost like an I-dare-you approach to attracting business. According to reports, at-large Councilmember Vincent Orange, who voted for the legislation said, “We’re at a point where we don’t need retailers. Retailers need us.” That kind of unwelcoming and unwelcome bravado is hardly likely to change hearts and minds. It seems to us that the legislation is hasty, unnecessarily combative and was arrived at in a way that lacks due consideration and public input. It may -- as both Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser and Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells have suggested -- cost the District jobs and bargain shopping and hurt its ability and reputation to attract major retailers and business.
It also comes at a time when people are starting to think about the upcoming mayor’s race. Bowser and Wells are both running as is Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who voted for the legislation. The mayor has not indicated whether or not he would run again. In the end, though, this legislation is a politically charged issue as well. Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander voted against the legislation, while Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry voted for it. Go figure.