Vincent Gray backs $10 minimum wage

November 22, 2013

Gray has said for two months he supports a minimum wage hike, but until now, he hadn’t said how much of one. (Nikki Kahn / The Washington Post)

After more than two months of reticence, Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Friday at last found a minimum wage rate he can support — $10 an hour, up from the current $8.25, but with no automatic future hikes.

That figure is significantly more modest than the proposal that a D.C. Council committee will take up Monday, which would gradually raise the city’s minimum wage to $11.50 by July 2017, with yearly cost-of-living adjustments after that.

Gray (D) first announced his support for an across-the board minimum wage hike in September, when he vetoed a council bill that would have raised the minimum wage for certain retail workers to $12.50 an hour. Gray said at the time he preferred to see a “reasonable” hike applicable to all employees, but since then has declined to say what particular rate he would support. Last month, his administration issued a solicitation for an academic study of the issue.

In a letter delivered to D.C. Council members Friday evening, Gray said his approach “adds to the financial well-being of District employees, increases their purchasing power, and improves the District’s overall economy.” He added that “the District’s business community is in agreement with a $10.00 an hour increase and … would support Council approval.”

Gray’s $10 proposal is similar what the D.C. Chamber of Commerce had begun lobbying for this week. In a Thursday posting to its Web site, the group said an increase to $10 should be phased in over three years while calling the $11.50 proposal as “misguided and arbitrary” and “far too high.”

In one important aspect, however, Gray’s proposal is more conservative than the Chamber’s: The business group said the city’s minimum wage should be linked to the consumer price index.

Gray said in his Friday letter that he was concerned automatic increases would “result in negative unforeseen consequences such as reducing employment opportunities for District residents and slowing the District’s economic growth.”

“District policy makers should not proceed with automatic increases without knowing the impact on the District’s labor market,” he wrote. “Moreover, there is considerable doubt that Maryland and Virginia will increase their minimum wage rates and, without a corresponding action on their part, the District’s regional competitiveness is threatened.”

The $11.50 bill now under council consideration is part of an effort with the Montgomery and Prince George’s County councils to develop a regional approach to a minimum wage hike. On Thursday, Montgomery legislators advanced their version of the bill through a committee, setting up a full council vote next week.

Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) said he expects the D.C. bill to pass his Business, Regulatory and Consumer Affairs Committee on Monday, meaning the full council could take the first of two votes for final passage on Dec. 3.

At least one council member was prepared to criticize Gray for his $10 figure: “That’s way too low and a missed opportunity for the workers of our city,” said Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who is running for mayor.

Gray did not say in his letter whether he would veto the $11.50 proposal should it reach his desk. But he said he intends to proceed with the study he has requested.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · November 22, 2013