August 5, 2013

IT PROBABLY will be weeks before the fate of the District’s proposed bill requiring certain selected retailers to pay a super-minimum wage will be known. Each day of delay adds to the doubt and uncertainty about the District as a place to do business. That, of course, doesn’t bother the D.C. Council, which concocted the measure, but Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is another matter. He should announce what action — hopefully an emphatic veto — he plans to take on the bill.

The council on July 10 gave final approval to legislation that would require certain large retailers (Wal-Mart being the target) to pay a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour (minus benefits), well above the District’s regular $8.25 minimum. The measure has yet to be transmitted to the mayor’s office; D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) told us he sees no need to rush. He denied that he was purposely holding the bill in hopes of getting the votes to sustain a veto (he’s one short of the necessary nine) and said council members on both sides of the issue don’t want the issue to come to a head during the summer recess, when members are away.

Much is riding on the outcome. If the bill becomes law, Wal-Mart said it will abandon plans to build three stores and reassess options for three under construction, thus depriving neighborhoods of jobs and retail services. In addition, executives from six national retailers wrote the mayor to urge a veto. “Arbitrary conditions that subject our stores to rules that other employers, including countless competitors, are not equally subjected to unfairly distort the marketplace and are cause for grave concern,” wrote the executives from Home Depot, Target, AutoZone, Lowe’s, Walgreens and Macy’s. That letter came less than a week after the city’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development said the bill’s passage had already prompted three unspecified retailers to pull the plug on plans to open stores in the city.

Is the DC economy stalling?” was the question posed in the July economic and revenue trends report from city financial officials who noted a plateauing of the number of jobs in the city after a period of strong growth. Now is not the time for the city to pull up the welcome mat to potential employers. Word from Mr. Gray that he will veto this bill would go a long way toward reassuring companies thinking about coming to the city.

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