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D.C. minimum wage hike is signed into law

Gray was surrounded by campaign challengers as he signed the bill Wednesday. (Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)
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Mayor Vincent C. Gray signed a bill Wednesday giving District workers one of the nation’s highest minimum wages, finally giving his wholehearted support to the measure after months of public skepticism.

The bill, passed by the D.C. Council in September, raises the wage in steps, culminating in an $11.50 minimum in July 2016. The rate will be reset on a yearly basis thereafter based on the region’s cost of living.

As he signed the bill, Gray was surrounded by council members — including four running against him in the Democratic primary — who had been much more aggressive about supporting the minimum wage hike. They included Vincent Orange (D-At Large), who shepherded the bill to a council vote, and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who introduced his own “living wage for all” bill earlier this year.

While Gray called for a minimum wage increase in September — on the day he vetoed a council bill mandating a special minimum wage for big retail chains — he refrained from endorsing any particular rate and called for months of study before moving forward with any hike. Only on the eve of council action did he endorse a $10 an hour rate, which would have been higher than the $9.50 rate expected to take effect this July, but would have fallen behind a year later, when the rate moves to $10.50.

Gray made little mention of his earlier hesitance after signing the bill Wednesday: “We want to move this forward, and I was delighted to be able to sign it,” he said.

He also said the wage study he commissioned last year will proceed and could still have an impact. The Urban Institute is set to deliver its findings in the coming weeks, and Gray said he was particularly keen to find out what they conclude about the potential for the higher minimum wage to attract more workers living outside the District, thus displacing taxpaying city residents. There “may be legislative remedies we can entertain” to address that, he said.

Orange, who stood directly behind Gray during the signing, said it “felt great” to see the bill he backed become law. But he said, with the talk of studies and such, he did not see the same level of excitement with Hizzoner.

“I would think he would be elated for the residents,” Orange said. “I didn’t get that feeling. … It seemed like a bittersweet moment.”