The D.C. lawmaker tasked with writing a bill to raise the city’s minimum wage said Monday that he will ask his colleagues to support an increase of more than $3 an hour, making the wage one of the nation’s highest. But a coalition of liberal activists announced plans to push the wage a dollar higher than that through a ballot measure.
Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) said the D.C. Council committee he chairs plans to meet next Monday to hash out final details of the bill and vote to increase the minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $11.50.
The nearly 40 percent jump would be realized over three annual increases. On July 1, the District’s minimum wage would increase $1.25, to $9.50. A year later, it would become $10.50, and on July 1, 2016, the city’s minimum would reach $11.50. Thereafter, it would be indexed to inflation, likely increasing a few pennies each summer.
Orange repeated Monday that his preference would have been to get to $12.50 per hour, but that $11.50 had become the regional compromise, recently gaining the key backing of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).
Orange said he expects to secure a veto-proof, nine-vote majority on the council for the $11.50 wage. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on Monday pledged his support for the $11.50 bill.
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Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Monday he was not prepared to support that figure and instead would propose his own. “We’ll have something out soon . . . about what we can support and what we can’t,” he said.
He criticized the council for not confronting the issue more deliberatively.
“I really wish we had not had a rush to judgment, that we could have gotten a study done on this issue and then we all could have been in the same place in terms of factors that need to be considered,” Gray said. “One of the things, for example, that is not answered is to what extent will this impact jobs? We don’t really know.”
Orange pushed back on Gray’s criticism. “We did not pick this number out of thin air,” he said. “We have the answers to the mayor’s questions” — which will come, he said, in the committee’s report.
The $11.50 rate is a dollar less than the “living wage” that the council earlier this year voted to impose on large retailers — including Wal-Mart, which will soon open its first stores in the city. Gray vetoed that bill, citing its impact on development and jobs, turning the debate to a broader minimum wage hike.
The group D.C. Working Families, a newly launched coalition of labor, clergy and other liberal activists, is set on Tuesday morning to launch a campaign to put a proposal for a $12.50 minimum wage on the ballot for next year’s November general election.
To do so, the activists must convince the D.C. Board of Elections that a minimum wage hike is a legal subject for a ballot initiative — then collect the signatures of more than 23,000 District voters.
As with the bill Orange supports, the group proposes to phase in the higher rate over several years and then index it to the cost of living.
Delvone Michael, the group’s director, said in a statement ahead of Tuesday’s kickoff that rising income inequality “requires bold measures to raise wages as a first step in creating an economy that works for all of us.”
Earlier this month, voters in New Jersey approved a constitutional amendment that would raise that state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 and provide for yearly increases tied to the cost of living.
An $11.50 minimum wage would put the District ahead of all 50 states — including Washington, which has the highest current minimum of $9.19. Some cities have set higher minimums; the minimum wage in San Francisco is $10.55.
Voters in SeaTac, Wash., home to the Seattle region’s international airport, voted this month on raising the minimum wage there to $15 an hour. The measure appears headed for a recount.