MAYOR MURIEL E. BOWSER (D) took painstaking care in pointing out to the D.C. Council her “grave concerns” with legislation establishing an extravagant paid family leave program for people who work in the District. One of the largest tax increases in recent city history, she wrote the council, would be imposed to establish one of the largest government agencies, which would mostly benefit non-D.C. residents, while people who live in the city but work outside it or for the federal government would get nothing. Pretty convincing arguments to veto the bill — but instead Ms. Bowser took the easy way out, at least for her, and decided to let the bill become law without her signature.
In trying to have her cake and eat it, Ms. Bowser proved to be just as feckless as the council in setting up the city for enormous fiscal risk. In truth, she may have been even more irresponsible, since some council members seemed to sincerely (but naively) think they were doing the right thing. Instead of being worried about the politics if her veto were not sustained, Ms. Bowser should have stood up for the principles articulated in her letter.
We — like Ms. Bowser — have never questioned the desirability of giving families the time off they need to care for newborns or tend to ailing parents. But the District’s plan that is set to be enacted into law, barring interference from Congress, is expensive and ill-designed and, in the opinion of the city’s chief financial officer, “presents multiple risk factors.” Not only do most of the benefits go to Maryland and Virginia residents, many of whom already get employer-provided leave, but also it is unclear if a government that still struggles to provide some basic city services is capable of pulling off a program unprecedented in its complexity.
What is most maddening is that better alternatives exist, including some being developed by the business community that would target resources to the workers most in need without a vast new bureaucracy. They also have the advantage of being able to be implemented far sooner than the 2020 start envisioned under the council’s bill.
So manifest are the problems that it appears Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) may be having a bit of buyer’s remorse. After the mayor announced she would not veto the bill, he signaled a willingness to revisit and perhaps refine parts of it. Had he been hoping a mayoral veto would get him off the hook for ramming such a bad bill through the council? Did it suddenly dawn on him the challenges the city faces in coming up with $40 million to $80 million to design a first-of-its-kind technology infrastructure; hiring 113 new government workers with the expertise to implement and administer the program; and finding a place to house both?
It is not too late for the council to undo its mistake and start to act responsibly. We urge it to do so.
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