D.C. OFFICIALS have long, and rightly, complained about their inability to tax residents of Maryland and Virginia who work in the city. That these workers essentially get a free ride in city services galls leaders of the District, as does the fact that many other jurisdictions are allowed to impose commuter taxes. So it would seem contradictory — indeed, other words come to mind — that the District would even think about taking $250 million annually in new tax money from District residents to pay a benefit that will largely go to people who live outside the city. That, though, is exactly what will happen if the District presses ahead with a half-baked scheme to provide paid family leave.
We don’t question the value of giving people needed time off to tend to a new baby or an ailing parent. But the legislation set for an initial vote Tuesday by the D.C. Council was developed haphazardly and is irresponsible. It increases taxes on D.C. employers — including those who already provide paid leave benefits to their employees — to (shudder) set up a new city bureaucracy that will administer leave of up to 11 weeks for a birth or adoption and eight weeks to care for an ill family member.
Sixty-five percent of the benefit dollars, administration officials say, would be paid to non-District residents. That the plan affords benefits to a couple from Potomac who may not need them seems not to matter. Nor does the fact that in an effort to contain costs, time off for self-care was eliminated. So while that Potomac couple is collecting paychecks (both parents are eligible for benefits) to care for a newborn, the District resident recovering from a broken leg is on his or her own. All well and good for council members, like bill co-sponsor Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), to talk about the District’s regional responsibilities, but that kind of “we can afford it” approach is what caused the fiscal troubles that led to the city being placed under a federal control board in the 1990s.
Other jurisdictions that have implemented leave policies put together task forces or commissioned studies to understand the complexities, target needs and come up with a workable solution. Not so the District. The council pointedly refused to undertake a careful or studied approach. Instead, it listened to advocates whose interest was in claiming bragging rights for establishing the country’s most generous program. The final legislation was slapped together in secret by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and previewed for the media before being shared with the mayor and council a week before Tuesday’s scheduled vote. On Friday, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt issued a damning fiscal impact statement that outlined the “major risk factors” and concluded funds were insufficient in the fiscal year 2017 through fiscal 2020 budget and financial plan to implement the bill.
It is time to end the amateur hour at the Wilson Building. The council needs to table this proposal and go back to the drawing board for a proposal that will serve the real needs of District residents. If the council refuses, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) must do the responsible thing and veto the measure.