THE D.C. COUNCIL is required by law to obtain a fiscal impact statement from the city’s chief financial officer before enacting legislation. Unfortunately, there is no requirement to actually read the statement. That’s the only plausible explanation for how a majority of the council could blithely endorse a paid family leave bill in the face of a sobering warning from the office that was established to safeguard the city’s fiscal stability and integrity.
With an 11-to-2 vote, the council this week gave preliminary approval to a bill that would provide paid family and medical time off to people who work in the District by increasing taxes on businesses. A final vote is set for Dec. 20. Prodded by labor activists eager to enact in the nation’s capital the nation’s most generous leave policy, most council members seem set on their course, never mind the risks.
Still, maybe it’s not too late to urge some attention to the independent analysis from Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt. His Dec. 2 memorandum is careful not to delve into policy or politics, but it is hard to miss Mr. DeWitt’s alarm. “This is a significant bill proposing benefits more generous than other existing state programs. As a result, it presents multiple risk factors that may impact timeline and cost,” he wrote.
The memo details how the District will have to build a new government bureaucracy to administer the program. Other states with paid family programs built their systems on top of existing short-term disability program systems; D.C. does not have that option. Start-up costs have been estimated between $40 million and $80 million for an integrated information technology system capable of collecting the payroll tax from eligible employers, tracking the history of wages and payments, and establishing separate Web portals for tax administrators, employers, claimants and physicians. Some 113 new employees — claims specialists, customer service, medical/insurance experts, management, administrative law judges and tax processors — would be hired.
All this for a program that would pay 64 percent of its benefits to people who do not live in the District or pay D.C. taxes. If D.C. taxpayers on the short end of this stick wonder who would think this is sound poliycmaking, here is the answer: The 11 council members who voted for this bill are Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), David Grosso (I-At Large), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4), Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and LaRuby May (D-Ward 8).
Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) deserve credit for resisting the stampede. Perhaps they remember how the city drove itself into bankruptcy two decades ago with similarly irresponsible, feel-good legislating. As they made clear, Mr. Evans and Ms. Alexander also want to provide paid leave, but in a sustainable way. There are alternatives — never seriously considered by the council — that should be explored.
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