Last week brought a helluva humiliating series of embarrassments for D.C. elected officials.
Local politicians have, however, no one to blame but themselves. Except perhaps the labor union sidekicks and single-minded pie-in-the-sky policy groups promoting a steady stream of onerous new business mandates while disingenuously claiming and falsely promising no economic downsides.
On Friday morning, Walmart announced the company was scuttling plans to open two additional superstores in the District slated for east of the river – disappointing lower-income residents eager for convenient access to the retailer’s goods and groceries.
While business development decisions are by nature complicated and influenced by a complex array of considerations – a concept politicians seem utterly incapable of comprehending – interconnected regulatory factors stood out.
D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who chairs the finance and revenue committee, sat in on a private meeting between Walmart officials and Mayor Muriel Bowser and her deputy mayor for planning and economic development. Evans publicly indicated that company representatives were more candid in that setting about their decision to halt adding locations beyond three stores already opened.
Walmart officials explained that successively imposed mandates on businesses in the District and a bevy of proposed new legislative edicts in the pipeline had soured the company on the affordability and attractiveness of growing operations here. Evans said store officials cited the looming possibility of another super-sized hike in the minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour, by possible ballot initiative currently under court challenge, as a primary concern.
Top-tier worst-in-the-nation and highest-in-the-region corporate tax rates and a notoriously business-unfriendly regulatory regime didn’t exactly encourage expansion either.
But it’s the plethora of half-baked proposals currently being floated around the D.C. Council these days that cause enterprise the greatest worries about a compounding and cumulatively counterproductive “layering” effect. One deep cut might not kill the golden goose, but repeated grievous wounding can.
A second public hearing held only the day before Walmart’s announcement, on an extravagantly excessive paid leave proposal exclusively financed by yet another business tax, was only the most egregious example.
The Washington Post editorial board called the plan “preposterous” and the left-leaning Urban Institute warned program costs would total $1.3 billion, necessitating that the projected business tax triple to an astounding 3 percent of wages, or higher.
D.C. CFO Jeffrey DeWitt would only offer that payouts would clearly exceed revenues, creating a deficit that disallowed certification the proposal was eligible for approval. Reading between the lines, it wasn’t difficult to decipher that the city’s head bean counter couldn’t make a definitive determination based on the sloppily crafted bill’s content.
Also in the works are proposals to dictate three-week advance scheduling for employees of national chains and franchises, a standard in effect nowhere else. It will inevitably trickle down to all employers. San Francisco, the only jurisdiction in the country to pass a similar scheduling bill with a shorter advance notice requirement, has continued to delay implementation due to excessive complexity and negative ramifications.
The litany of other proposals includes dictating minimum employee work hours and actually restricting the hiring of new employees. A broadening array of well-intentioned but misguided attempts to micromanage local enterprise won’t create a progressive paradise but will instead only punish the poor.
One veil-piercing inquiry lurks amidst all this nonsense. Who offers better job training for entry-level and lower-skilled unemployed residents: the District government or Walmart? The tiny number of government-cycled trainees ill-prepared for the real-world workforce or the nearly 2,000 Walmart employees succeeding at the company’s stores and striving to move up to new positions of responsibility?
The District’s employment services program is so utterly dysfunctional that D.C. is the only jurisdiction in the nation the Department of Labor classifies as a “high-risk” partner for job training and employment programs.
Credit goes to Mayor Bowser for cautioning that these ill-fated political interventions will only produce the opposite of what was intended.
The choice is simple, straightforward and stark.