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Will D.C. rush-pass secretive half-billion-buck biz tax?

D.C. would become outlier in funding rare paid leave law by massive employer levy

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paid leave, gay news, Washington BladeIt began more than a year ago when two headline-seeking D.C. Council members introduced a bill to mandate the most extravagant and costly paid leave program in the nation. Certainly compared to only three states with such a law and much more modest leave lengths, wage replacement levels, and allowable reasons for leave-taking.

Most shocking about their proposed entitlement, other than publicly acknowledging it came with nothing more than embarrassingly sketchy “back-of-the-envelope” financial calculations, was that it would make D.C. the only place in the country requiring that employers, not employees, fund the program.

In the less-than-a-handful of states with a paid leave law, all four are funded through an employee payroll deduction. Only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have a paid leave requirement, while New York postponed its program until 2018.

One of the bill authors even falsely contended it was untrue these few other states exclusively bankrolled paid leave by employee withholding. Facts are funny things downtown, and lack of fiduciary savvy a sad reality.

Problem is, D.C. can’t tax out-of-state residents employed in the District, or federal employees, totaling a large majority of those working D.C.-based jobs. That unique restriction prompts sensible observations the city is over-reaching by attempting to fabricate a viable program under such circumstances.

Lacking the ability to fund a plan in the standard manner and that won’t harm the local economy or render the District even more notoriously commerce-uncompetitive and business-unfriendly should matter.

But local legislators couldn’t care less about that. They’re on a mission to burnish their liberal credentials with little concern for economic implications and even less for likely results.

And what an expensive plan that initial proposal turned out to be. Estimates ran as high as $1.3 billion per year, or roughly one-fifth the entire city budget financed by District revenues.

A scaled-back plan was subsequently floated but still no numbers were provided on program costs or any analysis suggesting fiscal solvency.

Since that time, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson essentially told Council members Elissa Silverman and David Grosso, co-introducers of the bill, to go play in the backyard while he has long struggled for the larger part of the year to figure out how to make even a pared-down paid leave plan financially workable.

So far, nobody’s seen nothin’.

The only promise is limiting the tax on businesses to 1 percent of wages paid, a whopping new enterprise cost approaching half-a-billion dollars.

Whatever is being concocted behind closed doors, however, remains a closely guarded secret.

Mendelson intends to reveal his plan in the waning days of the current two-year D.C. Council legislative period. He wants his colleagues to approve at the final two Council sessions whatever bill is rushed out without opportunity for public comment.

It’s a process both reprehensible and irresponsible.

A huge new burden small businesses can’t afford and a massive new government program the city won’t manage efficaciously should be afforded adequate deliberation. Let’s face facts: Taxpayer-funded paid leave for city government workers has cost nearly double projections, a revelation startling the “forgot-to-follow-up” Council.

If Council members want to mandate paid leave absent the legal ability to tax all local workers unlike the few other states with a program, they should put some skin in the game. If only to have a stake in deterring the inevitable fraud and abuse characteristic of city-run programs and to incentivize curtailing benefits when expenditures explode.

An astonishing Washington Post poll of D.C. residents found that 82 percent back a paid leave law only if someone else pays for it. Support drops to 45 percent if financed normally through an employee-paid tax.

‘Wow’ to that selfish sentiment. Alright then, let the D.C. Council put city monies where their mouths are and fund a paid leave program from District coffers.

Instead of becoming a national outlier with yet another cost of doing business.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at [email protected].

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Don’t sit out the election or vote third party

Get energized, support Democrats, and defeat Trump

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We are facing difficult choices in the next 14 weeks. Democrats will decide formally who will replace Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket. We already know Republicans have chosen Donald Trump and J.D. Vance. I agree with President Biden and support Kamala Harris, with either Sen. Mark Kelley (D-Ariz.), or Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, as her running mate.

But, whoever it is, to those of you thinking of not voting, or voting third party, my questions to you are simple: Can you live in a world in which Donald Trump is president, and his MAGA cult runs the country? Can you live in a world where the president of the United States is a climate denier? Can you live in a world where the president of the United States continues to give tax deductions to the rich, while the poor and middle class, are suffering? Can you live in a world where the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is eliminated, and if a bank goes under your account is no longer insured? Can you live in a world where women no longer control their own health care, and abortion is illegal? Where doctors who dare to perform an abortion to save the life of a woman, can be jailed? Where Vance said, when asked whether anti-abortion laws should have exceptions for rape and incest exceptions, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Can you live in a world where transgender persons can no longer get healthcare? Can you live in a world where the president thinks it’s OK for 37 states to allow members of the LGBTQ community to be thrown out of their job, and home, just for being who they were born to be? Can you live in a world where the president can call out the army to quell a demonstration, like he did for the one supporting Black Lives Matter? Can you live in a world where the president openly says he will protect anyone who is a white Christian, and end all diversity programs in schools and colleges? Can you live in a world where it will be OK to have Bible classes, and prayers, in every public school across the nation? Can you live in a world where America spends billions to build up our military, attempts to build an iron dome over our country, but refuses to help the rest of the world? Can you live in a world where we say it’s OK for Putin to take Ukraine? Can you live in a world where there is no chance for the Palestinian people to ever be free, or have their own state? 

I ask these questions because that is what you will get if Trump and Vance are in the White House. How do I know? Because they have said so. Both in the Republican platform, which has now been approved, and in Project 2025, which Trump’s closest advisers in the Heritage Foundation have set as the blueprint for his administration. I haven’t made these things up. They are real, and to me, very frightening. I am older, and won’t live that long with the ravages of climate change, but young people will suffer their whole lives. I am not a woman, but women will continue to see options to control their own healthcare eroded. I am not Black, so I will not see my voting rights eroded. I am not an immigrant, so will not be looking over my shoulder every minute wondering if I am next to be deported. But I am gay, and will also suffer under Trump and Vance. The bottom line is, we will all suffer. 

The only way to fight this fascist pig, who has been held liable for sexual assault, convicted of 34 felonies, is a proud misogynist, sexist, racist, and homophobe, is at the ballot box. We must never condone violence of any kind. We must all call that unacceptable, and call out anyone who would consider it. So, it is at the ballot box we can win, and defeat Trump and Vance. We can only do that by voting for whoever the Democratic candidate will be. Voting for a third party is throwing away your vote, in essence aiding Trump. No third party candidate has won since 1865, and in the last 36 years, none has ended up with more than 5% of the vote. None will in 2024.

So, I plead with you: Think about the world you want to live in. If you do, I am confident on Nov. 5, 2024, you will vote for the Democrat, whoever that is.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Joe Biden, our fiercest ally

Outgoing president leaves powerful legacy for LGBTQ equality

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Biden bowed out of the presidential race on Sunday after weeks of pressure following his debate performance in June. He leaves a long record of support for the LGBTQ community as a key part of his powerful legacy and he has raised the bar for future presidents when it comes to fighting for our community. 

We’ve never had a fiercer ally in the White House — a president who pledged to make LGBTQ rights his top legislative priority and described anti-transgender discrimination as the “civil rights issue of our time.” He has celebrated Pride month with us each year as well as the Trans Day of Visibility and taken criticism from the right for it. He includes us in the State of the Union Address and other high-profile speeches. 

Young voters mustn’t get complacent; such sentiments from a sitting president are not the norm. Biden’s leadership on LGBTQ equality means the next Democratic president has big shoes to fill. Vice President Kamala Harris would certainly continue Biden’s work toward equality, specifically by pushing for passage of the Equality Act, which Biden backed and which passed the House but died in a Senate filibuster in 2021.

Biden has changed the game in myriad ways, especially when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion in federal appointments. The country has never had a Senate-confirmed openly LGBTQ Cabinet member before (no, Ric Grenell doesn’t count as he was not confirmed). Pete Buttigieg’s tenure as Transportation Secretary has seen its challenges, but he has proven himself a capable, polished executive unafraid of taking on Fox News antagonists. As the Victory Fund noted this week, “LGBTQ+ people have received a record number of federal appointments, including Cabinet members, judges, and around 14% of the administration.” In addition to Buttigieg, he appointed Dr. Rachel Levine as the first out transgender person to hold an office that requires Senate confirmation. And Biden made more history, naming Karine Jean-Pierre, a Black lesbian, as his press secretary.

It’s outrageous that it took until 2021 for an out Cabinet secretary and thanks to Biden, we can look forward to many more.

Biden also led in advocating for marriage equality, endorsing the idea days before his boss President Obama in 2012 and just six months before the election. It was a bold and brave move that even LGBTQ advocates discouraged. As president, Biden fought successfully to preserve marriage equality in the increasingly likely event that the historic Obergefell ruling is overturned by our discredited MAGA Supreme Court. The Respect for Marriage Act ensures that the federal government and all U.S. states and territories must recognize same-sex and interracial marriages. Biden signed it and held a massive event on the White House lawn bringing together hundreds of LGBTQ advocates from around the country for a truly joyful celebration of the landmark legislation. 

In a historic move just last month for Pride, Biden pardoned veterans who were discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

“This is about dignity, decency, and ensuring the culture of our Armed Forces reflect the values that make us an exceptional nation,” he said.

Biden began his term on Jan. 20, 2021, and on that very day, issued an expansive executive order detailing workplace protections for LGBTQ Americans and prohibiting discrimination in education, credit, health care, and housing. And every month since, his administration has ushered in one pro-LGBTQ initiative after another, a list too long to fully recap here. Biden isn’t finished advocating for us. On Aug. 1, new Title IX rules go into effect protecting LGBTQ students from discrimination by expanding existing civil rights law.

It’s a staggering record of support and the LGBTQ community owes Biden and his team a tremendous debt of gratitude. Biden will be remembered fondly and revered by history for taking down Donald Trump, rebuilding our economy, leading us out of a pandemic, and for showing future presidents how to fully embrace and empower the LGBTQ community. He has more than earned our thanks — and a long, healthy retirement in Rehoboth Beach.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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Thank you, President Biden, for putting the nation first

Now all decent Americans must unite to defeat Trump

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

We certainly owe a major debt of gratitude to President Joe Biden for putting the nation before himself. Not many politicians would do that. We must thank him for understanding that for the country, the imperative is to defeat Donald Trump and his MAGA vision for the United States. A vision we have seen in his first term, his attempt at staging a coup, and now in his platform, and Project 2025. It is so frightening I believe it is what got President Biden to step aside. I am also thankful President Biden endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris. She is ready, and will make a great president. 

This is a seismic moment for our nation — the first time since 1968 that a sitting president decided not to run for a second term. It is much later in the process than that was. But it is the right thing to do. Biden will continue to be our president for nearly six months. He has work to do. He already has a great legacy of 50 years of service to the nation, and he will only add to it before he leaves the presidency. He will work to end the Israel-Hamas war, and to see that Ukraine has what they need to beat back Putin. He will work to strengthen our ties with all our allies. 

I think Biden’s action will energize American voters, and take the focus away from Donald Trump while Democrats refocus the campaign and their message. The focus must be on the evil that is Trump, and those around him. While time is short, the American people do know Kamala Harris. They now will see more of a feisty former prosecutor, senator, and brilliant woman, who will be able to challenge all of Trump’s BS. 

Harris can proudly run on the successes of the Biden/Harris administration. Those include passing the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package to increase investment in the national network of bridges and roads, airports, public transport and national broadband internet, as well as waterways and energy systems. Stopping a 30-year streak of federal inaction on gun violence by signing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Making a $369 billion investment in climate change, the largest in American history, through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Providing $10,000 to $20,000 in college debt relief to Americans with loans who make under $125,000 a year. Cutting child poverty in half through the American Rescue Plan. Capping prescription drug prices at $2,000 per year for seniors on Medicare through the Inflation Reduction Act. Passing the COVID-19 relief deal that provided payments of up to $1,400 to many struggling U.S. citizens while supporting renters and increasing unemployment benefits. Achieving historically low unemployment rates after the pandemic caused them to skyrocket. Imposing a 15% minimum corporate tax on some of the largest corporations in the country, ensuring that they pay their fair share, as part of the historic Inflation Reduction Act. Recommitting America to the global fight against climate change by rejoining the Paris Agreement. Strengthening the NATO alliance in support of Ukraine after the Russian invasion by endorsing the inclusion of world military powers Sweden and Finland. Authorizing the assassination of the Al Qaeda terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became head of the organization after the death of Osama bin Laden. Giving Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices through the Inflation Reduction Act while also reducing government health spending. Holding Vladimir Putin accountable for his invasion of Ukraine by imposing stiff economic sanctions. Boosting the budget of the Internal Revenue Service by nearly $80 billion to reduce tax evasion and increase revenue. Creating more jobs in one year (6.6 million) than any other president in U.S. history. Reducing healthcare premiums under the Affordable Care Act by $800 a year as part of the American Rescue Plan. Signing the PACT Act to address service members’ exposure to burn pits and other toxins. Signing the CHIPS and Science Act to strengthen American manufacturing and innovation. Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act through 2027. And halting all federal executions after the previous administration reinstated them after a 17-year freeze. It’s a record to be proud of. 

It is now time for Democrats, independents, and all decent Americans, to unite to elect the Democratic ticket and a Democratic Congress. If we do, we can try to unite people, instead of dividing them like Trump and his acolytes are doing. We can win on Nov. 5 and then honor President Biden for his selfless act as the government transitions to our 47th President, Kamala Harris, at noon on Jan. 20, 2025.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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