- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The elites — and those pretending to be elite — love to sneer at the “big box” retail stores as much as the public loves to shop at them. The D.C. Council, not made up of elites, to be sure, is nevertheless expected to give final approval Wednesday to imposing a discriminatory $12.50 an hour “living wage” on large businesses, such as Wal-Mart. Other employers would still pay the $8.25 minimum.

It’s good politics in certain circles to assert that enacting a city ordinance will magically create wealth for the struggling masses. What’s more likely is that more people will end up earning $0.00 an hour. The D.C. leaders continue to send the message to major retail chains that they’re not welcome in Washington, and they should take their jobs to the suburbs.

The District can’t afford to drive away jobs, since entry-level employees in the city suffer at 16 percent unemployment, as calculated by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

Residents want more retail stores, especially residents who live in the “food deserts” of Wards 7 and 8 east of the Anacostia River, where full-service grocery stores are scarce. For a jurisdiction with 600,000 residents and one of the highest per-capita incomes (owing to federal spending) in the country, there’s a dearth of big-box retail stores. There are no BJ’s Wholesale Clubs, Kohl’s, Lowe’s or Toys R Us stores, for example. Many residents cross the Potomac to Virginia or drive to the Maryland suburbs to shop for groceries and prescriptions, or to find convenient cleaners. A drive through the parking lots at shopping malls reveals hundreds of D.C. license tags.

For all the happy talk by the council members about a gentrifying District becoming more business-friendly, the Large Retailer Accountability Act reverses the goodwill by imposing higher wages only on businesses with more than 75,000 square feet of retail space and have corporate parents with annual sales of more than $1 billion.

The debate is aimed at Wal-Mart, the biggest-box retailer, which first opened its doors in a small town in Arkansas in the 1950s. The firm prides itself on taking lower prices to consumers in underserved areas. It works. Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer. That turns some politicians green, not with environmentalist obsession, but with envy.

Wal-Mart sees opportunity in the District and wants to open six stores, including two in Ward 7. Wal-Mart might pull the plug on three stores not already under construction, and the Wegmans supermarket chain is balking at coming to the city if the ordinance take effect.

That means sending more business across the Potomac, cutting sales-tax revenues that would otherwise be paid in the District, as well as other property and business-income taxes. The city will have further earned its reputation for being anti-business.

In a preliminary vote two weeks ago, the council voted 8 to 5 for this misguided proposal. Mayor Vincent C. Gray can restore sanity with a veto. Jobless residents and consumers shouldn’t have to suffer at the hands of council members with little knowledge of basic economics and obsessed with the politics of envy.

The Washington Times

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