- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 9, 2016

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Tuesday that she doesn’t know if she can back a pared-down proposal to provide 12 weeks of paid medical and family leave to city workers, a policy that would be the country’s most generous.

Such a plan would allow “almost an unlimited number of occurrences” for workers to take paid leave for becoming new parents, recuperating from a medical condition or caring for an ailing relative, Ms. Bowser said.

Citing her support for maternity or paternity leave, the Democratic mayor said the D.C. Council must show how a proposed 1 percent payroll tax would fund the measure.

Late Monday, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson reduced the original 16-week proposal to 12 weeks and cut its maximum weekly benefit from $3,000 to $1,500. Other jurisdictions around the country provide no more than six weeks of paid leave.

Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said the changes make the plan more financially tenable, but D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt reserved judgment on that until a budget for the program is scored.

Workers’ rights advocates expressed wariness about the reduced benefits.

“We have concerns that corporate lobbyists will continue to try to weaken the bill,” said Jaime Contreras, local vice president of the Service Employees International Union. “Working families should always come first for the District, especially given that businesses will assuredly continue to thrive in the District’s strong and growing economy.”

About 150 people have signed up to speak about the proposal at the council’s hearing on Thursday, Mr. Mendelson said.

The legislation has hit two sticking points: Business leaders say it would drive companies out of the District, and two reports provide wildly varying estimates of its cost.

The scaled-back bill was meant to address the cost issue by reducing the amount time off and the amount of money to be collected. It remains to be seen whether it will be enough.

A report from the Greater Washington Board of Trade showed the original program’s costs could be more than $700 million a year. That would mean the 1 percent tax, which would garner about $500 million, would cause a $200 million deficit.

But a separate, federally funded report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research said the original program could be fully funded with the 1 percent tax and would not cause a shortfall that would affect other city services.

No cost estimate has been made since Monday’s changes.

During a hearing last month where the two different estimates were presented, Mr. DeWitt said the administration has looked at different scenarios and assumptions, and has concluded that many employees would use the paid leave and rely on its payments for an extended period of time. That means the tax might not be enough to cover the program’s costs.

Meanwhile, business leaders’ opposition can’t be as easily negotiated. Some have said that Walmart’s recent decision to renege on building two stores east of the Anacostia River shows that the District is exhibiting an anti-business bias.

“It’s not just one piece of legislation,” said Margaret Singleton, interim president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. “When we begin to look at the cumulative effect on business, that’s where we have our biggest concern. Collectively, there is a large burden on the business community, and there needs to be balance across the board.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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