By Ben Nuckols
WASHINGTON (AP) - The D.C. Council could vote as early as December on a bill that would raise the city's minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by July 2016, one of the nation's highest, according to a key councilmember.
Councilmember Vincent Orange told The Associated Press in an interview that he will propose the same minimum wage being considered in neighboring Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland. Orange chairs the committee that is considering four competing minimum wage proposals, and he plans to combine those into a single bill.
Orange, a Democrat who is one of four councilmembers running for mayor, said he would prefer a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour, but he thinks the $11.50 proposal will have broader support on the overwhelmingly Democratic council.
Orange was a lead sponsor of a bill that would have forced Wal-Mart and other large retailers to pay their employees a "living wage" of at least $12.50. The council approved that bill, but Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed it, calling it a "job killer" after Wal-Mart said it would abandon plans to build three of six proposed stores in the city.
"I'm a team player. The consensus is, why don't we all do $11.50," Orange said. "I am working to build consensus for a minimum wage of $11.50."
The district's minimum wage is $8.25 an hour, $1 higher than the federal minimum. San Francisco has the nation's highest minimum wage at $10.74, with Santa Fe, N.M., just 2 cents behind. Because increases in those wages are tied to inflation, San Francisco is projected to have an $11.22 minimum wage by 2016, according to the National Employment Law Project.
Other cities are pushing minimum wage hikes, including Seattle, where Mayor Mike McGinn said he would support a wage of $15 an hour.
Under Orange's proposal, the district's minimum wage would increase to $9.50 on Jan. 1, $10.50 in July 2015 and $11.50 in July 2016, with future increases tied to the Consumer Price Index to keep up with inflation. Similar bills in Montgomery and Prince George's counties appear to have broad support.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has stressed the importance of the district approving the same increase as its Maryland neighbors.
Mayor Vincent Gray has said the city needs a higher minimum wage, but he hasn't committed to a number. His administration plans to hire an outside consultant to study the issue for 120 days, at a cost of no more than $200,000.
"This debate is broader than just the minimum wage," said Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for the mayor. "Settling on a number and walking away from it is really not the solution here."
Some advocates for low-wage workers believe that the district should continue to push for a $12.50 minimum wage, and they plan to try to put an initiative on the November 2014 ballot that would accomplish that goal. Elissa Silverman, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, which has advocated for the $12.50 wage, said the ballot initiative would push the council to follow through on its promises.
Orange said he hopes his committee will send the wage bill to the full council before Thanksgiving, which means it could be voted on by the full council as early as Dec. 3.