This week, the majority of the D.C. Council supported a repeal of Initiative 77. Initiative 77 is the ballot measure voters approved in June that eliminates the tipped minimum wage and would gradually phase out the tipped workers’ minimum wage, so that by 2026, all workers are paid the same minimum wage.
Fifty-six percent of District voters approved of it. States such as California, Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, have gotten rid of the subminimum wage, and Economic Policy Institute’s analysis shows that poverty rates for servers and bartenders are lower in the states that have.
The campaign against Initiative 77 was well-funded and backed by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), which created a committee, “Save Our Tip System Initiative 77” to spread anti-Initiative 77 messages. According to The Intercept, the committee is managed partly by Lincoln Strategy Group, which did canvassing work for the Trump campaign. The National Restaurant Association, which has been lobbying against the tipped minimum wage for decades, gave the campaign $25,000.
The council members who have supported a repeal include Jack Evans (D), Anita Bonds (D), Trayon White (D), Kenyan McDuffie (D), Brandon Todd (D), Vincent Gray (D), and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). Brianne Nadeau (D) tweeted that although she did not support the ballot measure, voters did, which is why she didn’t back the repeal.
While I didn't support #Initiative77 at the ballot box, Ward 1 voters did. I do not feel comfortable with a full repeal, so I am not a co-sponsor. As the bill moves forward I will work to address the concerns of tipped employees, ensure fair wages, and help tipped businesses. pic.twitter.com/3JZRI5IEF3
— Brianne K. Nadeau (@BrianneKNadeau) July 10, 2018
Council member Todd tweeted that “This bill is just the beginning of a legislative process where nuanced deliberation & constructive dialogue can take place.” When asked by Washington Post reporter Fenit Nirappil how a bill flatly repealing it would lead to nuanced deliberations, Todd responded that “it initiates public hearings. Who knows how the bill will change as testimony and more information become available.”
Read my statement on the bill I co-introduced to repeal #Initiative77. I do not take the results of the election lightly. This bill is just the beginning of a legislative process where nuanced deliberation & constructive dialogue can take place. pic.twitter.com/7CijUxIebU
— Brandon T. Todd (@CMBrandonTodd) July 11, 2018
In a Facebook comment, Council member White said, “The vote is irrelevant.”
In public Facebook comment, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White says Initiative 77 “vote is irrelevant.” pic.twitter.com/AF9cYzDRkT
— Cuneyt Dil (@cuneytdil) July 11, 2018
The Council won’t take up the bill until after summer recess. Council members chose not to announce the bill to repeal during a committee meeting and instead filed it with the Council’s Office of the Secretary.
Diana Ramirez of the Restaurant Opportunities Center DC told WAMU, “These are the same constituents who just voted them into office and re-elected them. I think they deserve to tell us why they introduced this.”
Although Ramirez has voiced a willingness to work with council members on some kind of compromise legislation, according to the Washington Post, Council member Mendelson said, “There are not a lot of compromise ideas that come to mind.”
The council has only overridden ballot initiatives four times since the 1980s, according to the Washington Post.
There have been many recent incidents of local lawmakers trying to override ballot measures. In Nebraska, Republican lawmakers filed a lawsuit to prevent voters from putting Medicaid expansion on the ballot this November. In other states, such as Maine and South Dakota, lawmakers have blocked or repealed ballot measures.
Josh Altic, project director for the Ballot Measures Project for the website Ballotpedia, told Stateline, a nonpartisan news service, “We have definitely seen some notable cases of legislative tampering this year, especially with regard to the boldness with which legislatures are willing to change or repeal initiatives.”