“My Administration has worked tirelessly to create jobs, help our residents obtain, employment, and escape poverty. It is because of these very commitments, in fact, that I feel compelled to veto the bill.”
—Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray on the Large Retail Accountability Act

In a surprising turn, a Democratic big-city mayor vetoed a hike in the minimum wage. Today, the District of Columbia City Council declined to override Mayor Vincent Gray’s veto, deciding not to drive Walmart out of the city, after all.

Mayor Gray has impeccable leftist credentials. Nonetheless, he vetoed the Large Retail Accountability Act (LRAA) that the City Council passed in July.

The law would have raised hourly minimum wages from $8.25 to $12.50 an hour for select retail stores. As Heritage Foundation expert James Sherk highlights the bill targeted very particular retailers: nonunion stores with more than 75,000 square feet and a gross $1 billion in revenues. It also exempted currently existing stores for four years. The bill would only immediately affect Walmart and the six stores it plans to build in the capital. Perhaps unsurprisingly, unions representing grocery chains (who compete against Walmart for customers  drafted the bill

Explaining his opposition, Gray wrote that the LRAA “will not modestly delay economic development in underserved District neighborhoods long deprived of jobs and retail amenities; it will kill economic development in these communities for a generation.”

Supporters of the LRAA describe the legislation as a noble “living wage bill.” The authors of this bill, though, fail to realize what Mayor Gray understands: If enacted, this bill would have badly hurt already impoverished communities.

Although the D.C. region has weathered the recession well, the District itself has one of America’s highest unemployment rates. The city would greatly benefit from the six stores that Walmart plans to open. By offering hundreds of job opportunities and affordable prices, large retailers like Walmart would improve living standards for low-income families as well as encouraging economic development. The LRAA would have robbed the city and its many disadvantaged residents of these benefits.

Gray called the bill a “job killer.” He realizes that existing large retailers would abandon the District if it took effect, eliminating “more than 4,000 District jobs in just the first few years alone.”

Rejection of the LRAA is a welcome—and much-needed—boost for the poor and underserved in the nation’s capital.