Friday, December 11, 2009

Living Argument

As the Crain's Insider is reporting (subsc.) the fight over the living wage at the Kingsbridge Armory is roiling the waters on all sides of the ideological divide: "The Kingsbridge Armory shopping mall compromise, in which the city would create a fund to subsidize wages of mall employees, would be a first. But if the Bloomberg administration and City Council nail it down, which seems likely, it probably would not be the last. That worries people on the right and left sides of the political spectrum."

The more pro development folks worry about the precedent being set-even if the final armory deal falls short of everything that the advocates really are looking for: “City government already has its tentacles in so many previously 100% private enterprises,” says Julia Vitullo Martin, director of the Center for Urban Innovation at the Regional Plan Association. “For it to embark on this particular road strikes me as dangerous. Does that mean any time the city is involved even as a minor partner, it will be pressured to set up a similar fund? Will it have to set up a fund to supplement the wages of foundations and charities and other nonprofit agencies? It’s a very unnerving precedent.”

Of course, the entire point about the current advocacy for a living wage is based on the use of tax subsidies for the armory development-hardly a "previously 100% private enterprise" by any reasonable definition. But the nature of the fund itself has one advocate extremely worried.

As the Insider tells us: "On the left, Bettina Damiani, project director at Good Jobs New York, doesn’t like the precedent for a different reason. “Isn’t this an incentive for companies to pay its employees less, assuming the taxpayer will pick up the rest of the tab?” she asks. She has questions about accountability, too: Who would administer the fund? Who would monitor it? What happens if the money runs out? “The city doesn’t have a great history of allocating these pots in the most transparent or equitable manner,” she says."

Which is apparently the current sticking point in the negotiations between the city council and the mayor: How will this fund be managed, and what does it say about creating an understandable policy for retailers to provide an adequate wage for their workers? The entire policy debate has been significantly advanced.

As we told the Insider: "Supporters of a living wage believe they’ve moved the ball down the field, though not into the end zone. “The difficulty of negotiating this deal will be seen among the advocates as the rationale for why we need citywide legislation,” says lobbyist Richard Lipsky. “It will be a spur to mandate a living wage on all projects that are taxpayer-subsidized.”

But, as the Insider points out, the one issue that the council is firm on remains the supermarket exclusion: "The council appears inclined to make a deal, even if it bends on living-wage guarantees. One thing the Bronx delegation insists on, though, is a ban on supermarkets in the mall, to protect a longtime food market across the street from subsidized competition."

So it looks as if this will all go down to the last possible day-with a special session of the council likely to take place on Monday, the day when the ULURP clock officially runs out. Much remains in the balance, and the stakes for all involved are certainly high.