Explaining a break with Christine Quinn on living wage, Wylde says the speaker gave in to pressure from ‘advocates’

Kathryn Wylde. (Partnership for New York City, via flickr)
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The Partnership for New York City, the city’s main business lobby, withdrew its support for a "living wage" bill brokered by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn because it didn't give City Hall the right to exempt projects on a case-by-case basis.

“You ought to have the ability to waive it if it doesn’t make sense for a particular project and if the loss of project hurts the city's interest,” the partnership’s C.E.O., Kathryn Wylde, told Capital this morning.

She said that the waiver provision she was hoping for would not have been all that different from the zoning-law variances routinely issued by the city's Board of Standards and Appeals.

“I don’t dispute that the city has the right to set the terms of individual contracts when it’s putting in public money,” she said, but “most economic and community development projects are unique, they’re structured one by one, and it’s hard for legislation, which is almost inevitably one-size-fits-all, to anticipate the specifics of a project, particularly for projects that are very marginal, that are going into low-income neighborhoods.”

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The framework of the legislation, which Quinn announced in January with Wylde by her side, called for recipients of $1 million in city economic development subsidies, with annual revenues of at least $5 million, to pay their employees $10 with health benefits, or $11.50 without. It excluded the retail tenants of subsidy recipients, which had been a big point of contention with the business community, and it also included a waiver.

Late yesterday evening, Quinn released a statement announcing that a final piece of compromise legislation had been finalized, and said, "this will be the most impactful living wage law in the United States."

Soon thereafter, the partnership released a statement declaring its opposition to the measure.

The mayor intends to veto the bill, though the Council is believed to have the votes to override it. Quinn's rejection of this waiver could be construed as yet another example of her seeking to distance herself from the mayor (and the business community that supports him) in anticipation of next year's Democratic mayoral primary.

“I think most of the business community would agree with the mayor’s position,” said Wylde.

She also says Quinn refused the waiver “because the advocates for the bill objected to it. That’s my view, but that’s apparently what happened.”

“They objected to it because there was criticism that the bill had taken out nonprofits, had taken out tenants, so I think they felt there was too much lost and therefore they didn’t want to lose much more, so they objected to the waiver,” said Wylde.

Wylde said Quinn also sought to appease councilmembers “committed to using whatever power the City Council has to strike a blow against income inequality and this is evidence of that. And I don’t blame them. I just think they’re going to create a situation that will ultimately limit the city’s ability to encourage economic and community development.”

The legislation, which Quinn had already made considerably less broad than the version that was originally proposed and supported by organized labor, is expected to impact fewer than 1,000 New Yorkers as it is.

“You might say that in the compromise, they eliminated its application to nonprofits, and they eliminated the application to tenants, so they’ve narrowed it down,” said Wylde.

But, she added, “We don’t think the city should tie its hands where it can’t get out of its own way, where there’s a particular project where this requirement would kill the project, as you recall was the case with the Kingsbridge Armory.”