Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Speaking Truth To Power On First Source Law

I got to speak on policies that can spark an increase in District employment at a candidate forum in Takoma recently. The audio for the entire forum can be found here.

To expand on my answer (and for those who don't have time to listen to the entire forum at this moment), let me also address my points on one policy area that can generate increased employment in DC immediately: proper enforcement of first source law.

First source law mandates that any company working on a city contract or through a beneficial tax arrangement (tax incentive financing or a tax abatement) must hire District residents for 51% of the new positions created by the contract or tax-incentivized project. We have a great first source law on the books and an update to strengthen it has been proposed this Council session. If we could stringently enforce this law and have businesses agree to train and hire District workers as they should, to comply with the spirit and letter of this law, District unemployment would drop precipitously.

It's up to the Council to exercise oversight over the Department of Unemployment Services and the Office of Contracting to insure that first source law is vigorously enforced in the District.

As a Councilmember, I would additionally propose new legislation to create a carrot-and-stick approach to first source law. The carrot - or incentive to follow the spirit and letter of first source law - would be comprised of assigning a plus to any bid from a company whose prior city-financed or tax-incentivized projects led to the hiring of a workforce 51% comprised of District residents and that (in addition) had maintained that ratio of District resident employees from the start of their last first source project to the time when that company puts in a new bid for a subsequent city contract. Likewise, companies that honored first source law in prior first source-required projects should be given priority by the Council when seeking tax incentive financing or tax abatements. The stick - the penalty for failing to comply with first source law - would be a ban from contracting with the city for a year on a first citation for violating first source law, for five years on any second violation, for the life of a company (as well as any company on which executives employed by the three-time offending company are employed in the future). Additionally, civil fines should be levied against companies on their third offense, with funds set aside a designated fund for workforce development. This type of stringent three strikes approach - combined with an incentive - will encourage compliance citywide.

We have to speak truth to power to companies that contract with the District or seek favorable tax arrangements: follow the law and employ District residents or find somewhere else to do business.

(Photo by El-Shamesh Photography)

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