Nobody Knows What DC’s Family Leave Mandate Will Cost

The public support for a proposal to mandate 16 weeks of paid family leave for all employees in Washington, DC, depends on how much it will cost, and who will be footing the bill, according to a Washington Post poll published in December. But determining the cost of the plan, which would cover both new parents and those who need to care for elderly relatives, is proving difficult for the city. In fact, as the Post reports, a series of conflicting cost estimates has now thrown the feasibility of the law into doubt:

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s administration released the first of the reports, a study funded by the Obama administration. And to the delight of proponents, it showed that salaries of every worker in the District who would take paid time off for the birth of a baby or to care for a dying relative could be covered for about the cost of a proposed 1 percent salary tax on employers.

Within a few hours, however, it wasn’t clear that the lawmakers believed those figures, which found that the initiative could cost $300 million.

Aides to Bowser (D) distanced the mayor from the study funded with a Department of Labor grant. A Washington-area business group presented a competing study to the D.C. Council, claiming that the costs would be north of $700 million, or 150 percent higher. Meanwhile, Jeffrey DeWitt, the District’s chief financial officer, said the total price tag could top all business taxes collected annually in the city, but that still may not be enough to cover costs. And in perhaps the most stunning moment of the debate, a top researcher at the left-leaning Urban Institute said that even D.C. business owners had underestimated the costs. The price could top $1.3 billion a year, he estimated, or five times the cost that the researchers funded by the Obama administration had concluded.