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Kill the living wage

The disastrous airport ordinance just got closer to a future of lawsuits and more wasted money.

February 15, 2007

THE LOS ANGELES City Council is stuck in a pair of Chinese handcuffs -- the harder it tries to extricate itself from the fiasco it created by tinkering with the labor market near the airport, the tighter its shackles become. Unfortunately, council members seem to lack the common sense to wriggle free by giving way.

There is still time, just barely, to stop the cycle of micro-mismanagement that began in November with the short-lived passage of a living wage ordinance for workers at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport. The council still has one vote next week to approve or reject a successor deal that's even worse -- and more litigable -- than the original.

The November ordinance, which forced a handful of hotels to pay their employees a minimum of $9.39 an hour with benefits or $10.64 without, was challenged by the hotels and major business associations by way of a petition drive for a referendum to overturn it. So the council repealed it Jan. 31 to make the referendum go away. Then, on Tuesday, it gave preliminary approval to the same living wage ordinance, only this time larded up with handouts such as road improvements and tax breaks for new local businesses. The deal even included commissioning a study on whether a city-backed convention center near LAX would be feasible, apparently forgetting that the Convention Center downtown is a money-losing taxpayer boondoggle.

Perhaps worse, the new ordinance is more vulnerable to a court challenge. The hotels had the option to sue the city after the original measure was passed but didn't because they didn't have a great case.

Because it's illegal to repeal an ordinance in order to avoid a referendum, then turn around after less than a year and pass essentially the same thing, opponents would be on much firmer legal footing, given that the new agreement contains the exact same living wage provisions that prompted the petition drive in the first place. The council is on the verge of turning a weak legal case against the city into a strong one.

A lawsuit, which is probable, would put the workers' wage increase in limbo until the case is resolved. The taxpayers would then be on the hook for a legal defense in addition to the possible tax breaks, infrastructure improvements and pointless studies. All because City Hall prefers to spend its time inflicting a union agenda onto the private sector drip by drip, rather than doing something useful, like, say, streamlining the city's infamously Byzantine permitting processes.

To avoid further gratuitous entanglements, council members should just vote no. Don't think of it as giving in, think of it as getting out.

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