Quinn’s Test of Leadership

The millionaire’s tax—which places a surcharge on people who are not millionaires—isn’t the only poorly named piece of legislation under debate in New York. The City Council recently held hearings on a terrible government mandate called the “living wage” bill. The bill would force private companies working on government-subsidized construction projects to pay employees $10 per hour plus health benefits, or $11.50 without benefits. The minimum wage currently is $7.25.

The “living wage” bill would be, in fact, a job-destruction bill. Contractors will take their business elsewhere—that’s not simply a theory. A $300 million project in the Bronx stalled when Related Companies backed out of a development deal rather than submit to pressure to pay “living” wages.

All eyes are on Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has the power to kill the bill or to put it to a vote. Whether one legislative leader should have that kind of power—they all do—certainly is open to question. But for better or worse, the speaker does, in fact, have that kind of influence. The fate of this job-killer is in her hands.

Ms. Quinn is going to run for mayor in 2013. She has been campaigning for the position for years. Her fellow Democrats and their allies in the union movement expect her to support the bill or at least to bring it to a vote. If she does, she no doubt will please an important constituency.

But leadership—citywide leadership—is not about pleasing a single constituency. It is about doing right for the city as a whole. If Ms. Quinn cannot see her way to killing this awful bill, this page would have a hard time taking her mayoral ambitions seriously.

How could we? The evidence is clear: government-mandated “living wage” provisions lead to unfinished and unrealized projects, which means that they destroy jobs. It is truly a lose-lose proposition for New York.

Ms. Quinn is on the fence. She cannot stay there for long. Serious people are watching, and they will make judgments about her decision. The right one may make her mayor. The wrong one would finish her, and rightly so.