NY Minimum Wage Bill Stalls in State Senate

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The New York State Assembly on Tuesday approved a measure to increase New York’s minimum wage, but the measure is facing resistance in the State Senate.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver added yet another reason to his long list of reasons he thinks the state’s minimum wage is too low and needs to be increased. He says we are in the midst of a “jobless recovery,” with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing at a record high on Tuesday at 14,253.

“Corporate profits are as high or higher than they’ve ever been,” said Silver. He said at the same time, economic growth is weak and unemployment is high.

“Not because workers are enjoying big wage increases,” he said. “They are not.”  

Speaker Silver was the first to call for an increase in the state’s minimum wage more than a year ago. He has raised the amount, after President Obama proposed a $9 an hour minimum wage hike in his State of the Union speech in February.

As part of his budget proposal, Governor Cuomo has recommended raising the minimum wage to $8.75. But there is some doubt that it will remain in the final budget agreement.

Speaker Silver says that’s all right with him, as long as the measure passes by the end of the legislative session, so the higher wages can begin next January.

“The important thing is that it gets done,” said Silver.

The Speaker said the minimum wage bill could get a vote before the budget does later in March, if the Senate is amenable.

“We should send it over today, and tomorrow the Senate should take it up,” Silver said.

But Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos continues to express reservations about the raising the minimum wage.

He has said repeatedly that he’s concerned it would result in job losses, and be an undue hardship for struggling small businesses. Speaking at a presentation to give tax breaks to the middle class earlier this week, Skelos said raising the minimum age would likely result in many teenagers losing their part time jobs.  

“The last time there was a minimum wage increase by the legislature, 20% of the young people in the state actually lost their jobs,” Skelos said. “Many of those individuals in minority communities throughout the state.”

Senator Skelos said lawmakers should consider a lower wage for teens and farm workers. And he says the minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour, was last adjusted in 2009. He says if it were to be increased solely on the basis of inflation, it would still be under $8 an hour.

And he called the escalating proposed increases a “bidding war” between Assembly Democrats, Governor Cuomo, and President Obama.

“It just seems to be ‘how high can you go?’ with them,” Skelos said.

The Senate GOP majority co-leads the Senate with five breakaway Democrats, known as the Independent Democratic Conference. The leader of the IDC faction, Senator Jeff Klein, has been a champion of raising the minimum wage.

Under the Senate’s power sharing agreement, Senator Klein must decide jointly with Senator Skelos which bills come to the floor. Senator Klein says he thinks a minimum wage hike should be part of the state budget.

“It’s not a job killer. It’s a job creator,” Klein said.

Governor Cuomo, who hopes to wrap up budget talks in order to complete the spending plan by March 21, says he is not ready yet to take anything out of the budget.

“There’s nothing in the budget and there’s nothing out of the budget,” Cuomo said. “We don’t have a budget.”

There’s been speculation that Senate Republicans might be willing to trade an agreement on raising the minimum wage in exchange for their plan to provide some middle class tax breaks, which they say would cost $2 billion. Speaker Silver panned the idea, saying the state enacted a middle class tax break last year and does not have the money for any more right now.