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Minimum Wage Hike Supporters In New York See Opportunity

Office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

  Advocates of raising the minimum wage see hope in recent statements by the leader of the State Senate, and hope a deal can be struck by the end of the year.

Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos, whose party will control the Senate in January, says while he thinks the state’s gradual increase of the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour next year is good enough, he’s willing to at least discuss raising it even higher. Senator Skelos, after meeting with the Republican members, says he also wants a pay raise for Senators.

“I did mention that that was one of the issues that was out there,” Skelos said.

Advocates of increasing the minimum age to at least $10.10 an hour say there’s hope that a deal can be struck between the Senate, and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said during the election campaign he’d push for a minimum wage hike.

Karen Scharff, with Citizen Action, says her group will be “pushing very hard” to see an increase in the minimum wage. She says she can understand why the legislature would want a raise after 15 years, and supports their efforts, but she says the poorest New Yorkers need one even more urgently.  

“Minimum wage workers can’t afford to put food on table,” Scharff said. “There’s really no excuse for the Senate Republicans to keep blocking a raise in the minimum wage.”

Scharff says a hike in the minimum wage should also be indexed to inflation, so that it would rise as the cost of living increases. And she urges lawmakers to adopt a proposal by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to allow localities to set their own minimum wage at a higher rate. She points out that downstate legislators are the most vocal advocates for a pay hike, saying the $79,500 a year base pay doesn’t go very far when the cost of living is so high.

“If we go to $10.10 an hour statewide indexed to inflation, New York City and other areas are going to need to raise it higher,” Scharff said. “That package needs to be done together.”

Senator Skelos says he would not support indexing increases in the minimum wage to inflation, or permit municipalities to set their own minimum wage. Mayor de Blasio worked in the fall campaigns to try to oust the Republicans from power, and reinstate the Democrats instead. Senator Skelos, still smarting from that political  assault,  may be less inclined to give de Blasio items that he’s seeking. Skelos criticized the mayor’s involvement in the races.

“I don’t believe the mayor interjected himself appropriately with his staff and fundraising in so many of our races,” Skelos said. “I think it was inappropriate.”

Assembly Democrats already support the minimum wage increase. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was at the Capitol to speak to newly elected Assemblymembers. He says he backs raising the minimum wage even higher.

“I’ve been the advocate for it,” Silver said. “I have the bills for it.”

Silver, who represents lower Manhattan,  has long supported a pay raise for lawmakers.

The Speaker says it’s too early to tell yet whether lawmakers will be back for a December session.

State lawmakers need to approve any bills to increase their  pay by the end of the calendar year. Under the state constitution, legislators cannot approve a salary increase for the present term in office. They can only OK it for the next term, which begins in early January.

Groups who want the minimum wage hike, as well as other issues approved,  see the next few weeks as a window of opportunity.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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