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New Senate Deputy Leader Says Further Minimum Wage Hike A Tough Sell In The Senate

Bart Everson/Flickr

  Governor Andrew Cuomo says he’ll try to get the state legislature to broaden an increase in the state’s minimum wage beyond fast food workers, but the newly appointed Deputy Majority Leader of the State Senate is throwing some cold water on that plan.

Cuomo, who used his executive powers through a wage board to phase in a $15 an hour rate for fast food workers, says next he wants to try to get a similar increase through the state legislature next year. Earlier, he spoke about his desire to increase the minimum wage for all workers.

“It is just not possible to live on the current minimum wage, especially in high cost areas of the state,” Cuomo said. “So I’m going to keep pushing.”

But the newly appointed Deputy Senate Majority Leader, John DeFrancisco, says Cuomo should expect to find resistance from Senate Republicans. He says GOP Senators are willing to talk, but he points out that the state is still phasing in a previous increase in the minimum wage, that will bring it to $9 an hour by the last day of 2015.  DeFrancisco says Cuomo is responding to pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic party.

“It’s not that we’ve neglected this concept,” DeFrancisco said. “It’s just that people on the left of politics believe it has to be escalated.”

DeFrancisco is highly critical of the governor’s use of a wage board to increase pay for one industry. He says the  board’s decision on July 22nd came to a predictable result. The governor, who said repeatedly that he wanted to see the minimum wage increased, appointed all three members of the wage board. 

“The system as its operating right now is absolutely horrific,” the Senator said.

He says the wage board has been used as a wedge to get the minimum wage increased for other workers. Many republicans and business groups are against sharp increases in the state’s minimum wage, saying it will result in lay offs and might put some force some small businesses to close.

DeFrancisco replaces Senator Tom Libous, who is also from upstate and represented the Binghamton area. Libous had to resign both as Deputy Majority Leader and from his Senate seat after a felony conviction late last month for lying to the FBI about getting his son a politically connected job.

The Senate Majority Leader, John Flanagan, is from Long Island, another center of GOP power in New York. Flanagan replaced the former Majority Leader Dean Skelos last spring, after Skelos was arrested on corruption charges.

DeFrancisco, from Syracuse, is known for being plainspoken, and he has not held back in his critiques of Governor Cuomo and his policies.

But the Senator says he also gets along with the governor. He says Cuomo recently asked him to head up a group to design Central New York’s proposal for an economic development contest, where three winning regions will split one and a half billion dollars. At the time the idea was proposed, DeFrancisco said he thought what some had called a Hunger Games approach to upstate development wasn’t right.

“I say what’s on my mind,” DeFrancisco said.  “I agree with him when I agree with him, and I disagree when I disagree.”

The new Senate Deputy Majority Leader now finds himself on the opposite side from Cuomo in the race to replace former Senator Libous. The Governor, who has been reticent in some past Senate races, is strongly supporting the Democratic candidate, his former Motor Vehicles Commissioner, Barbara Fiala. DeFrancisco says he plans to personally help Republican candidate Fred Akshar win. 

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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