New York's assembly has voted to increase the state's minimum wage to $9 an hour. But state senators might not follow suit. Melissa Russo reports.
The state Assembly voted Tuesday to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour with automatic increases tied to inflation, putting pressure on Senate's Republicans who are seeking business tax cuts in a potential legislative deal.
The Assembly passed its version of the measure 101-44, led by the Democratic majority. But closed-door negotiations are under way involving Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate majority leaders.
Senate Republicans this week proposed a series of tax breaks for employers that would total $2 billion in cuts in the state budget now being negotiated. In Albany, such related proposals are often the basis of a compromise deal.
The minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour, which is the federal minimum shared by 20 states, including neighboring New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Twelve states have a higher minimum wage than New York.
Among the proposals being floated by legislative leaders is raising the wage to $8.50, then $8.75, then $9 over two or three years, legislative officials said.
Cuomo had proposed an $8.75 wage but said he's open to negotiation. The Senate's Independent Democratic Conference, which shares control of the chamber with Republicans, has proposed an $8.50 wage with automatic inflation increases. Senate Republicans aren't supporting any increase so far.
"The Senate has to get off the dime — 17 dimes and one nickel to be exact," said the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Keith Wright, a Manhattan Democrat. "This is a matter of fairness, a matter of equity."
He said raising the minimum wage will revitalize New York's slow and uneven economic recovery.
Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Long Island said his conference remains concerned that raising the minimum wage will force layoffs and hamper New York's slow economic recovery. He said 83 percent of minimum wage workers are teenagers or adults earning a second income, not heads of households.
"Is it going to be counterproductive to job creation?" Skelos said. "That's our concern."
He's seeking a series of tax breaks for employers, part of a package of $2 billion in tax cuts he is trying to negotiate in the 2013-14 state budget.
Assembly Democrats, however, argued that raising the minimum wage will boost the whole economy.
"I bet you dollars to doughnuts they will be spending the money in your local business ... history bears it out," Wright said.
Republicans were unconvinced. They cited studies that showed raising the minimum wage would eliminate jobs, which would be especially damaging after a recession in a state with some of the nation's highest business and personal taxes.
"The only way to decrease the unemployment rate is to increase the number of jobs," said Republican Assemblyman Andy Goodell of Chautauqua County. "Raising the cost of doing business in New York state will result in losing jobs in New York state."
Long Island Assemblyman Joseph Saladino said the timing is wrong because businesses are trying to recover from Superstorm Sandy. The hardest hit are just trying to survive.
"We should be making the economy of New York prosper," he said.
Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a New York City Democrat, said the current wage is unlivable and too little to pay a family's food bill, let alone medical and education expenses.
Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Cahill of Kingston countered said employer interests needed to be balanced with family interests.
"This is a statement of humanity ... of how low we will let people sell their labor for," Cahill said.