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Know Your Rights
Source: Times Ledger
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Boro lawmakers want $9/hr

Queens lawmakers are pushing for a state minimum wage increase, but not all are thrilled with a tax extension on top-earners as budget negotiations in Albany enter their  final stages.

As part of this year’s budget, many Democrats from the borough have been advocating for a minimum wage hike to $9 an hour.

The minimum wage hike has been a priority for state Democrats, and the Assembly led by Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) passed legislation earlier this month, though it was not carried by the Senate.

Instead lawmakers expect that it will be included in the budget.

The final document had not been hammered out as of press time Wednesday, but lawmakers expect that it will be within days — weeks before the April 1 deadline.

The deal floating around the halls of Albany is that the minimum wage would be phased in over a three-year period, with the rate rising to $8 an hour in 2014 from the current level of $7.25, then $8.75 at the beginning of 2015 and $9 by the end of that year.

A $9-an-hour minimum wage bill was passed by the state Assembly earlier this month, but that version pegged the wage to the federal rate of inflation.

According to one of the bill’s sponsors, Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside), that provision probably will not be included, but negotiations were still continuing as he spoke.

“I’m disappointed. I would have liked it pegged to inflation so we wouldn’t have to come back and do this every couple of years,” he said of the likely compromise. “But the way things work in negotiations is that you take what you can get now and then revisit it.”

Senate Republicans, however, opposed pegging the minimum wage to inflation, contending it would create uncertainty for small business owners, according to Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif. Business owners would not be able to predict the ups and downs of the inflation rate, and therefore would have trouble budgeting their future expenses.

On the other hand, the Republican Party touted a $700 million package of business and family tax relief, which will probably be included.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) is chairman of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, and while he agreed with other borough Democrats that the minimum wage needed to rise — the extra cash in the pockets of middle-class and low-wage earners would pump up local economies — he was not wild about other provisions in the budget that may call for continuation  of a high-bracket income tax extended in 2011 known as the millionaire’s tax.

The tax, which affects individuals making more than $1 million or couples making more than $2 million annually, does not expire until 2014, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo is looking to extend it now so the debate does not occur in an election year, The New York Times reported.

“I’m not happy about it,” Smith said. “But when you look at something for the greater good, obviously the greater good here is the middle class of the state of New York.”

Smith said he promotes lower taxes whenever possible, but in this situation extending the top-bracket tax would allow state income taxes to remain stable for the middle class.

A group of activist organizations, including Make the Road New York, held a sit-in at Smith’s office Wednesday afternoon to protest the exclusion of the minimum wage inflation peg.

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