ALBANY — If a minimum wage increase has the support of a majority of state legislators and the declared support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, what’s holding it up?
While a power-sharing agreement has kept them from power, mainstream Democrats in the state Senate say they have 27 votes for an increase along the lines Barack Obama outlined in his State of the Union address. Coupled with the five members of the Independent Democratic Conference, who also support a minimum wage hike with indexing, and Democrats that dominate the Assembly, it appears an increase could pass despite objections of Republican leaders in the Senate.
But because Republicans in concert with IDC leader Jeff Klein control the bills that come to the floor, the wage hike is languishing even with the declared support of a majority of senators.
“Because there are three conferences, it’s important for everyone to know where mine is. And we’re ready. We expect the majority partnership to be one that’s productive for the people of the state of New York,” Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told the Times Union. She’ll be sending a letter saying as much to Cuomo and other legislative leaders this week.
Eric Soufer, a spokesman for the IDC, declined to comment for this story. At a news conference earlier this month, Klein and other members pushed for an immediate increase in the minimum wage, which they said would stimulate economic activity and help small businesses.
Republican Leader Dean Skelos, though, has said an increase could prevent small businesses from hiring more workers, and that New York could wait for Obama’s proposal — for a $9 minimum wage that automatically rises with inflation — to be considered. New York’s current minimum wage is $7.25, and Cuomo proposed an $8.75 hourly rate, without indexing, in his budget legislation.
Skelos “has said he is not supportive of the specific proposal the governor put forward in the budget,” spokesman Scott Reif said Sunday.
Cuomo has said Obama’s proposal “complicates” his own efforts in New York, in part because Republicans are using it as a reason to stall. He has not embraced indexing, but reacted favorably to Obama’s announcement.
Progressives are hoping Klein will be able to push. Leaders from several labor unions, including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, will meet with Klein at his Bronx office on Monday to discuss strategy, according to Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York.
“We’re optimistic it’s going to be a productive meeting,” she said. “From the beginning of the campaign a few years ago, he’s been a champion for raising the minimum wage.”
The governor and legislative leaders have said they are negotiating, privately, over the parameters of a wage hike. Skelos and other Republicans have suggested they can be brought on board if the existing proposal is coupled with tax credits for small businesses or a slower phase in of the increase.
But Michael Kink, leader of a coalition of labor and progressive groups wonders why an “unalloyed” bill can’t be moved immediately, and Stewart-Cousins said she would welcome a bill before the March 31 budget deadline.
“This is a clear test of the agreement between the IDC and the Republicans,” said Kink. “Senator Klein has spoken repeatedly on delivering a progressive agenda, and this is a very clear example of something that can and should get done.”