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Dems try to keep minimum wage hike on front burner

Members of the Senate Democratic Conference praised Sen. Adriano Espaillat, to the left of the podium, for legislation supporting a minimum wage increase this session. Democratic Conference leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, at podium, said it is time the state’s low-wage workers had a chance at achieving the American Dream. Democrats say they are optimistic the measure to raise the minimum wage will pass the Senate. Photo by Tanique Williams.
March 04, 2013
Despite opposition from business leaders who say increasing the minimum wage is bad for the economy and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's suggestion that the issue can wait until later in the legislative session, after budget negotiations are over, Democrats are still pressing the issue with urgency.

The governor's willingness to put minimum wage talks on the backburner for later in the session may have been a direct result of President Obama's proposed federally mandated increase to $9 per hour with indexing for inflation during his State of the Union address. The president's proposal includes annual increases so that wages keep up with the rising cost of living.

New York complies with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Cuomo proposed a 20 percent wage increase to $8.75 per hour during his State of the State address, but did not include indexing for inflation.

The measure would give pay raises to nearly $1.6 million low-wage workers and inject more than $1 billion in consumer spending back into the economy, according to a Fiscal Policy Institute and National Employment Law Project study.

"New York's minimum wage is decades out of date at this point, and our state has suffered for it," said Deputy Director and Chief Economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute James Parrott.

He said an increase in wages would help low-wage workers recover some of the purchasing power the wage has lost over the past four decades as the cost of living has steadily increased.

The war on the state's wage of $7.25 per hour has been long fought. Last year Assemblyman Keith Wright, D-Manhattan, introduced a bill (A.9148) to raise the wage to $8.50 per hour with indexing. Sen. Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, carried it in the Senate.

"Raising New York's minimum wage is something I've been advocating for since last year," Klein said. "We need to do this not only to increase the quality of life for low wage workers and families, but to boost New York State's economy. As our reports have shown, raising the minimum wage can create more than 5,000 new jobs and increase statewide spending by more than $600 million."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver amended Wright's bill to conform to the Obama's proposal. The president's proposal seems to have set the stage for what the state's minimum wage should be because now there's an outpour of support for $9 per hour.

"I was pleased to see President Obama come out in support of raising the federal minimum wage. I hope that congress acts on his proposal. But we can't afford to wait on this congress to make bold economic decisions," Klein said.

"We should definitely raise the minimum wage this year and I'm confident that we will," he added.

The Senate Democratic Conference called for immediate action to raise New York state minimum wage during a press conference at the Capitol on Feb. 27, noting that with the support of all 27 Democratic Conference senators and support of multiple other senators, the measure would pass the Senate and should be brought to the floor immediately.

Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said:,"The time has come to raise the state's minimum wage and help break the cycle of poverty faced by over 1.1 million hard working New Yorkers which blocks them from achieving the American Dream."

Sen. Adriano Espaillat, D-Manhattan, said not only raising the minimum wage, but indexing it to inflation, would assist struggling New Yorkers and keep the minimum wage's purchasing power from eroding over time.

"The increase won't just help minimum wage earners," he said, "it will serve as a powerful economic stimulus and boost local businesses in our communities."

The New York Assembly/Senate Puerto-Rican and Hispanic Tax Force held a press conference on Feb. 28, speaking on behalf of more than 411,000 Hispanic low-paid workers. They project that an increase to $9 per hour with added indexing would benefit 1.7 million people and support the creation of 10,200 full-time jobs.

However, some business leaders say increasing the minimum wage would hurt Main Street businesses already struggling from rising costs, and employers would have to either lay off workers or increase the cost of their products in order to afford salary increases.

"Small businesses are treading water, unable to grow in current economic conditions," said Jim Calvin, president of New York Association of Convenience Stores."Without sales growth, you can't increase wages. If the state says you must pay your employees more regardless, then your only choices are fewer employees or higher prices, either of which hurts the economy."

Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, chair of the New York Assembly/Senate Puerto-Rican and Hispanic Tax Force, said he is encouraging Senate Republicans to "get their self together" and to think about the people they represent and the people who got them into office.

"We need to do the right thing, and the time is now," he said.

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