Waging Wage War
ICYMI: From today’s morning memo:
Thanks to President Obama, New York’s fight over raising the minimum wage just became a whole lot more complicated.
During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, the president proposed hiking the federal hourly wage form $7.25 to $9 an hour by 2015, which just so happens to be 25 cents higher than what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed.
(For the record: It’s also 50 cents LESS than candidate Obama proposed back in 2008).
Adding insult to injury, Obama also called in his speech for indexing the minimum wage to inflation, which would trigger automatic future increases and take this controversial political football out of play indefinitely.
Indexing is something New York Democrats have been pushing very hard. But, much to their chagrin, it was not included in the minimum wage proposal Cuomo inserted into his 2013-14 spending plan.
Not surprisingly, players on both sides of the New York debate rushed to capitalize on Obama’s proposal.
Senate Republicans, who have been dragging their feet on this issue in hopes that something – anything – might come along to halt what seemed to be the inevitable wage hike here in New York, immediately recognized the political cover the Democratic president’s plan might provide them.
“Since New York’s minimum wage is tied to the federal minimum wage, Sen. Skelos agrees with the governor that it should be set at the federal level,” said Scott Reif, spokesman for Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos.
“In light of President Obama’s proposal and our intention to keep New York businesses from being put at a competitive disadvantage, it may be best to wait and see what the federal government does before the state acts.”
Democrats in the Senate and Assembly also cheered Obama’s plan, recognizing the potential for increasing the pressure on Cuomo to reconsider indexing.
A number of Democratic legislators have already been agitating for boosting New York’s minimum wage even higher than the $8.75 the governor has proposed, reasoning that all those years without indexing has resulted in a significant gap between what entry level workers are actually getting paid and an honest-to-goodness “living” wage.
Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Kevin Parker, for example, has introduced a bill that would bump New York’s hourly wage to $11.19 by 2014 and also index it to inflation. That would make New York’s minimum wage the highest in the country. (Currently, Washington State pays the most: $9.15 an hour).
Yesterday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who first got the minimum wage ball rolling last year when he surprised the governor by using his pre-State of the State time to call for an increase (to $8.50 an hour), upped the ante still further.
Silver announced he had introduced an amendment to his chamber’s minimum wage bill to make it match Obama’s proposal – $9 an hour, plus indexing.
Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is on board, too, which is worth mentioning, given the recent history on this issue.
The last time the New York Legislature boosted its minimum wage was 2004. The Senate, then fully under GOP control, had to override a veto by then-GOP Gov. George Pataki (who said he would prefer to see action at the federal level) in order to increase the hourly pay to $7.15 by 2007.
The move was widely seen as a thank-you to the Working Families Party for endorsing then-GOP Sen. Nick Spano, of Westchester County, who in danger of losing his seat. Spano, a moderate, chaired the Labor Committee and led the charge for increasing the minimum wage.
Spano ended up defeating his Democratic challenger by just 18 votes in 2004, with the margin of victory provided on the WFP line. And who was his Democratic challenger that year? A certain Westchester County Legislator named Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Two years later, Stewart-Cousins challenged Spano again. The WFP sat out the election, refusing to take sides. Stewart-Cousins won, and Spano’s now doing time on a federal tax evasion charge.
The Senate Republicans refused to budge on minimum wage last year, despite the fact that it is wildly popular in public opinion polls. They ended up losing the majority, numerically speaking, and have only managed to retain control thanks to a side-switching Democrat (Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder) and a power-sharing deal with the IDC.
The IDC, by the way, is pushing very hard for the minimum wage increase this year.
So, where does Cuomo stand in all this? Following Obama’s State of the Union address, the governor, (who, by the way, didn’t exactly go out of his way to assist Obama in his re-election campaign last year), released a statement commending the president for his minimum wage proposal “in recognition that the current rate is not enough to earn a living.”
“Well, I hope the federal government does it,” Cuomo said Wednesday in Queens. “If the federal government did do it, you could argue that it’s less urgent for the state to do it. But I think we go down both tracks simultaneously.”
Does that offer some wiggle room for the Senate Republicans? Maybe.
In the meantime, business groups that were resigned to the idea of fighting over a slow phase in of a minimum wage increase and trying to block indexing, are not at all thrilled by these recent developments.
Unshackle Upstate Executive Director Brian Sampson issued the following statement in response to Silver’s proposal:
“By increasing the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour and indexing it to inflation, employment opportunities will vanish, jobs will be lost and businesses will suffer. Consumers will also pay the price for this ill-advised proposal as the cost of goods will increase.”
|Print article||This entry was posted by Liz Benjamin on February 15, 2013 at 11:43 am, and is filed under Andrew Cuomo, Assembly, Barack Obama, Democrats, IDC, Republicans, Sheldon Silver, State Senate. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|