Fight over minimum wage continues

May 24, 2012

For weeks, there’s been a stalemate in Albany over the issue of raising the state’s minimum wage, with Assembly Democrats backing the idea, Senate Republicans opposing it, and Governor Andrew Cuomo remaining neutral in the middle.

Cuomo says he generally backs the measure, but feels that the GOP can’t be convinced.   

The governor and the leaders appeared together at an event in the governor’s ceremonial offices, and were asked if they were doing anything to resolve the impasse. There was a brief pause.

“Who wants to go first, guys?” Cuomo said, with a laugh.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stepped up to the plate, saying the minimum wage needs to be increased form the current $7.25 to $8.50 an hour.

“It’s an engine for economic growth,” said Silver. “It puts money into the pockets of people who will go out and spend it.”

Senate Leader Dean Skelos, who has said raising the minimum wage would be a “job killer,” declined to hold a public debate. “I appreciate the Speaker’s comments,” was all Skelos said.  

Later in the day, Skelos said flatly that the Senate will not act on a minimum wage increase.

The event was held to announce an overhaul of the horse racing industry, and Cuomo, taking advantage of that, offered his assessment of the bill’s chances.

“I wouldn’t bet on it,”  Cuomo said.

Growing more serious, the governor says he thinks the philosophical differences between the two houses are too great to forge a resolution.

At this time last year, Cuomo was championing a bill to permit same-sex marriage in New York, and he convinced many conservative-leaning senators to place the measure on the Senate floor, where it passed. The governor says this year, the issue of raising the minimum wage is more difficult to advance than gay marriage.

“I believe it’s a political, philosophical divide,” said Cuomo. “Marriage, in some ways was more of a personal judgment for people, on their personal values.”

And Cuomo says he doesn’t believe that the two houses will be able to “bridge that gap” in the remaining time left in the legislative session which is scheduled to end on June 21.

Cuomo and Senate Republican Leader Skelos pride themselves on their ability to get along in a bipartisan manner, and the GOP faces a battle to retain control over the Senate in the fall elections.  Senate Democrats, who need to win at least two seats to take the chamber away from Republicans, have also been pushing for the minimum wage increase.

Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson spoke about it recently.

“These are the issues that the people are really concerned about ,” said Sampson, who calls the current $7.25 minimum wage a “poverty wage.”

The Assembly has already passed the bill. Speaker Silver says even if it does not ultimately come to the floor in the Senate, it can still be a win for Senate Democrats and a potent issue in the November election campaigns.

“I think it’s an absolutely significant issue,” Silver said.

But Silver, speaking after another event at the Capitol,  says despite Cuomo’s doubts about the fate of the minimum wage measure, it’s too early to determine the bill’s fate.

 “He’s a great governor,” said Silver “I’m not sure he’s a  great  prognosticator.”

There’s less than one month remaining in the legislative session, although nothing prevents lawmakers from coming back later in the year, after elections, to negotiate on the minimum wage issue and other items.