Senate co-leaders offer different accounts of minimum wage budget provision

Mar 12, 2013

The New York State Senate has included raising the state’s minimum wage in its one-house budget resolution. But that’s not necessarily a signal that a wage increase is moving forward in the state spending plan.

Senate Republicans and a group of breakaway Democrats who lead the Senate have included an increase in the state’s minimum wage in their one-house version of the state budget.

But Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos says he still has some reservations about a provision he has in the past labeled a “job killer.” And he says any minimum wage increase must be part of a larger deal.

“Some have written that I support it. What I said in our budget resolution is that I would consider it,” said Skelos, who says a minimum wage hike would have to be coupled with tax breaks for the middle class for it to get his approval.

The Senate GOP has proposed a package that includes a larger child tax credit and a revival of the STAR [New York State School Tax Relief Program] property tax break rebate checks.

Senate co-leader and head of the Independent Democratic Conference, Sen. Jeff Klein says he views it as a positive sign.

“We need to do it now, we need to do it this year,” said Klein.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought an $8.75 cents an hour minimum wage hike; Assembly Democrats want it increased to $9 an hour. The Senate budget plan does not name a specific dollar amount.  Klein, who initially supported the higher numbers, indicates he’s willing to compromise on a specific amount.

“We clearly have a lot of numbers,” Klein said. “It’s incumbent upon us now to consider what that perfect number is for minimum wage workers around the state.”

The Senate plan would increase the minimum wage over a three-year period, but the first increase would be retroactive to the first day of 2013.  

Klein’s comments were condemned by the rest of the Democrats in the Senate.  Spokesman Mike Murphy said in a statement that “the minimum wage ‘proposal’ in the Republican/IDC budget resolution is not real. It includes no details and by their own admission there seems to be no agreement between the IDC and the GOP on what it actually accomplishes.”

Murphy points out that if the 27-member Senate Democratic Conference joined forces with the five member Independent Democratic Conference on a minimum wage increase, there would be enough votes to pass the measure in the Senate.

Assembly Democrats have already voted on their bill to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. It includes automatic future increases each year, indexed to the cost of living. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver criticized the Senate’s proposal.

“There’s no substance to it,” Silver said. “We really have no clue as to what they did.”

Cuomo says the fact that the Senate agreed to put a minimum wage proposal into their budget at all is a hopeful development.

“That is a sign of progress,” Cuomo said. “Now the problem is that we all have different minimum wage numbers. So that’s what has to be reconciled.”

The governor says if it’s not resolved in time for the budget, it could be dealt with in the three-month long post-budget session.

The Senate co-leaders also disagree about another provision in the Senate budget resolution. It appears to eliminate funding for the state police to carry out provisions of the new gun control law approved by the governor and the legislature in January. Senate GOP Leader Skelos portrayed it as a reduction.  

“You put money in, you take money out,” Skelos said. “The governor has his priorities, we have ours.”

Fellow Senate Co-Leader Klein says it’s not a cut, but admits the provision has been “modified.”

“What the Senate coalition wants to do is expand the data base,” Klein said. “We want to take it one step further.”   Klein says it would also include public records of everyone convicted of a gun related crime.

Cuomo says he won’t accept any budget changes that do not fully fund provisions of the law, including the money for the New York State Police to enforce an assault weapons ban and new gun registrations.  

“That is not something that I would entertain,” Cuomo said.

The governor and lawmakers have just a few more days to resolve their differences over the spending plan, if they hope to meet their self-imposed deadline to have the budget in place before the Passover and Easter holidays.