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Minimum wage

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has signaled that he might back off his call to increase the state’s minimum wage now that President Obama has proposed doing it on the national level.

The governor’s budget proposal included raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, which matches the federal minimum wage, to $8.75. However, his decision has been complicated by President Obama’s call in his State of the Union address for a national minimum wage of $9 an hour, with future automatic hikes linked to inflation.

With that, Gov. Cuomo said, “You could argue that it’s less urgent for the state to do it.” However, he did not rule out state action. “I think you go down both tracks simultaneously ... on the off-chance that it doesn’t get passed” in Washington, he said.

Supporters of a state wage hike argue that waiting for federal action gives state opponents cover to do nothing.

Whether New York hikes its minimum wage might come down to how Gov. Cuomo handles the issue. The budget process gives him the upper hand in the debate. If he leaves language hiking the rate in his budget, opponents, primarily Republican lawmakers, would have to accept the wage increase in approving a budget or vote against the entire budget.

Gov. Cuomo, though, could take the proposed wage hike out of the budget to be considered as separate legislation. Assembly Democrats have introduced legislation meeting President Obama’s $9 an hour proposal.

“We’re at the table now, we understand everybody’s position,” Gov. Cuomo said in an Albany Times-Union report. “We’ll see where we are ... It can be done either in the budget or toward the end of session.”

A spokesman for Sen. Dean Skelos, Republican co-leader of the state Senate, said the senator agrees that the minimum wage should be set at the national level.

Wage-hike advocates cite the increased cost of living since the state minimum wage was set in 2004 that has kept even full-time minimum-wage workers earning below the poverty level while housing, utilities and other costs have risen. However it also raises the cost of doing business in New York.

Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, said a minimum wage increase now “would be a huge step in the wrong direction for businesses. And the only direction they will have to go, the only true expense they can control, will be to reduce their labor costs.”

Studies have shown that raising the minimum wage can hurt those it was intended to help the most, such as young and unskilled workers.

They will have to compete with better skilled, experienced workers with more education attracted to entry-level jobs by the higher starting wage.

Higher labor costs will force some businesses to reduce their labor force, limiting employment opportunities. Employers will also have to decide how to deal with the wage gap between minimum wage earners and long-time employees now at or above a new minimum wage. Should they also be given a raise to maintain the differential?

While there is a sincere desire to maintain a fair wage for the working poor, New York businesses must also be competitive with surrounding states. New York’s minimum wage is on par with New Jersey and Pennsylvania but less than Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Setting a minimum wage is best handled at a national level , where it creates an even playing field that does not disadvantage New York businesses and unemployed looking for work.

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