ALBANY – After insisting for more than a year that hiking the state’s minimum wage would boost unemployment in New York, State Senate Republicans on Monday signaled a willingness to move the wage levels higher over a three-year period.
The shift in policy was among the thousands of line items added by the Senate and Assembly in nonbinding versions of the budget each passed Monday.
The Senate resolution did not specify how much the current $7.25/hour minimum wage should be increased, but for the first time GOP lawmakers as a group acknowledged in writing that the wage level has not kept up with inflation over the years. While some Democrats dismissed the vagueness of the plan, the state’s top Democrat praised the move.
“It’s a sign of progress,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said of the Senate position. Cuomo, Assembly Democrats and Senate Democrats all have floated different plans for raising the wage.
The two senators who had to agree to the provision – Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein – had different spins on the provision within five minutes in appearances before reporters following a closed-door budget negotiating session with Cuomo.
“I said we would consider it,” said Skelos, a Long Island Republican, adding that a number of other steps, including enactment of business tax breaks, would have to happen at the same time and that he still believes a minimum-wage hike will raise unemployment levels, especially among younger workers.
But Klein, a Bronx Democrat, said “absolutely” when asked if the minimum-wage hike will be in the final budget deal. “The language is very clear,” Klein said.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who has pushed the wage hike idea, said the issue didn’t even come up in talks and he couldn’t understand the vague plan put forth by the Senate. “The fact is, there’s no substance to it ... so we really have no clue as to what they did,” he said.
The minimum wage was one of a number of issues emerging Monday as both houses passed their own fiscal resolutions that gave a bow to various groups that have been asking for more state spending.
In the Assembly, Democrats pushed through a plan that does everything from sharply hike aid to public schools and cities to expand the state’s bottle bill to cover sports and energy drinks and teas, while also providing college financial aid for children of illegal immigrants.
In the Senate, lawmakers passed resolution that does everything from accept Cuomo’s request for more than $50 million in capital costs for the Buffalo Bills stadium renovations to moving the state’s canal system from the Thruway Authority back to the Transportation Department as a way to save $84 million annually and prevent future toll hikes.
“There’s something for everyone in this bill,” chided Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, of the plan crafted by Senate Republicans and five breakaway Democrats who run the Senate.
But the plans also included their own risks. The Senate, for instance, counts on $450 million in new revenue from the settlement of the casino revenue-sharing dispute between the Seneca Nation and the state – an assumption based on the Senate’s belief that the Senecas will lose the fight in arbitration.
The Senate plan also cuts funding Cuomo proposed to implement the state’s new gun-control law, including $32 million for a new pistol-permit database. Klein, though, insisted the Senate wants to expand the database by including gun crimes so people can know who in their communities was convicted of a gun-related crime.
The one-house budget bills are essentially symbolic, though they do give some clues as to what the lawmakers are pushing for behind closed doors in the fiscal talks. But the spending added in the plans is so great – nearly $1 billion alone in the Senate – that it is difficult to determine true priorities.
There are exceptions, though. Both the Senate and Assembly agreed to add $120 million in cuts Cuomo proposed for programs serving developmentally disabled people, and both want to add hundreds of millions in funding for the state’s 700 school districts.
In the resolutions passed Monday, the Senate and Assembly both rejected Cuomo’s plan to create “innovation hot spots” to lure high-tech companies. There were additions for snowmobile trails and marketing money for Christmas tree farmers and more money for historic preservation tax credits for commercial buildings.
Cuomo, though, was unimpressed. “I don’t believe the numbers add up,” he said of the spending added by the two houses. He said he doesn’t object to many of their ideas but said the funding isn’t there. “My experience is they are much better at finding things to add than finding sources of revenue,” Cuomo said.
But Senate Finance Chairman John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican, said the Senate plan spends less than Cuomo’s budget. He said the Senate plan includes $820 million in cuts to programs Cuomo proposed.