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Lawmakers, Cuomo mull $15 minimum wage compromises

March 23, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Top lawmakers are considering several compromises when it comes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to enact a $15 minimum wage, including a slower phase-in of the increase and exemptions for farmers.

Supporters of the Democratic governor’s call for a $15 minimum are pushing back, saying they won’t accept a lesser figure or delayed implementation. Cuomo’s original plan was to gradually raise the wage from $9 to $15 over three years in New York City and over six elsewhere in the state.

Any deal on the minimum wage is likely to be worked out in backroom talks between legislative leaders and the governor ahead of the April 1 budget deadline.

“We can get to a compromise,” said Senate Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island.

Other possible compromises include exempting some businesses or seasonal, teenage workers from the wage mandate and an agreement to temporarily pause the scheduled increases in the event of an economic downturn.

The New York Farm Bureau opposes an exemption for agriculture, saying it could backfire by making it harder for them to find good workers, since many would prefer jobs that pay $15. The better alternative, according to Farm Bureau President Dean Norton, would be no across-the-board increase in the minimum wage at all.

Others opposed to the increase said that acknowledging the negative impact it would have on small businesses or farms shows why a sharp wage jump is a bad idea.

“It’s an admission that a $15 minimum wage is a very real and concerning burden,” said Greg Biryla, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, a coalition that advocates for the upstate economy. He said it’s unlikely that any compromise would be sufficient to prevent the increase from having a damaging effect. “As long as the number is still at $15, it’s unaffordable in upstate New York.”

Supporters of the $15 figure said they will oppose big changes to an increase that they predict will lift millions out of poverty, reduce government assistance and spur the economy by boosting the spending power of low-wage workers.

“The Senate Democratic Conference would have a tough time supporting anything that goes slower or lower than what the governor has publicly proposed,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers.

Finally, in exchange for supporting a wage increase, Senate Republicans could demand the elimination of the governor’s power to appoint a wage board. Cuomo has used wage boards to circumvent the Legislature and raise minimum wages for fast-food workers, restaurant servers and other tipped workers.

The $15 wage is one of Cuomo’s top priorities for the year. Another Cuomo proposal, allowing workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a sick loved one or new child, is expected to be in the budget.

A spokesman for the governor declined to comment on the status of the negotiations on the minimum wage.