Minimum wage hike falls short for most Democrats


State leaders reached a budget agreement on March 21 that will raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour by the end of 2015, give tax cuts to small businesses and, beginning in 2014, will put a $350 rebate check into the pockets of families with at least one child and a household income of between $40,000 and $300,000.

The four men who hammered out the deal — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, co-majority leaders state Sen. Jeff Klein and Dean Skelos and Speaker Sheldon Silver — cheered the $136.5 billion budget. Though it looks like a done deal, it’s not official yet. Only four of the 10 budget bills had passed the Senate as of press time and the Assembly planned to start voting on the series of bills Thursday.

Mr. Klein called it “the most middle class friendly budget in a generation.” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement that two years ago the state government was a “joke of late night television,” but is now responsible for “creating hundreds of thousands of private sector jobs, opening the doors to new small businesses, cutting taxes for middle class families to their lowest rates in 60 years, and making education investments and reforms like never before.”

But many Senate Democrats are less than enthused about the budget because the minimum wage will not raise to $9 per hour until the end of 2015 and the increase is not tied to inflation. The deal will increase the minimum wage from its current $7.25 to $8 by the end of this year, $8.75 by the end of 2014 and $9 by the end of 2015.

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who represents about half of Kingsbridge and much of Kingsbridge Heights, said the agreement reached last week is “more than a little bit disappointing” because the minimum wage does not reach $9 per hour until 2015.

Mr. Rivera said that if the more progressive minimum wage bill that passed the Assembly were brought before the Senate it would have had enough votes to pass, and blamed the Independent Democratic Conference for not getting it there.

The Assembly bill would immediately raise the rate to $9 per hour and tie it to inflation.

“I think a Republican-led coalition leads to compromises which don’t need to be made,” Mr. Rivera said.

Mr. Klein said in a statement that the IDC followed through on its promise to raise the minimum wage.

“When we formed the bipartisan coalition last December, we promised low-wage workers that we would pass amajor increase to the minimum wage. Today, we’re delivering on that promise and raising the minimum wage even higher than anyone thought possible just three short months ago,” he said in a statement.

Senate Democrats have asked Mr. Cuomo to take the minimum wage increase out of the budget so that it can be battled out in the Senate.

Some left-leaning members of the Assembly and Senate were also peeved with Mr. Cuomo for not including a state DREAM Fund in the budget. The DREAM Fund would allow undocumented immigrants who graduated from high school to receive assistance for college. As a result of the immigration reform being left out of the budget, many Hispanic legislators boycotted a reception March 22 for the Somos legislative conference at the governor’s mansion. Mr. Rivera said he attended and used it as an opportunity to convey his concerns to Mr. Cuomo about the minimum wage not being tied to inflation.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz did not put out statements on the budget agreement and did not respond to a request for an interview.