Spin Cycle

News, views and commentary on Long Island, state and national politics.

ALBANY _ The fight over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour turned this week to the question of who would benefit from the higher rate — and how much they need it.

James Parrott of the labor-backed Fiscal Policy Institute said Tuesday that the nonpartisan, labor-backed think tank called the Economic Policy Institute has found most “low-wage earners” now making less than $15 an hour are working full-time and struggling. The Washington-based organization also found that 34 percent of children in New York would have a parent who would benefit from the higher minimum wage.

That would support the study released this week by the University of California at Berkeley. It found taxpayers are providing billions of dollars a year in social services to “low wage workers” who and some of it could be saved if the minimum wage was raised to $15. The current minimum wage is $9 an hour.

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But E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for Public Policy the studies promoted by advocates for the $15 minimum wage misleadingly lump all people making less than $15 an hour into a category of “low-wage earners.” McMahon said a majority of New Yorkers who make more than the current $9 minimum wage and the proposed $15 are working part-time to augment their household income or are students.

“Most of those earning between $9 and $15 an hour aren’t poor, have not been poor and never will be poor,” McMahon said.

The state, however, has no undisputed figure on who makes up the group of workers who would see their wages rise from $9 to $15 an hour.

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“The plan proposed by the governor is essentially a $500 million tax increase on agriculture,” Farm Bureau President Dean Norton said this week in state budget hearings. “We’re not opposed to our people being paid well, the average agricultural wage is already over $12 an hour, and if you factor in the benefits we’re already well above the minimum wage.”

Until now, much of the debate over Cuomo’s proposal focused on whether employers could afford to pay a $15 minimum, even when spread over several years. The University of California report showing a potential savings to taxpayers is now being used in an effort by advocates for Cuomo’s proposal to win support in the Republican-led Senate which has been resisted minimum wage increases as “job killers.”