State considers own action on minimum wage

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New York's Democratic state legislators applauded President Barack Obama's call for raising the federal minimum wage but, skeptical that Congress will act, said on Wednesday they will push ahead with their own wage-hike proposal.

But State Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said New York should wait to see what Congress does.

Obama proposed in his State of the Union speech raising the federal minimum from its current $7.25 an hour to $9 by 2015 and tying the wage to inflation. an idea top Republicans in Congress rejected as a job-killer.

"If recent history is any guide, we cannot depend on Congress to build consensus around important economic decisions," New York Senate co-leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) said Wednesday. "That's why we need to seize the moment here in New York to provide our state's working families with a sensible raise that they so desperately need."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, also a Democrat, welcomed a higher federal minimum wage, saying it would take away any competitive disadvantage for states that raise the wage floor.

"I think you go down both tracks simultaneously," Cuomo said Wednesday. "Let's hope that they pass it on federal side and let's proceed on the state side."

Momentum has grown for raising the minimum wage in New York after Senate Republicans indicated they would be open to the idea.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) proposed raising the rate from $7.25 an hour to $8.25 and indexing future increases to inflation.

Cuomo has proposed $8.75, but wouldn't tie future increases to inflation -- which could ease Republican resistance.

Skelos spokesman Scott Reif said that since New York's minimum wage is tied to the federal minimum wage, Skelos "agrees with the governor that it should be set at the federal level.

"In light of President Obama's proposal and our intention to keep New York businesses from being put at a competitive disadvantage, it may be best to wait and see what the federal government does before the state acts," Reif said. Skelos has said he's softened his opposition to a minimum wage hike from last year as the economy has improved.

Since the last increase in the federal minimum wage on July 24, 2009, the cost of living has risen by about 7 percent, federal records show.

A full-time worker making the minimum wage earns about $14,500 a year. About 15 million people -- 60 percent of them women -- would directly benefit from a minimum wage hike, the White House said.

Obama's proposal met resistance from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Wednesday.

"When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it," Boehner said. "Why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?"

Sen. Charles Schumer, the U.S. Senate's third-ranking Democrat, called Obama's proposal, "the right thing to do. When someone works 40 hours a week, they should not be below the poverty level."

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