William F. B. O'Reilly Portrait of Newsday/amNY columnist Bill O'Reilly (March 28,

William F. B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.

Anyone who watches New York politics knows that the whole ball of wax is the New York State Senate.

The Senate is the last bastion of Republican control in the state, and most Democrats want to take it over. I say most because Gov. Andrew Cuomo has long been accused of conspiring with Senate Republicans to help them maintain control.

Cuomo deeply undercut that argument Thursday when he proposed a $15 minimum wage in New York, nearly twice the $8.75 it is now. Not only is he making peace with the dominant progressive wing of his party, Cuomo is putting the GOP Senate in a tight box. If Republicans maintain their opposition to a higher minimum wage, it could cost them their slim 32-29 majority in 2016.

CartoonDavies' latest cartoon: At the employment officeCommentSubmit your letterReader essaysGet published in Newsday

A minimum-wage increase is the best rhetorical weapon Democrats have. It polls well statewide, with more than 60% in favor. Only creeps oppose pay hikes, right?

That's what the Democrats will say, and their words will be effective. Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins practiced that winning rhetoric in a statement after Cuomo's announcement.

"The Senate Democratic conference has been the most vocal advocate of correcting the inadequacies of New York's current minimum wage, and we look forward to this fight," she said. "We have heard promises on progressive legislation in the past, and unfortunately those have always been blocked by the Republican Senate."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The problem with a dramatic minimum-wage increase, according to many economists, is that it hurts both businesses and the working poor. Work hours are cut, fewer people are hired, and businesses automate to save money. McDonald's is automating its counter operations to cut costs in high minimum- wage states, for example. Kiosks, it turns out, are cheaper than humans. A $15 minimum wage would arguably hurt young workers, too, as older, higher-skill people compete for their jobs.

Democrats nationwide have laid out the income inequality argument well. The question the parties need to answer convincingly in New York is how best to close that gap.

Cuomo wants to legislate it. Time for Senate Republicans to answer, or die.