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Cuomo: NY should raise minimum wage to $8.75 an hour

Workers demonstrate in Brentwood, urging an increase in

Workers demonstrate in Brentwood, urging an increase in New York’s minimum wage. (April 29, 2012) Photo Credit: Chris Ware

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday called for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $8.75, or 25 cents higher than a proposal that died in the State Senate last year.

Cuomo, in his annual State of the State speech delivered in Albany to lawmakers and others, said the current $7.25-an-hour wage rate "is unlivable" and an increase "is long overdue."

If the governor's proposal were adopted, New York would have the third-highest minimum wage in the country after Washington state and Oregon, according to federal data. Among neighboring states, only Pennsylvania and New Jersey still utilize the $7.25 rate, which is the minimum allowed by federal law.

In the speech, Cuomo outlined plans to turn university research into commercial products and to train workers for jobs that go unfilled. He also wants to spend millions of dollars on affordable housing, solar panel installation, electric-car charging stations and technology start-ups.

However, the governor's minimum wage proposal captured the attention of business executives, union leaders and advocates for immigrant workers.

Last year, Cuomo didn't publicly endorse a wage bill, championed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), until late in the legislative session. That proposal would have hiked the rate to $8.50 per hour on Jan. 1, and then tied future raises to inflation.


'The right thing to do'

On Wednesday, Cuomo said increasing the minimum wage is "the right thing to do. It's the fair thing to do .?.?. We should have done it last year; let's do it this year," he said.

The immigrant-rights group Make the Road New York hailed Cuomo's initiative. Co-executive director Deborah Axt said, "We urge the legislature to work with the governor to support his proposal and to implement automatic cost-of-living adjustments."

Cuomo, in his 78-minute speech and the accompanying 326-page book detailing his policy goals, made no mention of an inflation adjustment. But in the book, he suggested the wage hike would be implemented over several years "affording employers the time they need to prepare."

Citing the fragile economic recovery, groups representing farmers and business owners said now is the wrong time to raise pay. "Any additional cost to businesses will have a negative impact on job creation," said Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association business group.

The LIA opposed last year's minimum wage bill, which wasn't taken up by the then-Republican controlled Senate. However, Law and others noted the Senate is now controlled by a Republican/Democrat coalition, where one of the leaders is Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), a sponsor of the 2012 bill.


Tech start-ups

Business groups were enthusiastic about Cuomo's plan to designate 10 business incubators as "innovation hot spots" where tech start-ups would pay no taxes.

Cuomo also wants a $50 million fund to invest in start-ups and an "Innovation NY Network" to eliminate barriers to commercialization of research. James Simons, the hedge-fund investor and former Stony Brook University professor, would help lead the latter.

"I think Long Island can be a leader in this area," Law said.

Advocates for women lauded Cuomo for tackling pay equity and sexual harassment. Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the governor's proposals "would make major strides in closing loopholes in .?.?. existing protections for women" in the workplace.



Governor's economic agenda


     — Foster pay equity and end sexual harassment in workplaces


     — Designate 10 business incubators run by universities and companies as tax-free zones to promote commercialization of research


     — Establish an "Innovation NY Network" to eliminate barriers to commercialization


     — Create a $50-million investment fund to back tech startups


     — Overhaul workers' compensation and unemployment insurance programs


     — Create a $1-billion fund to invest in clean-technology companies

     — Promote installation of solar panels


     — Reward SUNY community colleges that place workers in jobs after training them



    Source: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's "NY Rising" speech and book

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