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Silver urges hiking minimum wage to $8

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in Albany on Jan.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in Albany on Jan. 5, 2011. Photo Credit: AP

The State Legislature's top Democrat said Thursday he wants to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $8 and to tie future increases to the inflation rate.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he hopes to introduce the legislation by Jan. 31. He estimated more than 1.2 million people, or 14 percent of the workforce across New York, would be affected by boosting the state's minimum wage above the federal rate of $7.25 per hour.

However, Silver also acknowledged his proposal would likely face opposition. Business groups were quick to criticize it, while the State Senate's Republican majority gave no indication of moving away from its customary "no" votes.

New York's minimum wage was last increased in 2009 by 10 cents because of congressional action. A state's rate only prevails if it is higher than the federal rate, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Silver, of Manhattan, said he told Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of the proposal before mentioning it in remarks Wednesday. Silver's comments came immediately before Cuomo's State of the State speech. Silver said he received no indication of support or disapproval.

A Cuomo aide didn't respond to a request for comment.

Silver said there was "no question" that minimum-wage workers -- earning $15,000 a year -- "are hurting in this economy." The nation's capital and 18 states, including Vermont and Connecticut, have higher wage rates.

"I would look realistically to probably set a floor of at least $8 and to index it for the future, so it doesn't become a political football," Silver told Newsday.

Vermont, Florida and eight other states link wage rates to inflation.

The National Federation of Independent Business and the Business Council of New York State both decried Silver's proposal, saying it would make companies uncompetitive and lead to job cuts.

"Passing a law that makes New York the most expensive place in the region to hire new employees would be counterproductive," said the NFIB's Mike Durant, referring to the $7.25-per-hour wage rates of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.

Silver, citing research papers, said raising the minimum wage had not led to pink slips in places where the rate was higher than a neighboring area. He also said low-income workers would spend their increased earnings, not save them, and that would create jobs.

Many minimum-wage positions are in stores, restaurants and other businesses rooted in the state. "So they aren't leaving," Silver said. "Raising the minimum wage will create jobs and economic activity."

The Senate GOP opposed previous attempts to hike the wage rate.

Asked about Silver's proposal, Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), said, "Senate Republicans will continue to promote policies that encourage job growth and make New York a more business-friendly state."

 

BOOSTING WAGES

Sheldon Silver, speaker of the state Assembly, wants to hike New York's minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $8 and tie future increases to the inflation rate.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 per hour

Highest state minimum wage: $9.04 in Washington State*

Neighboring states' rates:

Connecticut: $8.25

Massachusetts: $8

Vermont: $8.46*

New York: $7.25

New Jersey: $7.25

Pennsylvania: $7.25

Note: *Among 10 states that have linked increases in the minimum wage to the inflation rate

SOURCE: U.S. Labor Department

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