Researchers are taking a close look at New York's debate and other states' experience and economic models have been used by both sides. A researcher who reviewed New York's situation counters some of the critics who say raising the wage will hurt the state's slow economic recovery and actually cut jobs for the working poor.
Harvard economics Professor Richard B. Freeman said a modest minimum wage increase will likely not have a major negative effect on the economy.
Freeman said the current minimum wage of $7.25 was 27 percent of the average hourly wage in New York last year. An increase to $8.50, as proposed, would raise the ratio to just 31 percent, and spreading the increase over two to three years, as such laws often do, would make the effect even more gradual.
"So I think it's hard to see how the proposed increase would have a big negative effect on employment," Freeman told The Associated Press.
Restaurants, hotels, fast-food restaurants and retail stores would be most likely to face raising wages if the bill is passed because those sectors hire the most workers at or near the minimum wage, said Michael Saltsman, a research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute, which is partly funded by the food industry. He said minimum wage increases have caused layoffs and haven't been shown to reduce the number of people in poverty, most of whom don't have jobs.
Other research comes to a different conclusion.
"We looked at the actual cost to employers if a minimum wage was implemented," said Jeannette Wicks-Lim, an assistant research professor at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts. "Typically it's quite small. A $20 meal becomes $20.20 ... typically we find the cost is quite modest and wouldn't force businesses to respond by laying off workers."
A rally will seek to make that point Tuesday in Albany. The Occupy Albany movement hopes to draw attention to the proposal, which Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said isn't even in "the realm of possibility." Clergy will also target Senate Republicans in their home districts and advocates plan to "bird dog" Cuomo to keep the issue in the press.
"It's very important to us," said Colin Donnaruma, a doctoral student in political philosophy at the University at Albany and an organizer of Occupy Albany. The group often supported by public worker unions is expected to be joined by advocates for the poor.
Hunger Action Network will be at the rally, said executive director Mark Dunlea.
Dunlea said the Cuomo administration contacted him last week after news reports quoted him saying Cuomo's labor commissioner could raise the minimum wage without legislative approval under a provision of labor law that hasn't yet been tested. The drawback of bypassing the Legislature includes lawsuits and political blowback from the Senate's Republican majority.
Cuomo had no comment.
"I think they are trying to find a way out of this thing, and they don't like to be criticized," Dunlea said in an interview.
Powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, is trying to turn overwhelming support in polls — even more than half of Republicans voters support raising the wage — into a tool to persuade GOP senators to support the measure.
Cuomo said that he wants a higher minimum wage but that political passage is "not in the realm of the possible" this election year. Last week he said it's a tougher bill than legalizing gay marriage.
The opposition is in the Senate's Republican majority, which is closely allied with Cuomo. The Senate GOP calls raising the minimum wage for about 1 million workers a job killer. In disputed math, Majority Leader Dean Skelos said not even minimum wage workers would benefit but instead would face higher taxes and lost access to subsidized health care.
Despite nearly 80 percent of support in polls, some key political donors to Senate Republicans are strongly opposed. The New York State Restaurant Association, for example, is urging its members to contact their senators to oppose the minimum wage.
There is some division within the business community. Costco and a few small business operators statewide last week supported the raise, saying it is good business to retain workers.