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Dems Eye Minimum Wage Hike

Legislation introduced this week would end a differentiated minimum wage between upstate and downstate New York.

A.9093/S.8154 was introduced by Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester and chair of the Assembly Labor Committee, and Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-Jackson Heights and chair of the Senate Labor Committee. The legislation would repeal the section of state Labor Law that creates a higher minimum wage for New York City and its suburbs compared to the rest of the state. The bill has several Senate co-sponsors.

Bronson and Ramos propose a new minimum wage for those living outside of New York City and Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties to be $16 on Jan. 1, 2025, and $17 on Jan. 1, 2026. That’s a faster phase-in than originally planned by the state. Currently the New York City-area minimum wage is $16, with increases to $16.50 in January 2025 and $17 in January 2026. The downstate minimum wage is $15, with increases to $15.50 in January 2025 and $16 in January 2026.

“The 2023 minimum wage package brought some New Yorkers to $17 an hour, a woefully inadequate raise for the New York City metro area, where the MIT Living Wage calculator shows a living wage to be more than $22 an hour. Additionally, the package failed to increase the wage to $17 statewide, leaving upstate regions behind, raising the upstate minimum wage to just $16 an hour by 2026. This disparity ignores the reality that many upstate regions, such as the Hudson Valley, have experienced skyrocketing housing and living costs that are comparable to those in parts of downstate. This legislation seeks to remedy this disparity and give upstate New Yorkers an equal minimum wage raise,” Bronson and Ramos wrote in their legislative justification.

Bronson and Ramos seek to strike a 2016 compromise bill secured in part by former state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean. At the time, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo was fighting for a $15 an hour minimum wage across the state. The minimum wage would reach $15 an hour in counties where it was more expensive to live and $12.50 an hour upstate. Young, who was state Senate Finance Committee chairwoman at the time, helped secure the compromise in an effort to help upstate businesses that she felt were less able to pay a $15 statewide minimum wage.

“I’m not big on mandates,” said Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, when contacted for comment by The Post-Journal on Friday. “But if there’s one thing that I could actually mandate it would be that my colleagues would be required to take an economics 101 class. Senator Ramos’ bill is a perfect example of a lack of understanding of basic economics. It’s one of many examples of politically-driven agendas that hurt New York’s economy and drives small businesses out of business. Most reasonable people understand the difference in the cost-of-living between upstate and downstate. New York’s minimum wage has gone up more than 30% in the last four years and has been a major driver of inflation. Inflation is a hidden tax that hits low income families the hardest — the very people Senator Ramos claims to be helping with this bill.”

Borrello said the bill may get some traction in the state Senate during the upcoming legislative session — it has already garnered several co-sponsors — but said he hopes Gov. Kathy Hochul will push back against the proposal.

The bill is backed by the Workers Justice Center, which testified on behalf of the bill recently before a joint legislative budget committee. Emily Kreyche, the center’s director of advocacy, outreach and education, said the time has come to end the split minimum wage because of changes Hochul and state legislators took last year to tie the minimum wage to a cost of living increase each year. Kreyche testified there are loopholes in the 2023 legislation that stop automatic minimum wage increases if unemployment goes up or there are decreases in statewide employment levels.

“We cannot leave upstate behind. New York should therefore eliminate the lower upstate wage and instead ensure that New York has, at minimum, a statewide minimum wage of $17 by 2026. While the passage of the 2023 minimum wage law was an important milestone, much more needs to be done to restore the wage floor for New Yorkers, including raising the minimum wage higher than $17 per hour. But as a first step, these poorly designed provisions in the 2023 minimum wage package that do not bring upstate to match downstate’s minimum wage and may block increases in future years must be fixed,” Kreyche said in written testimony.

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