New York considers tiered model in push for $15 hourly minimum wage

Partisan divides have slowed Governor Andrew Cuomo's push to raise the minimum wage statewide. But introducing a two-tier system that caps wages in less affluent regions could emerge as a compromise solution.

Mike Groll/AP Photo/File
Supporters of a $15 minimum wage rally at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, N.Y. on March 15, 2015. Officials negotiating New York's budget are considering capping the minimum wage in less affluent regions so they can raise it to $15 per hour in wealthier areas like New York City.

Officials negotiating New York's budget are considering capping the minimum wage in less affluent regions so they can raise it to $15 per hour in wealthier areas like New York City, according to top-ranking lawmakers.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has made a $15 state-wide hourly minimum wage a priority and is trying to push it through with the state's $145 billion fiscal spending plan, which is due at the start of the state's fiscal year on April 1.

While Democrats, who control the Assembly, support a $15 minimum wage, Republicans, who have a majority in the Senate, are less enthusiastic. They fear an increase from its current $9 per hour could hurt businesses in less prosperous areas, mainly in the northern, or "upstate" reaches of New York.

Introducing a two-tier system that caps the wage at $12.50 or $13 upstate could emerge as a compromise solution.

New York Democrats want to raise the minimum wage, which at the federal level has remained at $7.25 an hour for more than six years, to help the working poor, stimulate demand for goods and services and provide a boost for the party come election time in November.

Governor Cuomo did not rule out a two-tier system during a press briefing in Albany on Tuesday, saying it was important to get the "calibration" right to take into account the different economic situations in different parts of the state.

John Flanagan, the Republican majority leader of the Senate, said "no" late on Tuesday when asked by reporters if there was a minimum wage deal.

Senator Flanagan spoke after a meeting with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, adding there was still work to be done on the education budget and outstanding issues involving Medicaid spending.

Both the Senate and the Assembly were adjourned until Wednesday afternoon while the dealmaking continues.

The two-tier plan is being floated to New York lawmakers by the tight knit group negotiating the budget, according to Senator Liz Krueger, the number two Democrat in the Senate.

Senator Krueger said the "rumored negotiating place" was to move to a $15 minimum wage sooner in New York City, have a longer phase-in for counties in Long Island and Westchester and not "even try to get to $15 in the rest of the state."

Final budget negotiations in New York are carried out behind closed doors by the majority leaders from both chambers and the governor in an arrangement know as the "three men in a room." Legislation that is not a core part of the spending plan, such as the minimum wage, is often packaged together with the budget.

Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, said she was approached about her support for capping the minimum wage upstate. While she did not rule it out she said she would "have difficulty" accepting anything but an equal minimum wage state-wide.

New York's effort dovetails with a similar proposal in California. On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he agreed a deal with legislative and labor leaders to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023 in an effort to raise pay for the working poor.

(Reporting by Edward Krudy in New York; Additional reporting by James Odato in Albany; Editing by Daniel Bases and Andrew Hay)

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