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NY state close to minimum wage hike

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Despite opposition from state and local business groups, New York state is close to passing an increase in the minimum wage.

After a wage hike was overwhelmingly approved in the Democratic-controlled Assembly, lawmakers in the Senate are negotiating an increase to New York’s current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The majority coalition composed of Republicans and independent Democrats, including state Sen. Jeffrey Klein, have proposed increasing the minimum wage this year and gradually increasing it over the next three years, though they have not specified by how much. Republicans are looking for $2 billion in tax breaks for businesses to offset an increase. The bipartisan coalition introduced the bill last week as part of negotiations on the state budget.

The Assembly approved a bill to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour, with automatic increases tied to inflation. while Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed increasing the minimum wage to $8.75 without automatic increases. Twelve states have a higher minimum wage than New York.

The push for a minimum wage increase follows President Barack Obama’s call for Congress to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.

“The Senate recognizes the need to raise our state’s minimum wage,” said Klein, whose 34th District includes the Bronx and part of Westchester. “By working on a bipartisan basis, we will enact a minimum wage increase that will take effect this year.”

The number of New Yorkers making minimum wage is at its highest level in a decade. Amy Paulin, the Scarsdale Democrat, who co-sponsored the bill in the Assembly, said that increasing the minimum wage would have a positive economic impact on the state.

“Many people who have full-time jobs at the current minimum wage don’t make nearly enough money to support themselves, let alone a family of three or four people,” Paulin said in a statement. “Other states have been positively impacted by the increase and it has helped economic growth. Why not have those benefits in New York while positively impacting the lives of nearly two million people?”

State and local business groups have expressed opposition to a minimum wage increase, fearing it would cause companies to lay off employees, further increasing unemployment and limiting economic growth.

“Small businesses cannot afford a mandated increase in labor costs,” Mike Durant, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), said in a statement. “NFIB strongly urges the state to maintain the path to lowering the costs of doing business and helping small businesses provide more for their employees. Any minimum wage increase that is tied to inflation will drastically change the perception of Albany and negate the progress we have made.”

Heather Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State Inc., said that increasing the minimum wage would add direct costs of $4,000 for each full-time minimum wage employee, plus indirect costs caused by adjusting wages for higher-earning employees.

“Employers will have to eliminate jobs or reduce hours, raise prices, defer investments or reduce profits – none of which promotes economic growth,” Briccetti said in a statement.

In Westchester, business groups also reservations about a minimum wage hike. John Ravitz, executive vice president of The Business Council of Westchester and former assemblyman, said that the state Legislature needs to handle minimum wage in a responsible manner.

“We don’t want to see a reduction in entry-level training opportunities,” Ravitz said. “They need to look at what the ramifications and real negative impacts are. This has to be done responsibly. The voices of the business community have to be heard.”

Westchester County Association (WCA) President William Mooney said he did not think a minimum wage increase would have much of an impact in Westchester, but would impact upstate communities more.

“Most businesses already are paying more than the minimum wage here,” he said.

Amy Allen, managing director of the WCA, believes that a minimum wage increase would not accomplish much.

“The state needs to put policies in place that grow the economy and provide a better business climate for everyone,” Allen said. “Let’s really make New York open for business. The market will take care of the needs of the people.”

Any minimum wage increase would have to be included in the state’s 2013 budget, which must be approved by April 1.

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