Independent Democratic Conference to Push for Local Control of Minimum Wage

State Senator Jeffrey Klein with Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Facebook)

State Senator Jeffrey Klein with Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Facebook)

Despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for a higher minimum wage statewide—with a dollar extra for New York City—the Independent Democratic Conference still intends to push for local control of the minimum wage.

“Moving forward, I think the best way to accomplish a further increase in the minimum wage is to allow localities their own ability to increase their minimum wage,” State Senator Jeffrey Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, told the Observer.

The IDC’s intention to push for local control of wages comes a day after Mr. Cuomo’s own plan for the minimum wage: the governor proposed a statewide hike to $10.50 an hour, with New York City’s wage a dollar more at $11.50. Mr. Klein was not concerned the plans differed.

“That’s how government is supposed to work: you put out proposals, you push those proposals forward and then you hope that there will be an enhanced minimum wage to benefit the workers of New York State,” Mr. Klein said.

The IDC intends to re-introduce legislation originally proposed by IDC State Senator Diane Savino that would allow cities and counties the power to set local minimum wages up to 30 percent higher than the state minimum wage. That would apply to municipalities other than New York City. By 2016 when the state minimum wage will be $9, the IDC’s legislation would allow for local governments to boost their minimum wage to up to $11.70 an hour.

It’s just one of several economic policies on the IDC’s agenda this year, when the breakaway group will have less clout than before, because Republicans no longer need its five members to maintain a majority. Nonetheless, Republican Leader Dean Skelos has agreed to share power with Mr. Klein again as co-leaders.

“I’ve been in public service now, this is my twentieth year now, and I never had to be one of the people in the room to get things done,” he said.

Local control of the minimum wage has been something of a political hot potato. Mayor Bill de Blasio called for it last year, and Mr. Cuomo at first insisted it would be too confusing until ultimately saying he’d support the idea when he was seeking the endorsement of the Work Family’s Party. At the time, he said he’d support a hike statewide to $10.10, and the option for cities to hike their wage 30 percent higher— to $13.13 an hour.

Mr. Klein said local control was key to fairer wages in a state with dense urban areas and sprawling rural locales.

“You cannot have a one-size-fits-all proposition, given the differences in the cost of living across our state,” he said.

Still, he pointed to progress made already: “I think people lose sight of the fact that we did increase the minimum wage, and at the time the call was for a $9 minimum wage, which we accomplished.”

It remains to be seen whether any of the minimum wage proposals on the table will meet with favor from the Republicans in the Senate—though allowing for a local option would allow Democrat-led cities like New York boost their own minimum wage without requiring Republican-led areas elsewhere to do so, which some have argued might meet with more favor than a broad boost.

The wage increase is just one of the IDC’s priorities as outlined in the group’s “Invest New York” agenda. The IDC has also proposed established paid family leave, offering student loan debt relief, and the creation of an Education Investment Tax Credit for both public and private schools. On housing, the IDC is calling for an investment of $650 million into the Mitchell-Lama 2020 program to provide capital subsidies for the construction of middle class housing to remain affordable for 30 years, and is proposing major investments into the New York City Housing Authority.

Independent Democratic Conference to Push for Local Control of Minimum Wage