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New York Teeters on Minimum Wage Deal

New York Teeters on Minimum Wage Deal

Anyone who has spent time in the halls of the Capitol building in Albany will tell you that the trick to passing legislation in New York is getting a deal from the “three men in a room.” In this case, the three men are Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Last Monday, Reform Jewish Voice of New York State (RJV) and over 50 Reform Jews from around the state walked the halls of the Capitol in Albany urging members of the state legislature to raise the minimum wage.  New York last increased the state minimum wage in 2009. Rumblings of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s push for an increase in began back in February of this year when he and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg authored a joint op-ed on the subject.  Speaker Silver’s proposal aims to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

Given New York’s political reality, passing a minimum wage increase through the state Assembly is a piece of cake compared to the battle that could be waged in the state Senate. Democrats hold a 2-to-1 majority in the Assembly while the Republicans boast a three-seat majority in the Senate. Although the partisan makeup of the Senate doesn’t always determine the outcome (for example, four Republicans voted in favor of marriage equality last summer), it is unusual for New York Republicans to break the party line—unless there is a deal from the “three men in the room.”

Since this is New York and politics in Albany is unlike politics in any other state, the trajectory of this issue truly is unpredictable. Last month it seemed like such a deal would go through, but early this week there were reports that a deal was dead. Regardless of where that deal may stand, the Assembly approved Speaker Silver's plan yesterday—and while Leader Skelos adamantly refuses to pass that plan, he remains mum on whether he would allow another minimum wage increase plan to proceed to a vote in the upper chamber.

In contrast, the public appears to have made up its mind: A recent Siena Research Institute poll indicates that three-quarters of New Yorkers support raising the minimum wage to $8.50. Both Democrats and independents were highly supportive of increasing the minimum wage, with 88% of Democrats and 75% of independents finding Speaker Silver’s plan favorable.

RJV has long engaged with state legislators on this issue, and this year’s Advocacy Day was no exception.  As Jews, we have an obligation to "speak up, judge righteously, [and] champion the poor and the needy (Proverbs 31:9)." We are instructed to not only feed the hungry but also to help those in need become self-sufficient (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah). RJV will continue to educate and work with state legislators until the minimum wage is raised to pull New Yorkers out of poverty and into economic possibility and self-sufficiency.

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