NY gov's call for $15 minimum wage faces major challenges

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's pledge this week to push for a state minimum wage of $15 an hour for all workers already faces substantial opposition and skepticism.

Cuomo made the pledge Thursday at a labor rally with Vice President Joe Biden following Cuomo administration approval of a phased-in $15 minimum for workers at chain fast-food restaurants. That hike didn't require legislative approval because it was recommended by a state Wage Board created by the governor.

But extending the wage increase to all workers will be a much steeper hill to climb. Cuomo envisions going to the Legislature for approval, although the Republican-led Senate remains steadfastly opposed to the measure.

Republicans note that the current minimum wage of $8.75 an hour will rise to $9 at years' end under a 2013 law. And Senate Leader John Flanagan said Thursday that raising the wage too high too fast could devastate struggling businesses.

Cuomo has acknowledged the political realities of pushing for a significant increase, and a Cuomo spokeswoman earlier this year even dismissed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposed $13 minimum as a "non-starter" given GOP opposition.

But Thursday, Cuomo cited growing momentum for a $15 minimum, and said the time to act is now.

Cuomo said Friday following a Sept. 11 event in New York City that he will seek to phase in the increase by 2018 in the city and by 2021 for the rest of the state.

"I think the Legislature should support this proposal," Cuomo told reporters. "It has a goal at the end, so businesses can plan. It has a goal that makes life livable for working families. I think it's feasible. I think it's doable."

While Cuomo's proposal is guaranteed to face big challenges in the Legislature, it could go a long way toward mending relations with liberals in his own party.

Last year, Cuomo promised to seek a higher minimum wage in exchange for the support of the left-leaning Working Families Party. But that wasn't enough to prevent a contentious primary battle with liberal law professor Zephyr Teachout that highlighted Cuomo's problems with his party's left wing.

Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton said the growing political heft of fast-food workers is now too great to ignore. Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and the California cities of Oakland and Berkeley have each approved phased-in increases that eventually will take their minimum wage to $15 an hour to all workers, or about $31,200 a year.

"Any politician who wants to talk about lifting up struggling families should know: It's time to support $15," Lipton said.

State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox accused Cuomo of acting out of "purely political reasons and his concern for a primary challenge from his left, despite the consequences that it will drive even more residents and small businesses out of New York."

Some Democrats who have long supported a big jump in the minimum wage are taking a cautious view of Cuomo's pledge.

"We look forward to this fight," Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins said then added, "We have heard promises on progressive legislation in the past."

New York's new $15 wage for fast-food workers will be phased in over three years in New York City and over six elsewhere in the state.