As state budget negotiations wind down, Gov.Andrew Cuomo faces significant obstacles to moving his agenda. From the Dream Act to his education tax credit, legislative opposition puts Cuomo in the unaccustomed position of being unable to deliver his priorities.
Now, the governor’s signature minimum wage proposal may be dead, or watered down to a paltry 50 cents — another casualty of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who sounds determined to block any raise for working New Yorkers.
A fifty cent increase (from the current $8.75) would be the lowest recent hike in the country — less than even tea party Michigan approved last year. It would come amid talk in other states, and nationally, of increases to $12 and even $15.
Here’s how Cuomo can cut through the Albany gridlock and still deliver on his promise of raising the minimum wage significantly to fight income inequality: Make clear that he will use his executive powers to do so if Skelos insists on dropping it from the budget.
New York’s governor doesn’t need the Legislature’s consent to raise the minimum wage. Decades ago, the Legislature authorized the governor and labor commissioner to raise the minimum wage administratively through a wage order issued after a series of hearings by a special board appointed by the commissioner.
In fact, the Cuomo administration used that authority just last month to raise the wage for tipped workers, after Skelos insisted on cutting them out of the last state increase.
Governors in other states have used their executive wage powers to either raise the wage on their own, like California’s Gray Davis in 2000, or as leverage to force legislatures to act, as Wisconsin’s Jim Doyle did in 2004.
Cuomo should do the same by making clear he won’t hestitate to act if Skelos continues to be a roadblock to raising the minimum wage. If Skelos doesn’t blink, the governor and labor commissioner can act decisively to deliver the raises that working New Yorkers need.
But there is also a very real chance that sending this message would break the logjam to a deal with the Legislature. Skelos and his caucus likely do not want to have to defend their bare Senate majority in the high turn-out 2016 election as the party that thought New Yorkers didn’t deserve Cuomo’s proposed $10.50 an hour wage state-wide, or $11.50 in New York City. Either way, it’s a win for the governor and the state’s working families.
Paul K. Sonn is general counsel at the National Employment Law Project.
Read the original article at the Times-Union.