Profs say Cuomo can hike minimum wage on his ownJennifer Gordon in The Associated Press, June 05, 2012
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - In the face of a political road block in Albany, progressive groups continue their last-minute push to force an increase in the minimum wage, this time targeting Gov. Andrew Cuomo who they say can do it alone.
The groups cite comments by Yale and Fordham professors who argue Cuomo's labor department already has the power by law to raise the minimum. The groups including the Strong Economy for All coalition and the National Employment Law Project note Cuomo recently used his executive order to enact President Barack Obama's health care program in New York, which avoided Senate Republican opposition.
"It's not a close call at all," said Professor Michael J. Wishnie of Yale Law School. He said New York and several other states have provisions of law to raise the minimum wage in the face of a changing economy that can be less costly, faster and less political than setting wages through legislatures.
Cuomo says he supports increasing the wage to $8.50 from the current $7.25 an hour, but New York has never bumped it up for all workers without the Legislature's consent. The labor commissioner raised the minimum wage most recently in 2009, by a dime, for restaurant workers.
The proposal by the Assembly's Democratic majority has strong support in public polls. But the Senate's Republican majority flatly opposes the measure as a "job killer" at this time that could slap low-wage earners with more taxes and lost government benefits. The regular legislative session ends June 21.
In New York law, the state labor commissioner can study the issue, hold public hearings and set new wages. The commissioner has done that in narrow sectors of labor, such as the wage for workers who receive tips, but the Cuomo administration says it hasn't been done on a broad scale.
"I think the governor's people are trying to hid behind a question of their power that is not a genuine one. It is clear they could do it," Wishnie said.
New York has in the past used the law to raise the minimum for most if not all labor sectors individually, said Jennifer Gordon, Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law.
"I think it's quite clear," she said Tuesday. "A literal reading of New York labor law doesn't seem to impose any impediment."
Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto had no comment on any further discussions about the proposal within the administration.
"I don't think it's clear at all," said Russell Sykes, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy. "I think it would definitely create issues and I think it potentially could stir up the notion of being challenged."
He also said recent studies warn of significant job loss for low-income workers when the minimum wage is raised. Even those who keep their jobs and see a small increase to their often part-time pay checks will see a "very minimal" benefit, he said.
The Senate's Republican majority didn't try to stop Cuomo from using his executive order to establish a health exchange for New York provided under the federal health care law, which would have been politically dicey for the GOP to support this legislative election year. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a close ally of Cuomo on fiscal matters, had no comment Tuesday on the proposal pushed by the coalition.
"We'd prefer to have a minimum wage increase passed by the Legislature, but if Sen. Skelos fails to act, the governor should exercise his executive power," said Dan Canto, executive director of the Working Families Party.