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Silver calls for quicker boost to minimum wage

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A key lawmaker says the state’s minimum wage, which as of December 31st is $8 an hour, should jump to $9 an hour by next year.

The state’s minimum increased to $8.00 an hour, effective January 1.  It’s part of a phased-in increase that will result in a $9.00 an hour  rate for the state’s lowest income earners by 2016.  

But a leading lawmaker says the hike should be phased in faster, and advocates for the poor say tip earners, like wait staff, should also be included.  

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who agreed to the phase in of the minimum wage hike as part of the current state budget, now wants the increase to happen even faster. He’d like to see a rise to $9 an hour one year from now, instead of two years. Silver is likely to have support from the state’s Black, Puerto Rican, and Hispanic caucus, who have also called for a faster phase in.

Mark Dunlea, with Hunger Action Network, the lobby- group for the state’s food pantries and soup kitchens, backs the idea. But he says even the new $8.00 an hour rate is not going to help New York’s poorest all that much.  

“We think the minimum wage should be a lot higher,” said Dunlea. “$8.00 an hour is still way below a poverty level wage.”

Under the new minimum wage increase, tipped workers still make a significantly lower rate of pay, at around $5.00 an hour, before tips. Dunlea says that’s an oversight.

“We think that all workers should have been included,” Dunlea said.

Tipped workers are eligible to receive the $8.00 an hour rate if they work more than 40 hours a week, or 10 hours in any one day.

As part of the minimum wage legislation approved in the spring of 2013, Governor Cuomo was to create a new board to analyze wage levels, including those for tip workers and recommend changes. That board has not yet been appointed, but is expected to convene in 2014.  

The Assembly Republican leader, in a statement, responded to the Speaker’s desire to speed up implementation of the minimum wage increase. Minority Leader Brian Kolb says if Democrats in the New Year want a “do-over” for bills in 2013, then they should also revisit New York’s strict gun control laws, enacted last January.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.