- Associated Press - Friday, April 1, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York is set to join California on the path to a $15 minimum wage under an agreement headed to a vote in the state Legislature that would boost the wages of more than 2 million workers.

The raise, part of a broader $156 billion state budget deal set for a vote on Friday, contains a series of “calibrated” increases that Gov. Andrew Cuomo said are designed to help working families while respecting differences in the state’s regional economies.

Now $9, the hourly wage would rise to $15 in New York City in three years - though businesses with fewer than 10 employees would get four years - and on Long Island and in Westchester County in six years. The wage would increase more gradually upstate, hitting $12.50 in six years. Further increases to $15 would be tied to economic indicators like inflation and set by state budget and labor officials.

“This minimum wage increase will be of national significance,” the Democratic governor told reporters Thursday night ahead of the legislative vote. “It’s raising the minimum wage in a way that’s responsible.”

Cuomo had initially proposed a simpler phase-in: three years in New York City and six years elsewhere. The more gradual approach was the result of negotiations with Republicans in the state Senate who worried such a sharp increase would devastate businesses, particularly in the upstate region’s more fragile economy.



The announcement of the wage agreement in New York comes on the same day lawmakers in California voted to raise their state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2022.

“Fifteen dollars an hour is catching on everywhere,” said Jorel Ware, a New York City McDonald’s worker and a leader of the Fight for $15 campaign, which was backed by workers and labor unions from around the country. “When we first went on strike in New York in 2012, people said we had no chance.”

Business groups, however, warned that the increase would force businesses to raise prices, cut positions and accept reduced profits.

“This unprecedented minimum wage mandate on employers … will ensure that New York’s business climate will remain one of the worst in the nation, even as our tax burden remains among the highest in the nation,” said Greg Biryla, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, a group that advocates for the upstate economy.

The budget deal also contains middle-class tax cuts and Cuomo’s paid family leave plan, which will allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for sick loved ones or a new child. Leave starting in 2018 will be funded by worker payroll contributions ranging from 70 cents a week to $1.40.

The state income tax cut would apply to New Yorkers with incomes between $40,000 and $300,000 and rates that currently range from 6.45 percent to 6.65 percent. It would start in 2018, gradually dropping to 5.5 percent by 2025.

Top lawmakers had hoped to pass the budget before a new fiscal year started Friday, but the debate wore on past midnight. Senators hoped to wrap up in the early morning hours, while the Assembly planned to return later Friday morning for final votes.

“We’re pushing very hard to get the budget done and get it done on time,” said Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, who leads the Senate Finance Committee. “I believe we will have a very good budget document.”

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