Poll: Most in NY back locally set minimum wages

These enthusiastic volunteers were passing out apples along Ring Road.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A new statewide poll shows a large majority of New Yorkers support giving municipalities authority to raise the minimum wage locally, something Gov. Andrew Cuomo opposes.

The Siena College poll, released Tuesday, showed 85 percent support among Democrats, 48 percent among Republicans and 74 percent among independents for local authority to raise the wage.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has requested state permission to set the wage “consistent with the needs of working people in the five boroughs.”

Last year, the governor and state Legislature raised the statewide minimum to $8 starting this year, which is 75 cents above both the federal minimum and the old state rate. The minimum for most New York workers will increase at the end of 2014 to $8.75 an hour and to $9 an hour at the end of 2015. The rates aren’t indexed to inflation. The minimum for workers in the restaurant industry who get tips remain $5 an hour.

In a radio interview hours after the poll was released, Cuomo repeated arguments he made previously that letting municipalities raise their base wage could lead to destructive competition “to lure the employees or the employers right from the other side of the border.” He also criticized the poll results, saying he didn’t think they were tremendously instructive.

“Unless you give people the rationale or understanding of the issue, a lot of these answers don’t mean anything,” he said.

Advocates for New York’s working poor have urged the Legislature to revisit the issue this year, saying the minimum should be $10 to $15 an hour and include workers who get tips. Hunger Action Network has called $8 “a sub-poverty wage” and noted recent U.S. Conference of Mayors surveys from 25 cities showing 43 percent of the households using emergency food programs had someone employed.

Working Families Party New York Director Bill Lipton said Tuesday’s poll results spoke clearly. “Allowing cities to lift workers out of poverty by raising wages has overwhelming support across every region of the state,” he said.

Cities in California, Maryland, New Mexico, and Washington state have used similar authority to raise their minimum wages. Advocates say that resulted in improved city economies and workers’ circumstances.

“New York City has one of the highest costs of living in the world and should certainly be allowed to set its own minimum wage,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union.

Legislation was introduced last year in both the state Assembly and Senate to authorize cities and towns to raise their minimum wages but neither advanced past the committee level. Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, leader of the Senate Democratic Conference, and a dozen co-sponsors introduced another version in January that would authorize cities, towns, villages, counties and public benefit corporations to adopt and enforce their higher wage standards.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Tuesday that lawmakers will look at de Blasio’s proposal but right now they’re focused on raising the statewide minimum by for all New Yorkers. The bill introduced earlier this year to accelerate the already approved future increases “will continue to be a top priority.”

Several municipal officials in Westchester County issued statements in support of the proposal. “Adjusting minimum wages regionally will directly help minimize the impacts the greater cost of living so many face, and hopefully move earners up the economic ladder,” said Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano.

President Barack Obama has called for raising the federal minimum to $10.10 an hour.

Siena’s poll of 802 registered voters last week had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

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