By Brian Tumulty, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - A deal in New York to raise the state's minimum wage
could provide a playbook for Democrats in Congress who are working along
the same lines nationally.
New York state lawmakers and
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo have agreed to increase the state's minimum
wage to $9 an hour. The plan, which would phase in the increase over
three years, is a small piece of a much bigger pending agreement
involving a budget for the state's new fiscal year, which begins April
The package includes a provision that would decriminalize
possession of small amounts of marijuana in New York City and higher tax
rates for households with incomes above $1 million.
proposed minimum wage - which would amount to $360 a week or $18,720
annually - is significant because Congress typically raises the federal
minimum after a significant number of states raise their rates.
wages build momentum for raising the federal minimum wage,'' said Paul
Sonn, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, an
advocacy group for the poor. "The federal increase is not going to
happen immediately, so the state increases are all the more important.''
other states and the District of Columbia have a minimum wage above the
federal rate. Washington state has the highest, at $9.19 an hour.
states, including New York, use the federal rate. Five have no state
minimum wage. In four, the minimum wage is lower than the federal rate,
although the federal rate applies to most workers.
Democrats, who face an uphill battle in their effort to increase the
federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, could attach their
proposal to a must-pass bill or to tax legislation favored by
That has been the minimum-wage strategy used in Congress over the past two decades.
last increase in the federal minimum wage was inserted into a 2007
defense bill that included $4.8 billion in tax cuts for small
businesses over 10 years.
During the Clinton administration,
Congress included a minimum wage increase in the Small Business Job
Protection Act of 1996. That legislation increased annual contribution
limits for 401(k) retirement savings plans and lowered the federal tax
on luxury car sales.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said
Democrats will focus initially on enacting stand-alone legislation to
increase the federal minimum wage, but passing an increase "could well''
require linking it to other legislation.
"I would tie this bill
to any jobs bill through an amendment process or through a base bill,''
she said, expressing hope the measure will be treated as "a moral
"We want to reward work in this country,'' she said.
"This country was based on rewarding work, and anyone who is working 40
hours a week should be able to provide for her kids.''
minimum wage of $7.25 an hour provides a weekly income of $290, or
$15,080 annually. That's barely above the federal poverty threshold of
$15,510 for a family of two. For a family of three, it falls $4,450
below the poverty line of $19,530.
With Democrats in control of
the Senate and Republicans controlling the House, Senate Democrats are
leading the effort to enact another increase in the federal minimum
A Senate committee chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has
held one hearing focusing on a proposal to index the minimum wage based
on annual increases in consumer prices after the rate reaches $10.10 an
A move to insert the proposal into legislation streamlining
job training programs failed in the House on Friday. The measure was
opposed by 233 lawmakers, including six Democrats.
Support for the
measure is widespread among Democrats. There are 27 co-sponsors in the
Senate and 135 in the House, all Democrats. Both New York senators are
sponsors along with a dozen New York House members, including Reps.
Eliot Engel of the Bronx, Louise Slaughter of Fairport and Brian Higgins
States with a minimum wage above the federal minimum
Washington - $9.19 an hour
Oregon - $8.95
Vermont - $8.60
Connecticut - $8.25
District of Columbia - $8.25
Illinois - $8.25
Nevada - $8.25 ($7.25 if employer provides health insurance)
California - $8
Massachusetts - $8
Ohio - $7.85
Arizona - $7.80
Montana - $7.80
Florida - $7.79
Colorado - $7.78
Alaska - $7.75
Rhode Island - $7.75
Maine - $7.50
New Mexico - $7.50
Michigan - $7.40
Missouri - $7.35
Source: Labor Department