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Sherman Says: State budget includes minimum wage increase, potential for longer school days

SPRINGVILLE — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration scored another public relations victory, late last week, with the early passage of the state budget.

It was such a glorious accomplishment that Cuomo’s press office generated a lengthy press release, including comments from Senate majority coalition co-leaders Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. This was also Cuomo’s opportunity to boast.

His most prominent quote takes us back in time two years, to the days before he was elected governor.

“Year after year, the budgets were late and the entire process had become a symbol for the dysfunction and chaos of Albany,” Cuomo said. “After years of out-of-control spending, for the third year in a row, we have an on-time budget that holds spending growth under 2 percent. This is a budget that all New Yorkers can be proud of.”

School aid was increased, in the new budget, but few people noticed fine print, concerning another academic issue. The budget includes $20 million, to support extended school days or extended school year programs. Schools that participate must expand learning time, by 25 percent. Stay tuned.

While it is commendable that this latest budget was passed, prior to the deadline, not all is perfect, in Albany. Take, for example, the increase in the minimum wage.

According to the New York state governor’s office, the state’s required minimum wage will increase from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour, during the next three years, beginning with $8, by the end of this year; $8.75, by the end of 2014 and $9, by the end of 2015.

The increase will put more money into the pockets of millions of New Yorkers, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist, to figure out where it will come from. Business owners will have difficult decisions to make, when it comes time to ramp up their payroll accounts. Will they simply increase prices and pass the burden on, to valued customers? That will surely affect sales and slow the economic growth needed, at this time.

If they are manufacturers of any kind, they could shrink the size of their products or make them in smaller quantities, which would be another barrier to business.

“Small businesses, not big corporations, are where many minimum wage job opportunities exist,” said Dan Danner, president of the National Federation of Independent Business. “The best way to prevent poverty is to strengthen and support American small business survival and growth. To increase the minimum wage, while most small firms are struggling, will sharply increase the odds of poverty, for many who depend on Main Street businesses, to support themselves and their families.”

It’s a vicious circle that none of us can escape. Albany’s catch-22 culture is as predictable as the rising and setting of the sun. No one would dispute the value of Americans’ making more money, but when it affects the cost and availability of essential goods and services, the pendulum swings the other way.

Silver said that he commended the governor and his Senate colleagues “for helping to craft a fiscally responsible, early budget that will move our state forward.” But wait, there’s more.

“This budget ensures that tens of thousands of hardworking, minimum-wage-earning New Yorkers will be receiving much-deserved and badly needed raises, in each of the next two years,” he said.

One could become permanently dizzy, from riding that pendulum, back and forth, across New York state’s political landscape.

Here is a different assessment of the budget, from the New York State Economic Development Council: “It is disappointing that the governor and legislature chose not to lower employer costs, by allowing the 2 percent utility surcharge to sunset, as scheduled this April,” the council said, in a statement. “Instead, by extending it for 3 years, residential and business electric bills will remain unnecessarily high, making this ‘temporary’ tax’s ultimate demise less likely.”

It’s becoming clear that Cuomo is polishing his image, as he weighs future options, one press release at a time.

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.
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