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The New York state Capitol in Albany

ALBANY — New York’s primary lobby for farmers and an advocate for small business owners are headed for a statehouse tussle with progressive groups pushing for a measure that could raise the minimum wage in the upstate region to $20 per hour by 2026.

The bill, introduced by progressive Democrats in both chambers of the Legislature, aims to preserve the purchasing power of workers’ wages without having to return for additional legislative action when inflation erodes earnings.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signaled her support for linking the state minimum wage to a cost of living index in her State of the State speech. The Hochul administration is expected to outline how its plan would work when the proposed state budget is released.

Lawmakers need to hammer out a new spending plan by March 31 to be on time for the state fiscal year beginning April 1.

Saying that inflation has pushed many New York families to the “breaking point,” Hochul argued that providing workers with an annual review of the floor wage in New York is “a matter of fairness and social justness.”

She drew cheers from many lawmakers after plugging minimum wage hikes indexed to the inflation measure.

Jeff Williams, legislative director for the New York Farm Bureau, said the minimum wage battle will be the top priority in 2023 for his organization.

“Now we’re apparently going to go above $15 an hour when we haven’t even gotten to $15 (in the upstate region), and so New York’s minimum wage would end up being double the minimum wage in Pennsylvania,” Williams said.

When farmers’ labor costs shoot higher due to a higher wage, they have to absorb it out of their own money because market forces drive the prices charged for what their farms produce, he said.

“This would continue to make New York non-competitive with competitive states,” said Williams.

The minimum wage in Pennsylvania is now set at $10 per hour, while the minimum wage in upstate New York was raised to $14.20 per hour Dec. 31.

A study by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, projects that 2.9 million New York workers will benefit from the legislation advanced by Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-Queens, the chair of the Senate Labor Committee, and they would see annual raises averaging $3,307, if the proposal is enacted.

Ronald Deutsch, director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, said it will be difficult for lawmakers to reject what he called a needed boost in the statewide minimum wage after they voted in a rare Christmas week session last month to increase their own pay by $32,000 annually, bringing the current base salary to $142,000 for the 213 members.

Michael Kink, executive director for Strong Economy for All, a labor-backed group that lobbies for progressive measures at the statehouse, said his organization is working to advance the Ramos bill, noting it would examine not only the increased cost of living but increased worker productivity.

“We should have a wage that fully incorporates the increased cost of living, and we shouldn’t lock in poverty wages,” Kink said. “We should make sure people earn enough to live on.”

Ashley Ranslow, executive director of the New York office of the National Federation of Independent Business, said linking New York’s minimum wage to inflation is bound to have unanticipated consequences, including forcing employers to cut workers’ hours and price increases for goods and services that all New Yorkers, including low-income workers, purchase.

“We’ve already seen unprecedented levels of price hikes and supply chain problems,” Ranslow said. “There is certainly a strong possibility that this is going to further increase the price of goods and services. and there’s going to be a point where consumers say, ‘Do I have the money to buy this?’”

She said annual hikes in the state minimum wage would add to the headaches of small business owners, and likely provoke labor conflict when workers making several dollars an hour above the minimum wage find workers with relatively little experience are suddenly on par with their pay scale.

Both Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt, R-Niagara County, and Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, have signaled their opposition to the inflation-indexed approach to additional minimum wage hikes.

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