Speaker pushes minimum wage hike, expresses doubts about Cuomo pension plan

Karen DeWitt / NY Public Radio

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver continues to push for his bill to increase the state’s minimum wage. In an interview with public radio, the Speaker also expressed reservations about Governor Cuomo’s plan to offer an option of 401 k retirement plans for future state workers.

Assembly Speaker Silver has made increasing the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour one of his top priorities this year.

“Nobody in our country who works a full week should be poor,” Silver said. “But today minimum wage earners are poor by all standards.”

But so far, none of the other leaders at the Capitol have signed on to the plan. Governor Cuomo has said he is philosophically in agreement, but he wants to look at the specifics and has concerns about the economic impact.

Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos says flatly that he is against it.

“This could be a job killer,” said Skelos. “Rather than a job promoter.”

Senator Skelos says the working poor are already helped by the earned income tax credit.

Silver dismisses the arguments that increasing the minimum wage hurts jobs as a “myth”, and he says studies have proved that retail services, where many of the entry level jobs are located, don’t leave when a state raises its minimum wage.

Deals in Albany often are the result of horse trading, but Speaker Silver says he isn’t planning on bargaining for his proposal right now.

“This is not a matter of trading,” said Silver. “This is almost a moral responsibility here to give people a wage that they can live on.”

Last year, the Speaker backed an extension of the state’s temporary income tax surcharge on millionaires. While both Cuomo and the Senate initially opposed the idea, they eventually agreed to extend the tax on the rich last December. Silver says he has another tax proposal he’d like to see implemented this year. He says when the governor and legislature acted to renew the tax on millionaires, they also cut taxes for the middle class. Now, Silver say, he’d like to broaden those tax breaks to the working poor. The proposal includes a tax break for those making $30,000 a year or less, and the elimination of all income taxes for people who earn less than $20,000 a year.

“I think it’s time this year that we took care of the bottom end,” Silver said.

The Speaker says he’d like the plan in the new state budget. The state has a $2 billion dollar deficit, but he says the $150 million dollar tax break could be absorbed.

Governor Cuomo’s budget plan includes a proposal to offer a new benefit Tier VI to future state employees that would include for the first time the option of a defined retirement contribution similar to a 401k.  Speaker Silver has some reservations about that. He says the recent gyrations of the stock market means that someone could reach retirement age, only to find that their fund’s value has temporarily plummeted.

“I think it has very many pit falls,” Silver. “I don’t want to see people who’ve worked 40 years basically not be able to retire.”

The Speaker says he wants to make sure that the proposal would not “just create future welfare recipients”. Plus, he says, a new benefit Tier V was just implemented two years ago, and “the jury is still out” on whether it will generate the future savings promised.

Silver does agree with the governor’s proposal to stop public employees from using overtime in their last years of state service to artificially boost their salaries, and pension rates. The Speakers says there have been some “abuses”, and he says some of the costs do need to be “reigned in”.