By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY -- The state Assembly passed a bill Tuesday to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour, putting pressure on the Senate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to support the measure.
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Legislative leaders and Cuomo are debating whether to boost the minimum wage, which hasn't been raised since 2009. President Obama has proposed increasing the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, and state leaders have suggested they may wait until Congress acts.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said the minimum wage should be increased independent of federal action. The Assembly bill would increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour in January and tie future raises to the rate of inflation.
The Assembly passed the bill 101-44.
Silver said a full-time employee earning the minimum wage makes about $15,080 a year, and he called such a low wage "appalling."
"Currently, no one could raise a family on $15,080 a year without a helping hand from government," Silver said at a news conference at the Capitol. "There is no moral or economic rationale that justifies that reality."
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, has warned that the minimum-wage increase could hurt businesses in New York, and business groups have railed against the measure. Skelos and Senate Republicans on Monday proposed tax breaks for the middle class.
Skelos estimated that increasing the minimum wage to $9 an hour would hit businesses with $480 million in new expenses.
"I continue to have concerns that this measure may be counterproductive to our efforts to help businesses create new jobs and rebuild the state's economy," Skelos said in a statement Tuesday.
The Assembly held a more than three-hour debate on the floor about the minimum-wage increase. Assembly Republicans, who hold 43 of the 150 seats in the chamber, criticized the bill, saying it would lead to job cuts.
Assemblyman Steve Katz, R-Yorktown, Westchester County, said New York already has a poor business environment. The Tax Foundation, a conservative group based in Washington D.C., last year named New York as having the worst business climate in the nation.
"I think it's going to hurt the people that you're trying to help," Katz said.
Assemblyman David Gantt, D-Rochester, said "you're a joke" to a Republican assemblyman when he questioned the value of the increasing the minimum wage. Gantt said some young people won't take jobs because the salary is low.
"We can create jobs that are already there by simply giving them the minimum wage that they need," Gantt said.
Some Democrats argued that increasing the minimum wage would help the economy because workers would spend more.
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, Ulster County, called it a "statement of humanity" to increase the wage.
Cuomo included a minimum wage of $8.75 in his budget proposal released Jan. 22, but it didn't include future increases tied to inflation.
He said Monday that it's uncertain whether a minimum-wage increase would be included in the budget or dealt with later in the legislative session, which runs until June 20.
The state's 2013-14 fiscal year starts April 1.
"There's nothing in, there's nothing out until you have a budget," Cuomo said. "It's going to depend on what happens in the discussions in the final few days."