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Charlene Obernauer

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Cuomo: Don't Retreat on Minimum Wage

Posted: 02/21/2013 8:04 am

Since becoming governor, support for Cuomo has wavered among progressive Democrats. We hate his attack on pensions, but like his support for green jobs. We love his leadership on campaign finance reform, but are skeptical of his position on hydrofracking. But despite our skepticism, we know one thing: if Cuomo wants to get a bill passed, no one's going to stop him.

It's Cuomo's indisputable power that makes us wonder why he's signaling a retreat on the minimum wage bill. First, he didn't include indexing in his budget, which means that the minimum wage wouldn't increase with inflation--one of the main reasons that it's so low today. Then, instead of using President Obama's support for an increase in the federal minimum wage as momentum, he said that this would make his efforts more "complex". He signaled a willingness to remove it as a line item in his budget, which will ultimately make the bill more difficult to pass.

Support for a minimum wage hike has become "the issue" distinguishing Democrats from Republicans. GOP poster boy Marco Rubio has said that minimum wage laws simply "don't work", and most of his party agrees, to the horror of the Latinos that they're trying to win over with immigration reform--85% of whom support a minimum wage increase. It's no secret that Cuomo's on the short list of potential frontrunners in the 2016 Presidential elections, but he ought to step carefully if he wants to attract traditional supporters of the Democratic Party: women, people of color, and the working class.

Cuomo has really stuck his neck out for women recently, dedicating a large part of his agenda to women's equality at a time when the GOP is set on limiting a woman's right to chose. However, women are concerned with more than the right to birth control and domestic violence--they are more likely than their male counterparts to be minimum wage earners, and they still earn 84 cents to every dollar that a man earns. Women of color make up 31% of minimum wage earners, and are only 12% of the total workforce. Together, women and people of color make up about 66% of all minimum wage earners in New York State.

As the country is becoming more diverse, and even electing representatives that reflect these demographics, Gov. Cuomo had better pay attention. He could easily be written off in 2016 as too centrist, too corporate, and ultimately, too bi-partisan. In New York State, his strategy is winning over Republicans: 6 in 10 approve of what he's doing, and about the same percentage of Democrats. But we don't need a president, or a governor, who cares more about Republicans than he does about his own party. He was elected by Democrats to lead as a Democrat, not as a Republican-friendly fiscal conservative.

Working families need a minimum wage increase, and they need to know that as the price of public transportation and housing rises, so do their wages. Minimum wage earners make about $15,000 a year. Any business that pays their employees that poorly should be shut down. And any politician that supports these businesses should be voted out of office. Cuomo's leadership on minimum wage will be revealing, not only of where he stands, but also of how hard he's willing to fight.

 

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