For years, a debate over what the hourly minimum wage in New York should be has been consumed by politics. Now, Gov. Kathy Hochul's plan to link the wage to the rate of inflation could deflate that political football.
But a coalition of labor unions and progressive Democrats in the state Legislature want to also see a wage hike in the coming years with the goal of hitting $21.25 an hour by 2027.
How New York's wage debate plays out in the coming months could determine the pay for millions of workers in the state and whether there will be future battles over the issue.
Progressive lawmakers and advocates, emboldened by Democratic supermajorities in the state Legislature and fresh off the rejection of Hochul's choice to lead the state Court of Appeals, are eager to take up the wage fight.
Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner this week said the higher wage would give stability to low-income people.
"That’s what New Yorkers want," she said. "Everyone is struggling right now and the time to do is right now."
The minimum wage is currently $15 in New York City and the surrounding area, while $14.20 north of Westchester. The upstate wage is set by a board within the state Department of Labor.
A regional wage increase was the product of a compromise between then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a bloc of Democrats who held a power-sharing agreement in the state Senate with Republicans, and meant as a nod to the varying differences in the cost of living in New York statewide.
Hochul’s plan to link the minimum wage to the cost of living would also cap wage increases if inflation runs too high.
Democrats, now firmly in control of both the Senate and Assembly, want the wage to be uniform in New York.
"We want to make sure it’s done right and correctly," Joyner said. "New Yorkers cannot afford to live in the past at these frozen rates. So we definitely need to raise the minimum wage to a higher level and index it to inflation."
Lawmakers like state Sen. Robert Jackson say the inflationary pressure on New Yorkers has hurt lower-income workers.
"Because of inflation, it costs more to buy groceries, all of the food, gas, rents are going up," he said. "People need a minimum wage to be able to live and afford the things that everyone should have."
But Republicans, including Assemblyman Josh Jensen, also cite inflation as a reason to not raise the wage this year. The wage hike, they argue, could further drive up costs for consumers.
"These business owners are already constrained by supply chain and inflationary costs," he said. "Any increase to wages has to come from some place. Certainly those costs are going to be borne by the businesses."