The New York State legislature is fast tracking the budget process, as they try to reach final agreements and get bills printed by the weekend. The negotiations drew protesters to the Capitol, who are demanding that the budget include a minimum wage increase to $9 an hour, with automatic future increases for inflation.
The 50 or so demonstrators directed their ire toward Governor Cuomo and Senate Co Leader Jeff Klein, who they say aren’t doing enough to convince Republicans in the Senate to go along with a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour.
They chanted “Hey Klein, at least 9”, and “Hey Cuomo, the wage is too low”.
Senator Klein, a Democrat who led a break away faction of Democrats to join a coalition government with the Senate Republicans, has been attempting to compromise with the Senate GOP . Republicans have called a minimum wage increase a “job killer”.
Klein, a staunch supporter of raising the minimum wage, ultimately agreed to a plan to increase it gradually over a three year period instead, without naming any specific amount.
Mark Dunlea, with Hunger Action Network, says that’s not good enough. He questioned Senator Klein’s motives for forming a coalition with the Republicans. Dunlea says Klein, when he formed the coalition, said it was not about “greed” or “patronage”.
“This was about doing something different for the good of the voters of New York State,” said Dunlea.
But Dunlea says Klein’s priority issue, raising the minimum wage, still has not been enacted.
Dunlea, who demonstrated with other protesters outside Senator Klein’s office door, says food pantries and soup kitchens in the state feed 3 million people a year. 40% of recipients have jobs, but they don’t pay enough to make ends meet.
“They have to choose between paying their land lords, paying the utility company, or paying their medical bills,” said Dunlea. “They don’t make enough money to feed their families.”
Senator Klein was asked about the protesters following a budget conference committee meeting.
“I was just at my office, and I didn’t see any protesters,” Klein said.
Senator Klein and the other legislative leaders met several times with Governor Cuomo throughout the day Thursday, but offered few details of their talks, a sign that a final deal is close.
Lawmakers agreed to divide up $550 million dollars in additional spending for education, health, and other items. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says that doesn’t mean the legislature is spending half billion dollars more than Governor Cuomo wants. Silver, along with Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, say they have instead moved money around, but could not name the total increase in state spending.
“I can’t tell you right now,” Silver said.
“We’re staying within the 2% (spending) cap,” Senator Skelos added.
Schools will receive $290 million more dollars, but lawmakers have not yet convinced Governor Cuomo to agree to restore around $250 million dollars cut to New York City schools after they failed to meet the governor’s deadline for a teacher evaluation plan.
There was discontent with some of the other restorations.
The governor and leaders allotted $40 million additional dollars to service providers for the developmentally disabled. But supporters objected, saying that’s only one third of the $120 million dollars cut by Governor Cuomo.
The newest State Senator, Cecelia Tkaczyk, demanded an explanation at a budget conference committee meeting.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
She was told that negotiations are not yet done, and the final number could still change.