ALBANY, New York — Low-wage workers from around New York state gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday to support Gov. Andrew Cuomo's call for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, a proposal that continues to dominate the year's legislative work.
Sandra Luke makes $9 as a wheelchair attendant at New York City's LaGuardia Airport. She said it's barely enough to make ends meet, and forces her to sort her bills into two categories: ones she can pay and ones she must put off.
"With $15 I could pay my bills without stress," she said following a rally meant to coincide with a legislative budget hearing on workforce issues.
The rally was just the latest of several events that have brought hundreds of workers from around the state to the Capitol as lawmakers debate the merits of Cuomo's proposal, which would gradually raise the current minimum wage from $9 to $15 over several years.
Business groups oppose Cuomo's proposal; they say it will force them to raise prices or reduce positions. They have found a sympathetic ear in Senate Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, who said this week that the state would have to find ways to help businesses absorb the higher labor costs.
Cuomo has offered some business tax incentives, but Flanagan said more help will be needed.
"I don't know what would be enough," he said.
The minimum wage also came up during a budget hearing on mental health services. Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan told lawmakers Wednesday that raising the minimum wage would improve the mental health of New Yorkers by helping lift 110,000 families out of poverty.
"I think poverty is one of the biggest traumatic factors in mental health," she said.
Sen. Robert Ortt, a Niagara County Republican who chairs the Senate Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, said many nonprofits providing services don't pay $15 an hour and are concerned since it's not addressed in Cuomo's budget proposal.
Sullivan said there will be more discussion in budget talks about the proposal's effect on the health system. Many providers rely on Medicaid, where the federal government pays half, the state more than a quarter and the counties and New York city the balance.