An increase in the state’s minimum wage and small business tax credits will likely be passed in a lameduck session of the state Legislature, according to state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna.
He predicted that minimum wage, tax credits, a legislative pay raise, a raise for cabinet commissioners, the further decriminalization of marijuana and legislation dealing with the possibility of New York having casinos could all be part of an end the year compromise orchestrated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The governor has said that a legislative increase will only be signed into law if it is done in conjunction with legislation that he feels constitutes the people’s business. It has been a trademark of his administration to bundle legislation so that legislators on both ends of the political spectrum compromise, as with his 2011 tax compromise and the package this spring that included DNA database legislation, a redistricting compromise, teacher evaluations, a casino amendment and pension reform.
Farley raised the possibility of a minimum wage increase during a candidate forum for the 49th Senate District on Tuesday night in Clifton Park, where he squared off against Democratic challenger Madelyn Thorne. Thorne is a major proponent of the minimum wage, calling the current state rate immoral. Both candidates are opposed to raising legislative pay.
The forum, which included candidates from the 112th Assembly District and 20th Congressional District, was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County and the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County.
During the debate for the 49th Senate District, which includes parts of Schenectady, Saratoga and Fulton counties, the candidates mostly only disagreed on marriage equality, with Thorne supporting the measure and Farley endorsing civil unions for same-sex couples.
Farley also indicated during the debate that he might be open to public financing for statewide races. Both candidates opposed public financing of local campaigns.
Both candidates also predicted their party would take control of the state Senate, the last bastion of statewide power for Republicans. Farley said that as a member of the Republican Party leadership he is able to deliver legislation and funds to help his district. Thorne said the district will be well served when she’s representing it as a member of the majority party in the Senate.
Thorne proposed moving the full county cost of Medicaid to the state level, described the teacher evaluation system as a mistake and called for the consolidation of school administration positions. She wants the state to stop raiding funds set up for local governments and potentially implement some of the recommendation’s from Cuomo’s first mandate relief team.
Farley criticized the Assembly for blocking mandate relief and said one way to scale back the burden on local governments is by reducing benefits being offered by Medicaid, as the state has the best coverage options in the country and it is expensive. He added that mandate relief will likely be a main focus of the state when it returns for its next session, hinting that some sort of substantive relief is coming.
Farley also called for the consolidation of some small and rural high schools. He said the fiscal realities don’t make it possible for all the tiny high schools to survive, but said that small elementary schools shouldn’t be merged. This is a plan, he said, that he has addressed with the governor.
Thorne lamented the lack of predictability in the state’s funding of education, which she said has made budgeting a real problem for school districts. She also wants to see the state’s aid formula tweaked so rich schools don’t benefit the same way small and rural schools do when funding is increased or remains steady.
Farley also highlighted the cooperation between the state Senate and Cuomo and promised it would continue for the next two years. Thorne countered that the recent progress by the state has been made as the result of Cuomo's presence and argued that for most of his tenure Farley has been part of the problem in the state Senate.