Liberals emboldened by promises of support from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday redoubled efforts to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and let high-cost areas such as New York City raise it even more.
Cuomo, who had expressed concerns about letting local governments set their own minimum wages, vowed to back the proposal and several other liberal priorities on Saturday as part of an agreement that won him the nomination of the left-leaning Working Families Party.
Democrats, who have long seen their proposals blocked in the state Senate, said they're counting on Cuomo's support to pass a wage increase. They were joined at a press conference by fast-food workers and liberal activists, several of whom said they were delighted by Cuomo's turn to the left and his promises to work to return the Senate to Democratic control.
"The governor has raised the bar," said Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. "The governor was very clear on his position. What we're doing today is supporting his intention."
The wage proposal includes automatic increases tied to inflation and empowers local governments to set minimums up to 30 percent higher than the statewide figure of $10.10. Cuomo has said he wants lawmakers to pass the measure next year, though supporters said they'd like to see it pass before the Legislature adjourns this month.
Without any action, the state's $8 minimum wage is set to increase to $9 at the end of next year.
Liberals hope the proposed increase is the first of several liberal causes that will benefit from Cuomo's support. The governor also vowed to back the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, a broad public campaign finance system and the Dream Act, which would extend state financial aid to students in the country illegally.
"This is a major shift, a game changer," said Karen Scharff, co-chair of the Working Families Party.
Polls show Cuomo needs liberal support to maintain his current double-digit lead over his Republican challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.
Republicans called Cuomo's promises to liberals a politically expedient rejection of bipartisanship, and Republican Senate leader Dean Skelos said he doesn't expect many of the "more controversial" of the liberal proposals — perhaps including the minimum wage hike — to get votes this year.
"He felt he had to do what he had to do to get that nomination," Skelos said. "I think he went a bit far."
Perhaps most significantly to lawmakers, Cuomo also promised to work to return the Senate to Democratic control, either by supporting challengers to Republican senators or by backing primary challengers against the small breakaway faction of Democrats who now share control with the GOP, unless they agree to return to the Democratic fold.