By CARA MATTHEWS
Gannett Albany Bureau
ALBANY - Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, introduced legislation Monday that would increase the state's minimum wage to $8.50 an hour starting Jan. 1, 2013.
New York's minimum wage is $7.25, the same as the federal minimum wage. Silver's proposal would index increases in the minimum wage to inflation, legislative officials said.
Assembly Democrats plan to hold a news conference Monday to introduce the bill.
Silver announced early this month that increasing the minimum wage would be a priority for Assembly Democrats this legislative session.
"Frankly, it is absurd to expect anyone - let alone a working family - to afford the cost of living today and be able to invest in their future on a salary of $7.25 an hour; or $15,000 a year," he said before Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State speech Jan. 4.
New York's minimum wage is more than $3 less than what it would be if it had kept pace with inflation in the past four decades, according to the National Employment Law Project Action Fund. The state's minimum wage has gone up 10 cents in the last five years and is lower than 18 other states.
Ten states index their minimum wages each year to keep pace with the rising cost of living, the group said.
Cuomo hasn't taken a position on the issue.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined Silver a few weeks ago in calling for a hike in the minimum wage. The mayor said in his State of the City address that increasing the minimum wage would help "those who are trying to help themselves," but it also a "balancing act."
"Right now, I believe we are slightly out of balance. The genius of the free market is not always perfect. Two of our neighbors - Connecticut and Massachusetts - have raised their minimum wage above the federal standard to address higher costs of living," he said at the time.
But the National Federal of Independent Business in New York recently said it was opposed to a hike, arguing that it would drive jobs out of the state and make it more difficult for entry-level workers to find employment.
"Small employers that can't afford the increase will simply find ways to avoid creating new jobs," Mike Durant, the organization's New York director, said in a statement. "And the jobs that are available will be more attractive to people who have more experience. People with the lowest skills and the least experience will be crowded out of the market."
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, said earlier this month that Senate GOP majority would be willing to take a look at a minimum-wage hike but would not want to hurt businesses in the state.
Skelos spokesman Scott Reif said Sunday that "Senate Republicans will continue to promote policies that encourage job growth and make New York a more business-friendly state, just as we did last year partnering with Governor Cuomo."
The National Employment Law Project Action Fund said in a recent statement that increasing the minimum wage would "help boost consumer demand and spur economic recovery."