Democrats in the New York state Legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul this month are negotiating a change to New York's minimum wage that could link the base hourly pay in the state to the rate of inflation.
But lawmakers want to also increase the current wage beyond the $15 an hour in the New York City and $14.20 north of Westchester County. Business organizations, meanwhile, decry the effect the change would have on their bottom line.
Inflation has been a primary driver in the minimum wage debate, with the cost of groceries, fuel and utilities all rising over the last year.
On Wednesday in Albany, Gov. Kathy Hochul defended her plan for linking the wage to the cost of living, pointing to the positive effect it could have on low-income New Yorkers.
"They think they have a livable salary barely for wages. But then inflation goes up 8, 9%," she said. "It doesn't add up."
But Hochul's proposal is getting push back from businesses as well as progressive advocates. Michael Kink of Strong Economy for All says the wage must also rise to more than $20 an hour.
"If we index for inflation now without catching up, we lock in poverty level wages," Kink said.
In the Legislature, state Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner have supported a measure to increase the wage to $21.25 an hour by 2027. The specific target was not included in the formal legislative budget proposals last week.
Still, Democratic lawmakers have signaled they want to raise the wage as well as add the indexing provision as part of a final budget deal. Supporters have said the change would aid more people as a result.
"There's a significant money difference and there's a signficant coverage difference between the governor's plan and the Legislature's plan," Kink said.
Supporters of the wage hike have also highlighted the support from small business owners for an increase.
But Ashley Ranslow of the National Federation of Independent Business said both linking the base wage to inflation and raising it are opposed by the private sector.
"We represent 11,000 small business across New York state," she said. "Ninety-six percent of our members oppose increasing the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation."
The change would come as employers have also sought relief from a surcharge on unemployment insurance that was added to help the state pay off billions of dollars in unemployment debt incurred during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Onondaga County dairy farm AJ Wormuth says a wage increase would make it harder for his business to make ends meet.
"We don't have the ability to pass that on and recoup that from our milk processer, so it's very hard to sustain these increases without being able to pass our costs along," Wormuth said.
Farms are already struggling with the challenge of rising overtime costs as mandated by New York. It will be offset with a tax credit, but farmers must still wait for a reimbursement.
"The minimum wage on top of that only makes it that much worse, especially with the uncertainty," he said.