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On minimum wage, let's end the absurdity

From the "you can't make this stuff up" department:

The State Senate's Republican leader opposes hiking New York's minimum wage because paying workers more means they'd lose some government benefits.

Really. That's among Majority Leader Dean Skelos' objections to the idea that New Yorkers be able to lift themselves out of poverty by working hard.

It's as if the man never read the Republican Manifesto, which clearly states that government aid is bad and that the private sector should fund advancement. Yet Republicans have suddenly become downright socialistic, lamenting that workers might lose tax credits or subsidized health care if their paychecks grow.

Skelos' ideological flip-flop was prompted by the Assembly's passage of the bill to hike New York's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour and to index it to inflation.

Even that wouldn't completely lift a family of three out of poverty. Yet it's still too much for critics, who complain about the state's lack of competitiveness.

But poor workers didn't create New York's impediments -- think Taylor Law, Wicks Law, etc. -- and shouldn't be held hostage to them.

The public knows that, as evidenced by Wednesday's Quinnipiac University poll showing wide support for the higher wage floor. Some Buffalo entrepreneurs know it, too.

Business issues are "much bigger than the minimum wage," which is not "going to make or break New York State," said Jon Welch, co-founder of Talking Leaves Books, which employs between 12 and 15 people at two stores.

"Even in Buffalo, there are small retailers opening all the time," said Welch, who supports the hike.

By contrast, he noted that big retailers look for any advantage they can extort and use competitiveness arguments "as a battering ram to try to get better deals for themselves."

The more important issue is whether a small business is growing. That's what the minimum wage facilitates by putting more money in the pockets of people who, by necessity, must spend it. That's what boosts economic growth.

"Our costs go up every year. Our staff's cost of living goes up every year. So it only makes sense that the minimum wage should go up every year," said Tim Bartlett, general manager at the Lexington Co-op.

Despite the GOP's faux concern for small business, Bartlett said that such retailers are more likely to pay better "because they're looking their employees in the eye every day" and "because we're concerned about our communities."

Even a small-business person who's not convinced government should be mandating a higher minimum nevertheless thinks workers should be paid more than $7.25.

"I just do it, anyway," said Kevin Gardner, who starts out everyone at Five Points Bakery at $8 an hour, then adds $1 for punctuality.

What has been the impact of paying that much? Gardner said he has hired three in the last two months and will soon expand the seven-employee operation.

Maybe state senators such as Buffalo's Mark Grisanti should talk with some of these local business owners. Grisanti has said he's open to something like a 25-cent hike, making him literally a two-bit politician on this issue. The Republican trying to straddle the line in a Democratic district needs to get off the fence and demonstrate the same courage he showed in supporting gay marriage.

New York will be on the right side of history on that issue, regardless of what other states do. It should demonstrate the same foresight when it comes to making work pay.

email: rwatson@buffnews.com