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Skelos opens door to compromise on minimum wage hike measure

The head of the State Senate Republicans on Tuesday for the first time appeared to soften his hard-line opposition to the Democratic proposal to raise the state's minimum wage.

First the measure to raise the current $7.25 per hour minimum wage to $8.50 per hour passed the Assembly, prompting Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, to say: "It will be good for our workers, it will be good for our economy."

Hours later, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, again said his colleagues oppose boosting costs for employers in a shaky economy. Moreover, he said those getting wage hikes are pushed out of income-based benefits, including tax breaks.

Still, Skelos opened the door wider than previously when he said, in Albany-speak, that he would not pass Silver's bill. The comment leaves considerable room for negotiations before the 2012 session ends for a compromise bill with, say, a lower wage hike than Silver wants.

Republicans in the Senate, a chamber they narrowly control going into the fall elections, have their own wish list: tax breaks for small businesses and a new college affordability program. The college affordability program, released Tuesday, comes a year after lawmakers and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo approved a five-year plan for annual tuition hikes at all state university campuses. The new Senate plan, costing nearly $500 million when fully phased in by 2016, includes tax breaks, lower college-loan borrowing rates and incentives for college graduates to stay in New York State.

In New York, 231,500 people make the minimum wage, according to the state Labor Department. Fifty-two percent of minimum wage workers are between 16 to 24 years old, 19 percent between 25 and 34, 23 percent between 35 and 54 and just under 7 percent are over age 55. Sixty-three percent of minimum wage workers are women.

Cuomo has hinted at some interest in raising the minimum wage, though he has not said he supports the Assembly plan and critics have noted he has not added it to his list of items he wants passed by the Legislature before the end of the 2012 session. He also has said he does not believe the matter will be resolved this session.

"I would expect him to come out forcefully and say he supports [raising the] minimum wage," Silver said, quickly adding, "I have no fault with the governor on this issue. The fault lies with the Senate."