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Making matters worse; Now is not the time for New York State to go it alone on raising minimum wage

Raising the minimum wage now would just add to the state's anti-business reputation.

Here's a fact to keep in mind — prominently in mind — as the debate about raising the minimum wage in New York waxes and wanes: In its annual ranking of state business climates, CEO Magazine this month identified New York's as the second worst in the country. Again.

As the National Federation of Independent Business recently observed, that means a company in New York could move to any of 48 other states and find a better environment in which to do business.

Question: Why would we want to do anything to make the problem worse? That, in effect, is the proposal of those who are pushing for New York to raise its minimum wage to $8.50 an hour from the current $7.25. When New York becomes even more expensive to businesses, the potential consequences can be unfortunate.

Who doesn't want to see people making very little money get an increase? But what if the person who was going to get the increase instead loses the job? Employers who feel they can't pass the increase on to their customers or otherwise absorb the expense adjust to it by reducing their work force. What's worse than a job that doesn't pay enough? No job at all.

That's why it doesn't help for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to propose a compromise in which his Republican-controlled chamber might support some other version of a minimum wage increase.

While Skelos hasn't formally linked his proposal for new business tax cuts to an increase in the minimum wage, it smells like Albany: If the Assembly agrees to cut business taxes, the Senate will agree to raise the minimum wage. Both sides give up something to gain something.

In some ways, of course, that is the way Democratic government should work. The failure to pursue that kind of compromise has hobbled the federal government, leaving it unable to deal with critical issues involving the federal budget deficit, Medicare and Social Security.

But the Senate's approach is the wrong action in the wrong forum. We understand the argument for raising the minimum wage. Given the fact of inflation, alone, the mere existence of a minimum wage presupposes that it will periodically rise.

It must, if it is to have any relevance.

But New York has sabotaged itself — and its millions of low-wage workers — through long-standing practices and policies that make this the second-unfriendliest state in which to do business. Only California is worse. If New York wants to lead the way in requiring businesses to pay a higher minimum wage, it needs first to improve its overall business climate.

There are two solutions to this problem. The first, and more immediate, one is to pressure Washington to raise the federal minimum wage. If the entire country were paying the same rate, New York's business climate would not deteriorate relative to other states.

The other, longer-term, solution — and a necessary one, at that — is for New York to move out of the business-climate desert. That means continued improvement in workers' compensation rules, reform of labor regulations like the Taylor Law and Triborough Amendment and the end of the sweetheart Scaffold Law that needlessly drives up the cost of construction projects, including even home roofing jobs.

New York, long held in the pockets of labor unions and trial lawyers, is unlikely to take such steps, but they are what is necessary if the state is to create a more hospitable business climate and then be in a position to lead the way in raising the minimum wage.

Until then, let Washington do it.