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Flanagan may support minimum wage hike – with conditions

ALBANY – State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, once again, is not ruling out support for a hike in the minimum wage. However, he said Monday that Democratic plans are untenable unless a more holistic approach to the state’s business climate is addressed in the state budget.

The Suffolk County Republican said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s seeming linkage between a minimum wage hike for workers and a $300 million tax break for small businesses is unworkable. Critics of the wage increase say its costs soar above the $300 million tax plan, which would be phased in over several years.

Flanagan’s comments come as a survey by Siena College of upstate business executives found decreasing confidence in the state’s economy, especially from Buffalo to Syracuse. The minimum wage plan by Cuomo, previously embraced by most Assembly Democrats, is expected to be a wedge issue for the upcoming budget talks at the Capitol.

Cuomo has made it one of his self-described “signature” efforts, and a group named after his late father, Mario Cuomo, was formed to help him push the increase from the present $9 per hour to $15 per hour, phased in over several years.

“It’s not one-dimensional. It’s not just about increasing the minimum wage,” Flanagan told reporters at the Capitol Monday. He said discussions need to include such problems facing businesses as workforce development and the costs associated with complying with state regulations. He said it is still uncertain how much the wage increase will hurt hospitals and nursing homes, which often have fewer options to pass along state-mandated costs that some businesses.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, declined to comment on Flanagan’s views, saying he needed to hear the remarks directly instead of through the filter of a reporter.

Business groups say the sharp wage hike will jeopardize the fiscal health of any corporation already operating on thin margins, while Cuomo and allies say the minimum wage does not keep a full-time worker with a family living above the poverty level.