HELL'S KITCHEN — When Mayor Bill de Blasio called for the minimum wage to be raised to $13 and indexed to inflation so that it would rise to $15 by 2019 at his State of the City address, a Gov. Andrew Cuomo spokeswoman shot down the plan, calling it a "non-starter."
Seven months later, with Vice President Joseph Biden at his side, Cuomo said he was going to propose that the legislature increase the statewide minimum wage to $15 per hour.
"The truth is, it’s wrong to have an economy where the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, where the American dream of mobility and opportunity has become more of a cruel myth," Cuomo said during a speech Thursday at the Jacob Javits Center.
Cuomo, speaking in grand terms before a crowd of union supporters and quoting his father, the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, didn't mention or explain his shift.
Biden, who's weighing a presidential run, said that higher wages were a matter of "dignity" and pushed the White House proposal for a national $12 minimum wage. He said that stagnant wages are the "single biggest issue facing not just individuals but our entire economy."
New York has become a national leader on the issue with this proposal, Biden added.
“You're going to make every single governor in every state in America look at themselves," said Biden. "It's going to have a profound impact."
In his 2015 State of the State address, Cuomo had proposed a minimum wage of $11.50 for New York City and $10.50 for the rest of the state by the end of 2016. He said a $15 minimum wage proposal by Assembly members of his own Democratic Party was too high. The legislature did not approve either plan.
This summer Cuomo asked the state Wage Board to examine a $15 per hour minimum wage for fast food workers. The current minimum wage in New York state is $8.75 per hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
The panel, appointed by Cuomo, recommend in July to raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 per hour in New York City by 2018 and to the same rate across the state by 2021.
Cuomo said Thursday that the Department of Labor had approved the board's recommendation.
"Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will bring fairness to 2.2 million working New Yorkers. $15 an hour will be the highest statewide rate in the nation and will herald a new economic contract with America, and it’s about time," said Cuomo.
In a statement, de Blasio, who has had a long-running and public feud with Cuomo, said he supported the plan.
“Nothing would do more to lift New Yorkers out of poverty and move our economy forward than raising the wage," said de Blasio who launched a national group of progressive politicians and activists to make income inequality an issue in the upcoming presidential elections.
"We welcome the Governor’s support for a $15 minimum wage — and New York City stands ready to help make it a reality," the mayor added.
The proposal was widely praised by unions such as 32BJ SEIU and New York Communities for Change which led fast food workers in the fight for higher wages.
But Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, panned the proposal.
“We supported a phased-in and graduated increase in the state minimum wage, as the governor outlined in his last budget, but a precipitous increase that threatens the most vulnerable businesses and employees would not find a lot of supporters in the business community," Wylde said in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan also said the increase would hurt companies already dealing with "among the highest costs of doing business in the country." He also questioned Cuomo's change of heart on the issue.
"In addition, this move comes less than six months after the governor himself dismissed a proposal by Democrats in the Assembly seeking to increase the state's minimum wage to $15-an-hour during state budget negotiations," Flanagan said in a statement.
"We have heard and we reject the political argument that raising the minimum wage will cost jobs – we believe the exact opposite," the governor said. "We believe that raising the minimum wage is going to spur the economy, because the families that get that money are going to spend that money."
The $15 wage would be phased in "so business can plan accordingly," said Cuomo.
A senior Cuomo administration official, who asked not to be named to speak more freely, claimed the governor was never against a $15 per hour wage in spite of his comments to the contrary.
"He believed it was a non-starter with the legislature," said the official. "Now the dynamic has shifted as a result of momentum building around the fast food wage board and the upcoming local and national elections next year."
Evan Thies, a political consultant and president of Brooklyn Strategies, said Cuomo's shift makes political sense, especially if he has aspirations at national office.
Democratic presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have focused on increasing the minimum wage.
"A much higher minimum wage is not a fringe opinion in the Democratic Party," Thies said. "Anybody who has any serious aspirations for the White House as a candidate or as vice president has to be on board for a significant increase to minimum wage that liberal-leaning Democrats and unions will appreciate."