Stock image of Ithaca's City Hall

ITHACA, N.Y. — Could Tompkins County raise its minimum wage to $14.34 per hour?

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On Wednesday night, a committee of Ithaca’s Common Council discussed urging the county government to raise the minimum wage in Tompkins County, which is $8.75 per hour (as it is in the rest of the state), to the $14.34 per hour “living wage.”

Currently, counties in New York don’t have the authority to unilaterally raise their own minimum wages. (That’s not the case in some parts of the country, like in Seattle and Berkeley, which have approved their own minimum wage hikes.)

A resolution discussed by the Ithaca Common Council’s administration committee would urge the Tompkins County Legislature to sign off on a minimum wage increase for all employers in Tompkins County to $14.34.

It’s not clear if the state would approve such as request. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo has authorized a $15 minimum wage for workers in the fast food industry, suggesting that he might be open to a raise in the minimum wage by county.

A portion of the resolution discussed at City Hall tonight.

On Wednesday night, Pete Meyers of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center appeared at City Hall to build support for the county to ask the state for the minimum wage hike. (The town of Ithaca’s government, Meyers said, already unanimously approved a similar request.)

Still, Meyers said the county was a long way from getting the minimum wage hike and faces significant obstacles, including public skepticism. “I know we’re going to get pushback from businesses and some small businesses,” Meyers said.

Minimum wage hikes have been historically opposed by business leaders, Republicans and other fiscal conservatives who fear their impact on employment.

More left-leaning politicians, workers’ rights groups and some academic experts support raising minimum wages to much higher levels, emphasizing the plight of under-paid employees and the difficulty of paying for basic necessities at $8.75 per hour.

Alderperson J.R. Clairborne and Mayor Svante Myrick were two of the Ithaca officials who strongly backed the principle of raising the minimum wage in Tompkins County to a living wage.

“This is what leadership looks like,” Myrick said.

In response to questions from Alderperson George McGonigal about the impact of higher wage on employment at the Ithaca Youth Bureau, Myrick said that a minimum wage hike would in fact grow the city’s coffers overall by boosting local spending.

“What they do is spend that money; they don’t squirrel it away; they don’t invest it in bonds,” Myrick said. “…They spend more of it in rent and your sales tax receipts go up.”

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.