As expected, Mayor Mike Bloomberg today vetoed the City Council’s wage legislation, but unlike his past public comments on the matter, he didn’t go so far as to compare the bills to Communism.
Still, if the legislation passes, Bloomberg will sue.
The proposals in question were the prevailing and living wage bills, which essentially would require that businesses pay employees higher wages — $10 an hour plus benefits, instead of the current $7.25 minimum hourly wage — at some city-subsidized developments.
The bills are significant because they have come to represent a politically important challenge for City Council Speaker Quinn, a mayoral hopeful who has been forced to navigate the competing interests of business and labor leaders in negotiating the legislation. Additionally, the living wage battle has pitted the mayor against Quinn, who has typically been seen as the potential successor most aligned with Bloomberg’s views, especially given their pro-business records.
Distancing herself from the current mayor is possibly a conscious tactic of Quinn as she gears up for her 2013 run, and the their fight over the living wage certainly has become a public display of disagreement. Bloomberg has repeatedly said that forcing some businesses to pay employees higher wages would kill economic development and job growth, while Quinn and her supporters in the City Council — and labor unions — argue that the bills are responsible measures that will provide an important financial boost to service workers and their families.
“Of course, I understand why some union leaders support the legislation. Their job is to increase the salaries and benefits of their members, whether by negotiation, arbitration, or legislation,” Bloomberg said today, speaking at City Hall. “But it’s the government’s job to stand up for taxpayers and for job-seekers, and that leaves me no choice but to veto these bills.”
In January, Quinn had successfully brokered a compromise that allowed her to stand with business and labor leaders by her side (in that proposal, direct employees of tax-break recipients would receive the higher wage — but not their tenants). That unraveled earlier this month when the city’s major business group announced it would no longer support Quinn’s legislation due to disagreements about the mayor’s power to exempt some companies.
Through all this fine-tuning, though, Bloomberg has remained firmly against the bills, often using language much harsher than he did today.
The mayor began his remarks today by placing the bills in the context of the work his administration has done for the last decade, with a quick snapshot of what we can only imagine are his hopes for the Bloomberg legacy once he steps down next year.
(He said that over the past ten years, the city has attracted a record number of people and jobs, driven crime down, added new park land, turned around a broken school system, supported arts and culture, created records amounts of new housing, invested in new infrastructure projects, and, of course, made it easier for folks to open and maintain businesses in the city).
The wage bills, Bloomberg said, are “a throwback to the era when government viewed the private sector as a cash cow to be milked rather than a garden to be cultivated. In those days, government took the private sector for granted. We cannot afford to go back to those days. We cannot take our economy for granted, and I will not sign legislation — no matter how well intended — that hurts job creation and taxpayers.”
The mayor then rambled on his views of government and the economy, saying it’s not his job to be the architect of the economy, but rather the private sector should rule. “Government must take a balanced approach to regulation,” he said, noting responsibilities like workplace safety, fair labor standards, and anti-discrimination policies.
“When it comes to deciding what…pay should be…government has an obligation to set a minimum wage, but beyond that, private businesses should be free to make their own decisions,” he said, noting that he supports an increase in the state’s minimum wage, in keeping with inflation.
Not directly mentioning Quinn, he added, “The Council wants to take revenues from owners and give it to a select group of employees. That’s just not the way the free market works.”
The City Council is expected to have enough votes to override the veto. Bloomberg, who didn’t take questions today, said he would challenge them in court if it came to that.
This afternoon, Quinn sent out a lengthy statement in response to the mayor’s veto, noting that 21 percent of New Yorkers live below the poverty line and that the median real household income has fallen by 2.2 percent in the last four years.
“Too many hard working families today feel the effects of a painful financial squeeze,” the statement said.
“As we work to protect middle class families, we have also gone to great lengths to avoid putting an onerous burden on business. Both the prevailing and living wage bills have been narrowly tailored to effect only direct recipients of City financing. If a business isn’t looking for taxpayer dollars, they’re under no obligation to meet these requirements,” Quinn added.
And in response to some of Bloomberg’s specific arguments, the statement said, “The Mayor has argued that these bills would interfere with the free market. In fact, that is precisely what the City’s development incentive program is designed to do – to alter the market to favor businesses that provide a public benefit by creating jobs in New York City rather than another location.”
The statement also casts Bloomberg’s stance as hypocritical, referencing a decision of the mayor in 2002,when he signed into law prevailing and living wage requirements for home health aides, day care workers, and some building service workers whose companies have contracts with the city. Quinn’s statement even includes a quote from the mayor at the time where discusses the importance of “providing a competitive wage to employees who do this difficult work.”
“My colleagues and I look forward to overriding the mayor’s veto,” Quinn said.