ALBANY — A hike in New York's minimum wage is a big win for Democrats, but a provision buried inside the tentative state budget shows taxpayers will be paying much of the bill.
The "minimum wage reimbursement credit" is spelled out at the bottom of a revenue bill in the budget separate from the minimum wage measure. The credit would reimburse employers for part of the difference in wages from the current $7.25 minimum wage as it rises to $9 an hour by 2016.
Once it reaches $9 an hour, employers would pay 40 cents and taxpayers $1.35 of the extra $1.75 an hour workers are paid.
Employers including big-box department stores and fast-food chains will get tax credits for seasonal employees, ages 16 to 19, who are still in school, which some advocates for low-income residents say will hurt adult workers.
The cost of the measure approved in closed-door negotiations between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders won't be known publicly until after the budget gets final legislative approval, which is expected by the end of this week. Early estimates are between $20 million and $40 million, with no cap on the total.
"You are kind of flying blind on this," said Frank Mauro of the progressive Fiscal Policy Institute.
Advocates for the working poor fear the credit will prompt employers to replace adults with students. Mauro said Tuesday the credit also would result in the first maximum wage for many employees because employers would lose the credit if they raise wages over the minimum wage.
The credit "flies in the face of sound tax policy, good labor market practice, or common sense," Mauro said.
The think tank said the credit would "dangle $1,560 to $2,808 out in front of employers for every adult worker they manage to substitute with a student."