Friday, July 30, 2004

Governor Pataki's Odd Veto

July 30, 2004

Gov. George Pataki vetoed a bill yesterday that is the most important piece of legislation passed by New York's Legislature so far this year. It would have provided the lowest-paid workers in the state a gradual increase in the minimum wage, now $5.15, to $7.15 an hour by 2007. Mr. Pataki said he wanted a federal minimum wage bill instead. But that might be a long wait. Legislators from both the Assembly and the Senate need to override the governor's veto in the next few weeks.

What made this particular veto so odd is that last week Mr. Pataki sent the Legislature a "message of necessity'' about this same bill. The message, a shortcut around the normal legislative timetable, allows an immediate vote. Such a stamp of urgency from the governor should mean, at the very least, that the state's chief executive desperately wants that bill to be law. Not, apparently, this time.

The governor's people scoff that giving bills emergency status has become a routine courtesy to the Legislature. But most veterans of Albany's byzantine ways would suspect more than courtesy in this case. It is an election year for legislators, and the minimum wage issue is a tricky one for Republicans. Mainly, residents of New York City generally like the increase. Conservative Party leaders generally don't. So what to do about Republican-backed candidates in New York City who need both Conservatives and other voters? This looks like another case of an old Albany dodge: Republicans vote for the bill and the governor, conveniently, vetoes it. The problem is that a lot of low-wage workers will be the losers unless the Assembly and especially the Senate vote to override the governor.