New York Times
Ms. Quinn’s final position is likely to be crucial to the fate of the hotly debated bill. She focused on the effects of similar policies in other cities and whether changes to the proposal would satisfy opponents’ concerns.
The speaker, who is expected to run for mayor in 2013, has not yet taken a stand on the so-called living wage measure. She appeared to listen thoughtfully on Tuesday to supporters and opponents at the lengthy and sometimes contentious hearing before the Committee on Contracts.
She began her career as a housing advocate but has moved closer to the business community, many of whose members oppose the bill, arguing that it would cost the city jobs. The legislation would require that employees in city-subsidized projects be paid at least $10 an hour with benefits, or $11.50 an hour without benefits. The state minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
In a brief question-and-answer session with reporters after the hearing, Ms. Quinn, who as speaker can effectively kill a bill by not bringing it to a vote, did little to tip her hand.
“The point of today’s discussion is, can we find a balance, can we raise people’s wages without stagnating job growth?” she said, adding, “I’m going to obviously be taking in the information I heard, digesting it, and we’ll move forward one way or another from there.”
The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg opposes the measure. But with the Occupy Wall Street protest this fall having highlighted the issue of income inequality, the bill’s supporters appear newly hopeful that Ms. Quinn will support some version of the legislation.
“I think there’s tremendous pressure, and I think that the Occupy Wall Street movement has intensified that pressure very substantially,” one of the bill’s sponsors, Councilman G. Oliver Koppell of the Bronx, said before the hearing.
In response to criticism that the measure would hurt small businesses and manufacturing, Mr. Koppell and his co-sponsor, Annabel Palma, introduced an amended version in October. It would exclude manufacturing businesses and apply only to companies with at least $5 million in annual revenue and that receive at least $1 million in city subsidies.
At the hearing, Mr. Koppell said he was open to further modifications. “I am not averse to working with my colleagues to do other changes if it looks like it is necessary,” he said.
The hearing room was packed, largely with supporters of the bill, many wearing T-shirts and waving signs that said “Living Wage Now.” Several liberal members of the Council drew applause with their full-throated statements in support of the bill.
The bill’s opponents, who included representatives of restaurants and bars, as well as leaders of the painters’ and carpenters’ unions, made frequent reference to the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, where a battle over a living wage requirement led to the demise in 2009 of a plan to develop a shopping mall.
Ms. Quinn appeared particularly interested in how the living wage policy in Los Angeles had played out there, and whether it often resulted in higher subsidies’ being granted or other modifications to development deals, like reductions in the amount of affordable housing required in a given project.
She asked Paul K. Sonn, a co-director of the National Employment Law Project and a proponent of the bill, for data, including information about the number of Los Angeles deals that were granted waivers.
Later, she asked the bill’s opponents about whether any modifications, like limiting the kinds of projects that would fall under the wage requirement, might appease them.
Speaking to Robert S. Bookman, a lawyer for the New York Nightlife Association, which represents bars and clubs, she asked at one point whether he could support the bill if it was limited to developments like airports and stadiums, where businesses cater to a captured audience of consumers.
“Sure,” he said.
She then asked him whether he would be open to it if his members received some of the benefits of the subsidies in the form of reduced rents.
“That’s something we would have to obviously consider,” Mr. Bookman said.