The New York City Council today advanced two of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature initiatives, on sick pay and taxing the rich, giving the Democrat a boost in his second month in office.
Council members voted to expand mandatory paid sick leave to 355,000 workers at businesses with five or more employees, and asked the state legislature for power to tax wealthy residents to pay for universal all-day pre-school. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans oppose the mayor’s tax plan.
The 51-member council, made up of 48 Democrats and three Republicans, voted 46 to 5 in favor of the sick-pay expansion, and 48 to 3 for a home-rule resolution that would authorize the city to place a 0.5 percent surcharge on earnings above $500,000 to pay for pre-K and after-school programs for teens.
De Blasio, 52, campaigning as a self-described progressive, won election by the largest percentage margin for a non-incumbent in the city’s history. Upon taking office Jan. 1, he vowed to fight income inequality in the most populous U.S. city. He made expansion of sick pay among his first intended tasks and called universal pre-K his most important policy goal.
“We are going to continue to send our message that we are a united voice and that a majority of New Yorkers believe strongly that this small increment in the tax is important to provide consistency in rolling out universal pre-K for every child in this city,” said Democratic Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally who represents East Harlem and part of the Bronx.
Cuomo, a Democrat, has said de Blasio’s idea would be unfair because other municipalities don’t have millionaires to tap, and Dean Skelos, the Long Island Republican who co-leads the senate, has said he won’t allow the proposal to get a vote. He and Cuomo support a plan that would use the state budget to provide universal pre-K for all municipalities that want it.
Passage of the home-rule measure now puts the competing tax visions of the governor and the mayor in the state legislature at the same time.
The sick-pay law takes effect April 1, superseding a measure enacted last year that covered about 145,000 in businesses of 20 workers or more. Businesses affected will be given six months to comply before the city Bureau of Consumer Affairs begins enforcement. It also expands the definition of family members to include grandchildren, grandparents and siblings.
Jobs v. Health
Seattle, San Francisco and the state of Connecticut have similar policies, and Mark-Viverito said their economies haven’t been hurt by the laws.
“No one should have to choose between their job and their health,” Mark-Viverito, 44, said during a City Hall news briefing. “No parent should have to choose between caring for a child and putting food on the table.”
Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business-backed group, said she accepted de Blasio’s point of view, even though she said it may create problems for small businesses.
“Municipal mandates on business add to the already high costs of the city and inevitably make New York less attractive to job creators,” she said. “At the same time, our surveys indicate that the vast majority of employers in the city already provide paid leave, so this mandate is more of a compliance and record-keeping headache than anything else.”