Bloomberg uses the occasion of a veto to talk about wage mandates

Bloomberg, with veto pen. ()
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This morning Mayor Michael Bloomberg took what he presented as a principled stand on two pieces of legislation, one already passed, the other about to be passed, that would require recipients of city subsidies to pay their employees a certain wage.

It was, said his spokesman Stu Loeser, the first time that the mayor had accompanied a legislative veto with a speech decrying the legislation in question.

“Those bills—the so-called living and prevailing wage bills—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," said the mayor, speaking to reporters on the second floor of City Hall.

Despite the limited scope of both bills, the mayor, who routinely doles out incentives to businesses, and the business community, which routinely benefits from such incentives, regards the bills as an unprincipled violation of free market principles.

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The mayor vetoed the first bill, known as prevailing wage, this morning. That bill would require some recipients of more than $1 million in city subsidies, and owners of some buildings heavily occupied by the city, to pay their building workers more than $20 an hour. Since most such workers are already unionized, and the bill is not retroactive, the Council estimates it will impact fewer than 200 workers upon passage.

The City Council is expected to pass the second bill, known as living wage, on April 30. That bill would require some recipients of city economic development subsidies to pay their employees $10 an hour with health benefits or $11.50 without. Like prevailing wage, its initial impact will be minimal.

The mayor this morning said he would veto that bill, too. And if both of his vetoes are overidden, as expected, then his administraton will seek to overturn the legislation in court.

“I urge the councilmembers to vote against the living wage bill, and to vote against overriding this veto on the prevailing wage bill," he said. 

The mayor has voiced support for a higher minimum wage statewide but has made the argument, as he did today, that local wage mandates put subsidized businesses at an economic disadvantage against non-subsidized ones.

He also argued that the burden for wage mandates would fall on taxpayers.

“After all, no owner of a building would sign a lease with the city unless the city pays the additional costs the owner would incur as a result of having to pay the higher, government-mandated wage," he said.

And then he argued the burden would actually fall on building owners.

“The Council wants to take revenue from owners and give it to a select group of employees," Bloomberg said. "That’s not the way the free market works."

While the mayor lambasted city subidizies that might elevate wages, he said subsidies for businesses, like the nearly $130 million he offered to keep Fresh Direct in New York City, were another matter entirely.

"The City Council delayed the living wage bill to ensure that it would not apply to Fresh Direct because it was clear that the bill would threaten Fresh Direct’s plan to relocate to the Bronx, expand, and create thousands of jobs," he said. "But what about the next Fresh Direct?"

UPDATE: Quinn responds, at length.