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Wage hike splits candidates

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The only candidates for Assembly or state Senate in the north country who have ambiguous opinions about an increase to the minimum wage are the incumbents.

Opinions on the measure — which would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour — are represented in both parties among challengers. But the Republicans who are in office all voted against it or didn't support it, while saying their opposition isn’t rock-solid.

The issue pits progressives — mostly Democrats who are hoping for a signature accomplishment for working families — against conservatives — mostly Republicans who say raising the minimum wage will hurt small businesses and wreck the economy.

In the 118th Assembly District, Assemblyman Marc W. Butler, R-Newport, is facing Democrat Joseph Chilelli, a Herkimer County bookstore owner and community activist. Mr. Butler voted against a proposal this year to raise the wage to $8.50 an hour and then increase it every year, citing the harmful effect it could have on businesses. But he objected to the continual hikes and the level to which it was hiked, not a raise itself.

“I would consider it, and I think it may come back, hopefully in another form,” Mr. Butler said. “I may consider it. When you compare New York’s minimum wage to neighboring states, we’re a little bit lower than most of the states around us.”

Mr. Chilelli, on the other hand, definitively said he supports a hike in the minimum wage. But he added that perhaps the rule should exempt small businesses, such as those with fewer than 10 employees. Large companies, he said, could absorb the costs better than a small business like his own.

Many in Albany believe the state Legislature will vote to raise the minimum wage in the lame-duck session between the Nov. 6 elections and when the new legislators take office in January. They believe it will be coupled with a pay hike for legislators, who haven’t seen one in about a decade.

Mr. Butler said he has made a commitment to vote against any pay hike. He said the Legislature should discuss automatic increases to lawmakers’ pay so they can’t complain about it stagnating. It’s an issue that affects downstate lawmakers, where the standard of living is higher than in the north country, Mr. Butler said.

“I’m not complaining about the salary,” he said. “I’ve made a commitment that I will not vote for” a pay raise.

Mr. Chilelli, meanwhile, said he was “absolutely not” in favor of a pay raise for legislators.

“If it was up to me, I would slash every legislator’s salary in half,” he said. “I was thinking of proposing that.”

The sprawling district for which both men are running includes parts of Oneida and Herkimer counties and Hamilton and Fulton counties, plus the St. Lawrence County towns of Madrid, Norfolk, Stockholm, Parishville, Pierrepont, Clare, Colton, Clifton and Fine.

Assemblywoman Janet L. Duprey, R-Peru, also would not give an unequivocal answer on a minimum wage hike. She said she is balancing the needs of businesses and working people in her district.

Karen M. Bisso, the Conservative Party candidate, has said she does not support increasing the minimum wage because it would make the state unattractive for perspective employers.

Timothy R. Carpenter, a city councilman in Plattsburgh who is running for the Assembly seat on the Democratic line, said he would vote against it, which would put him at odds with many members of the conference he hopes to join.

“I think it will destroy jobs,” Mr. Carpenter said. “Everything I think of, I think of how it’s going to relate to the job market. The only way we’re going to turn the economy around is to increase employment.”

The district they’re vying for includes Clinton and Franklin counties, plus four St. Lawrence County towns: Brasher, Lawrence, Piercefield and Hopkinton.

Democrat Amy M. Tresidder, an Oswego County legislator, said that raising the minimum wage is her No. 1 priority in Albany, citing the needs of working people in her district.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, her Nov. 6 opponent, didn't support the minimum wage hike that came up this year but has not ruled out supporting a different version in the future.

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