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Blankenbush’s forums bring out small business owners decrying wage hike

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The crowds at Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush’s forums on the minimum wage have consisted of mainly one group: small-business owners.

That helps explain why his listening tour of the tri-county district has given Mr. Blankenbush an earful about potential drawbacks of raising the lowest legal wage for most workers from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour.

“They would have to rethink how many people they hire, and possibly not hire as many young people to do their part-time jobs,” said Mr. Blankenbush, R-Black River, who has held forums in Gouverneur, Lyons Falls and, on Thursday night, in LeRay.

Before the LeRay meeting, Mr. Blankenbush said that only one small-business owner was receptive to the idea of raising the minimum wage. Add to that tally one caller to his district office.

But when he discussed a potential compromise with Assembly Democrats — for example, a proposal for a smaller hike, and without yearly increases — the breakdown in the room is about 50/50, Mr. Blankenbush said.

The public opinion is colliding with political realities, and a compressed legislative calendar.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said that while he supports the increase in theory, he doesn’t think it will get done this year, due to resistance from Senate Republicans.

“If he’s saying it, I would think, we only have four more weeks left” in the legislative calendar, Mr. Blankenbush said. “This could be a dead issue for this year.”

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, supports raising the minimum wage, and voted for it in the Assembly.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, has said through a spokesman that she hasn’t seen a bill increasing the minimum wage that she would support.

Mr. Blankenbush, who voted against the Assembly’s proposal, has said he would consider a compromise.

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