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Local Farmers and Small Business Owners Speak Out on $15 Minimum Wage

The April 1 deadline for leaders in Albany to agree on a state budget, including a statewide $15 minimum wage increase by 2021, is approaching. Some local organizations are urging lawmakers to vote against that increase.

Dave Johnson is the owner of Apple Hills, a cafe and farm in Binghamton. He is also the President of the Broome County Farm Bureau. On Monday, he was joined by the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce, and a number of farm and small business owners, who say the minimum wage increase would be bad for business.

"Our costs are so high now that many farmers and small businesses barely make minimum wage themselves," said Johnson.

Johnson says the payroll increase to $15 an hour is just not feasible for his small business.

"In the last couple of years, it's already increased up to $9.00 right now. We're struggling right now to meet that," said Johnson, "And then you add another $6 on top of that $9 to make it $15. I don't know where we're going to come up with the money."

Advocates for the minimum wage increase say they've seen these worries from businesses in the past, but believe a $15 per hour living wage is possible for the future.

"Twenty years ago, ten years ago, I've seen it over and over. I've seen the business community panic every time," said Wanda Mead Campbell, a volunteer at Citizen Action of NY, "And every time, in the end, it's worked out for everyone."

However, Johnson doesn't feel the same way. He says he can't raise prices to match the payroll increase because it would be hard to compete with out-of-state produce in local markets.

"The people who are not in business, they say, well just pass it on to your customers. Farmers can't do that," said Johnson, "We're at a competitive disadvantage compared to other states that are more business-friendly, like Pennsylvania and Michigan."

Johnson and other small business owners say an increase in minimum wage could mean a decrease in employees and higher consumer prices.

If the legislation passes, the increase would be gradual, fully reaching $15 an hour in 2018 downstate and in 2021 upstate.