Paid family leave is well known to be a popular idea among New York City Democrats, but an increasing number of Republicans here also support it, with a significant number “strongly” in favor of such a policy, according to a new poll.
Democrats saying they “strongly support” paid family leave increased to 81% in 2015 from 74% in 2014, according to the Community Service Society‘s annual “Unheard Third” survey. But the gain was far greater among Republicans, with the portion who “strongly” support it rising to 58% in 2015 from 45% in 2014. Folding in less enthusiastic backers, support among Republicans went from 65% to 74%.
To be sure, the number of Republicans surveyed this year was minuscule, just 229, indicative of New York’s small number of GOP members, so random fluctuation could account for some of the increase. But the rise in support among non-GOP voters shows it probably was not a fluke. The survey of 1,705 city residents was conducted July 19 through Aug. 17 and has a margin of error of +/-2.75%. The policy would require employers to allow their workers time off to care for a newborn or sick loved one.
Republican lawmakers are aware the issue polls well among their constituents. But whether they can agree on a proposal that can be supported by the Assembly Democrats and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo is an open question. Sen. John Flanagan, majority leader of the state Senate, said he would be “open” to paid family leave that was funded entirely by workers, not taxpayers, a proposal that Mr. Cuomo has rejected.
“Conceptually, I think that has some real good points,” Mr. Flanagan said at a Crain’s event last week. “The details on something like that are extraordinarily important.”
Last winter, Mr. Cuomo said the legislature lacked the “appetite” to pass paid family leave, but Senate Republicans passed a bill to enact it, albeit with terms they knew the Democrat-controlled Assembly and governor would not support. But Mr. Cuomo was prompted to endorse the notion, and his top spokeswoman now says he “strongly” supports paid family leave.
The governor has neither introduced his own proposal nor advocated strongly for the passage of any of the existing bills, including a Democratic version in which paid leave would be funded entirely by employees, with across-the-board payroll deductions going into a pool. Mr. Cuomo called the Senate’s legislation over-reliant on state funding.
“We need a paid family leave policy that is sustainable and would provide real protections to employees. What we should not accept is the Senate proposal, which is a half-loaf that does not provide sustainable funding or a workable framework for employees and employers,” the spokeswoman said then.
The Business Council of New York State remains skeptical of letting government, rather than business owners, decide employee benefits.
“Any proposal to expand the current (non-work-related) disability benefit program to include mandatory paid leave raises concerns for business,” emailed Ken Pokalsky, a vice president of the council. “We haven’t seen a specific proposal from the Senate majority, so it is difficult to comment further. Other proposals currently before the state legislature raise significant concerns, as they are far broader in scope than [the federal Family and Medical Leave Act], and/or come attached to significant disability benefit increases.”
The benefit is already state law in New Jersey, California and Rhode Island. Advocates say they plan on ramping up pressure on Mr. Cuomo and legislative leaders next session to find a compromise.