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Politics and Government

Katko proposes tax-free alternative to mandatory paid family leave

Tom Magnarelli
Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) with various central New York business leaders.

Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) introduced a bill that would allow employees to save a part of their wages in an account, tax-free, to be used for expenses when they have a child. The bill is Katko’s alternative answer to mandatory paid family leave.

Under Katko's plan, business owners could match what an employee puts into this savings account, as much or as little as each one wants. Workers could spend the money on any expenses associated with having a child within one year. The funds could also be transferred to a retirement or college savings account.

Speaking at a warehousing and distribution company in Liverpool, Katko said his bill is about taking the government out of the equation and putting businesses and workers in control.

“If you want to start planning and being responsible, just a little bit a day can really add up over time,” Katko said.

The federal government already allows workers to take 12 weeks of unpaid family leave. But requiring paid family leave has been a contested issue. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has introduced her own bill that would have employees and employers putting in .2 percent of an employee’s income into an account each month. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, has proposed a state bill to require partially paid family leave.  Katko said his bill is different because it is not a mandatory tax on everyone.

“This is basically, if you want to participate in it you can, if you don’t want to participate in it as an employee or employer, you don’t have to,” Katko said. "Why burden people with an additional new tax line on their tax forms unless they want it, unless they want to plan ahead? Some people do, some people don't, I think it should be their option."

Katko said everyone agrees something should be done to help new parents and he wants his bill to bridge bipartisan consensus.

Minimum wage

Katko said raising the minimum wage in New York to $15 an hour would be a job killer for the state. Katko said some business owners in central New York have already told him they will be cutting back if the minimum wage goes up. He said some of the biggest entry level jobs after minimum wage are jobs in manufacturing which have been disappearing.

"If we get our factory jobs and manufacturing jobs back from overseas though real comprehensive tax reform, that's the hard stuff," Katko said. "If we do that, we won't be having this discussion of a $15 minimum wage and we won't need it. I think the $15 minimum wage is a Band-Aid approach to a systemic problem in this country and we better face that." 

Katko said he supports job training and social programs as safety nets for people trying to get out of poverty. He said he also supports incentives, such as gradually taking someone off of welfare when they get a job, instead of cutting benefits all at once.