AP: Minimum wage hike may be decided by NJ voters

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Septebmer 22, 2012

The resolution will ask voters to increase the wage by $1, to $8.25 per hour, and tie future yearly increases to national economic data, known as indexing, Senate President Steve Sweeney of Gloucester County told The Associated Press.

Gov. Chris Christie indicated that he would not sign a bill with for indexed adjustments, Sweeney said. He said that's why he hasn't advanced the bill the Assembly passed in May hiking the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour and creating annual adjustments based on the Consumer Price Index. Sweeney said his 2005 minimum wage legislation was approved only after he agreed to remove such a provision.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, the prime sponsor of the Assembly version of the bill who made an impassioned plea for its passage on the floor of the chamber this spring, told the AP in a statement she hopes the Senate will put the bill up for a vote and send it to Christie.

Increasing the minimum wage was identified as a Democratic legislative priority for the year, and the different approach being taken by the Senate leader could bubble over into a feud between the legislative leaders.

New Jersey's minimum wage, which has been $7.25 per hour since 2010, is the same as the federal minimum and that of 23 other states. A minimum wage earner who works 40 hours grosses $290 per week.

If the wage had been indexed annually since the state began statutorily setting the rate in 1968, New Jersey's minimum wage today would be $9.20, according to a calculation provided by Senate Democrats.

Of the states that index their minimum wage, all have wage floors equal to or greater than New Jersey's. The highest is Washington state, where the minimum wage is $8.67 per hour.

Anticipating backlash from some who will object to amending the state Constitution over a wage issue, Sweeney said, "it's important enough to raise the standard of living for everyone."

His proposal requires legislative approval to get the question on the ballot, and voter approval at the polls, but would not require approval from Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican.

Business groups oppose a minimum wage increase, saying it will have a domino effect on other wage earners who will also expect a raise, leading to less hiring or layoffs.

Sweeney said he's convinced people will spend the little extra money they earn - on clothes, food, appliances or entertainment - providing a much-needed jolt to the local economy and possibly boosting New Jersey's sales tax collections.

He said tying future increases to the CPI is "non-negotiable" because it's the only way for low wage earners to be assured their raises aren't at the mercy of politicians.

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