Democrats who control the New Jersey Senate are looking to circumvent Governor Chris Christie to get a minimum-wage increase passed by taking the question directly to voters.
A measure approved today on a 7-6 vote by the Senate’s budget panel seeks a constitutional amendment that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.25 an hour from $7.25 beginning in 2014 and tie future increases to the U.S. Consumer Price Index.
“Governor Christie simply did not agree with us on this issue, so we took him out of the equation,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat from West Deptford. “The governor and I have worked together on several important issues, but on this fundamental issue, he’s out of touch with the needs of working-class New Jerseyans.”
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat from East Orange, is sponsoring a bill that would accomplish the same goals as Sweeney’s resolution through legislation instead of an amendment.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Oliver said of a higher minimum wage. “It’s why I continue to want to see the Assembly-approved bill sent to the governor so we can see what he decides and determine the next step.”
Democrats, who control both houses of the legislature, made the wage increase a priority this year along with legalizing same-sex marriage and increasing income taxes for millionaires. Christie vetoed both of those measures. Sweeney wants his amendment on the ballot in November 2013, when the governor would face re-election should he seek a second term.
The committee vote today moves the measure to the full Senate for debate.
Christie, a Republican, has said that while he would consider a one-time increase in the minimum wage, he opposes a provision requiring annual adjustments for inflation.
Speaking Oct. 2 in Raritan Township, Christie said that locking the wage and increases into the constitution would leave the state unable to make adjustments if the moves hurt businesses or jobs.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Christie, 50, told reporters. “I’ve said over and over again that I will consider a minimum-wage increase as a part of a larger package to bring economic growth to this state.”
New Jersey has struggled to shake off the effects of the U.S. economic downturn, as tax collections in the fiscal first quarter fell 4 percent below the targets set in the budget Christie signed in June, according to Treasury Department figures. The state’s jobless rate reached a 35-year high of 9.9 percent in August.
New Jersey’s minimum wage last increased in 2009, from $7.15, to match a $7.25 federal threshold. An $8.25 rate would put it ahead of neighboring New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, which all match the $7.25 federal standard, and would equal Connecticut’s, according to the U.S. Labor Department’s website.