New Jersey’s Democratic-controlled Senate approved a bill to raise the minimum wage as a showdown with Republican Governor Chris Christie looms over a provision that would allow annual increases pegged to inflation.
The measure would raise the wage to $8.50 an hour in March from $7.25 and tie future increases to changes in the U.S. Consumer Price Index. It heads back to the Assembly, which passed the measure along party lines in May and must approve a new effective date before sending it to Christie’s desk.
Christie has said he’s willing to negotiate a one-time increase, and that an automatic trigger would be difficult to change if the economy contracts. He said yesterday that he has concerns about raising labor costs for employers dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“Let’s be clear on this now: we’ve got thousands of businesses wiped out,” said Christie, 50. “Is this really now the moment to say to those folks we’re going to hit you with a $1.25 increase on March 1, and a C.P.I. beyond that?”
Christie can veto the entire bill or strike out parts of it and send it back to lawmakers. Democrats control the Assembly, 48-32, and the Senate, 24-16, short of the two-thirds majority needed to reverse a veto. Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, declined to say today in an e-mail whether the governor would reject the bill.
If Christie vetoes the measure, Senate President Stephen Sweeney has said he will push an alternative bill that would sidestep the governor and ask voters to amend the state’s constitution to allow the increases. The Senate also approved that measure today; it now goes to the Assembly.
Sweeney, a Democrat from West Deptford who is a sponsor of both bills, has said he would seek to get that question on the November 2013 ballot, when Christie faces re-election. He and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat from East Orange, say a minimum-wage increase is needed to help working-class residents recover from the economic slump.
“It’s about a class of people that we’re forcing to remain in poverty,” Sweeney said during almost two hours of debate in Trenton. “This should be the last time we ever have to vote on this.”
The governor, speaking to reporters yesterday in Trenton, said Sweeney and Oliver haven’t accepted his offer to negotiate an increase. He said lawmakers didn’t raise the issue in talks they’ve held since Sandy hit the New Jersey coast on Oct. 29, causing 38 deaths and $29.4 billion in damage.
New Jersey last increased its minimum wage in 2009, from $7.15, to match the $7.25 federal threshold. An $8.50 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.
Democratic lawmakers in New York also have proposed raising the minimum wage to $8.50.