NJ Voters Could Be Asked To Hike The Minimum Wage [AUDIO]
State Senate President Steve Sweeney says he's been told by Governor Chris Christie that he will not support an increase in the state's minimum wage if annual adjustments are tied to the rate of inflation.
Sweeney says he respects Christie's honesty, but he is still attempting to get it done without needing the Governor's backing. Sweeney wants to go straight to the voters next November.
Sweeney wants a question on the November 2013 ballot asking voters if they'd like to increase the minimum wage by one dollar to $8.25 an hour and then tie future hikes to the Consumer Price Index. If the question is approved the one buck increase would go into effect in 2014. The measure passed the Senate Budget Committee yesterday along party lines.
"We should remove politicians from the process forever," says Sweeney."This is something we must get done. For years New Jersey has assigned a dollar amount to the minimum wage that is been a failure……There's a misconception out there that minimum wage is for high school kids looking to make a few bucks during the summer. That's entirely false."
"Rigid automatic increases in the minimum wage will make it almost impossible for the state to respond flexibly to future economic conditions," says New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA) President Phil Kirschner. "Raising the minimum wage 14 percent in a weak economy is a bad idea that ignores the fact that most businesses sales are up only 2 percent and employers do not have more revenue to pay for state-mandated raises. Enshrining a wage increase and automatic annual increases in a constitutional amendment is a very bad idea."
Stefanie Riehl, assistant vice president with the NJBIA testified before the panel yesterday and told members that her organization doesn't support amending the constitution to increase the minimum wage. She explained, "We think it takes power away from the legislature to respond in an emergency situation…..With the economy being as volatile as it is we feel it's critical that the legislature retain its power to adjust to market conditions."
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver has been a longtime advocate for increasing the minimum wage. She says, "A strong majority of New Jerseyans support a living wage for working class families because they know a higher minimum wage can significantly improve the lives of workers and their families, without the adverse effects that critics have claimed. It's the right thing to do. That's why I made it a top commitment earlier this year and 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. A robust minimum wage is a key building block of sustainable economic recovery. It's long past time to provide this basic fairness, so it's time to move the bill."
Joe Pennacchio, a member Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee member offered Democrats a means to achieve the minimum wage increase via statute. Democrats said thanks, but no thanks. Pennacchio made a motion in committee to place a competing minimum wage proposal from Oliver on the calendar for the Budget and Appropriations Committee's next meeting. The motion was tabled on a party line vote.
"This is what's wrong with Trenton," says Pennacchio. "Republicans have been completely cut out of the discussion on a matter of huge economic importance to workers and the business community that puts food on the table for millions of New Jersey families. Senate Democrats are refusing to compromise with their Assembly colleagues. It was made clear today that the Majority is more interested in next year's election than in doing the right thing."
A bill to hike New Jersey's minimum wage to from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 and require the rate to then be adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index was approved in May by the full Assembly. The bill stalled in the State Senate.
Oliver has since had her team tracking U.S. Labor Department numbers to see how increasing the minimum wage has worked out for other states this year. Armed with the latest statistics, Oliver believes she now has proof that hiking the minimum wage is not the job killer opponents say it is.
The numbers reveal that of the eight states that increased their minimum wage, only one state has seen an increase in its unemployment rate from the time the wage hike kicked in through July, the last month for which jobless rates are available.
Oliver, who sponsored a minimum wage hike bill this year says, "Raising the minimum wage acts as an economic stimulus. There's no doubt about it…….We cannot buy into the old argument that this is a job killer. It is not a job killer."
In December, 2011 Washington State's minimum wage was $8.67 an hour (increased to $9.04 in January, 2012), Oregon's minimum wage was $8.50 an hour (increased to $8.80), Vermont's minimum wage was $8.15 an hour (increased to $8.46), Ohio's minimum wage was $7.40 an hour (increased to $7.70), Arizona's minimum wage was $7.35 an hour (increased to $7.65), Montana's minimum wage was $7.35 an hour (increased to $7.65), Colorado's minimum wage was $7.36 an hour (increased to $7.64) and Florida's minimum wage was $7.31 an hour (increased to $7.67).
The statistics show that only Colorado's unemployment rate went from where it stood in December 2011 (7.9%) to where it is now (8.3%). The other state's jobless rates fell over that time. Washington went from 8.6% in December, 2011 to 8.5% now. Oregon went from 9% to 8.7%. Vermont went from 5.2% to 5%. Ohio went from 7.9% to 7.2%. Arizona went from 9% to 8.3%. Montana went from 6.6% to 6.4% and Florida went from 9.9% to 8.8%.