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Worried Democrats already want to tweak NJ’s $15 minimum wage

Minimum wage
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Signed into law less than two months ago, and not truly up and running just yet, New Jersey’s $15 minimum wage needs some tweaking, according to Democratic lawmakers who’ve introduced legislation that would suspend the gradual wage hike in the event of a significant economic downturn.

Assemblyman Roy Freiman, D-Somerset, said his bill serves as a “circuit breaker” that presses pause on escalating increases should employment or revenues take a plunge.

“It just seemed like there was a gap in the law that got passed,” Freiman told New Jersey 101.5.

Under the bill, scheduled increases would be suspended based on certain decreases in employment, or when the state’s revenues fall by at least 2 percent year over year. Using either mechanism, scheduled wage hikes would be delayed for at least a year.

The state’s new minimum wage law, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Feb. 4, lifts the current rate of $8.85 to $10 on July 1. The rate would then increase by $1 each year until it reaches a level of $15 per hour in 2024.

The legislation is sponsored in the Senate by Vin Gopal, a Democrat who voted against the minimum wage bill that’s now law.

Related measures also introduced recently by Freiman and Gopal would provide gross income tax receipts for certain employers, related to costs arising from minimum wage, and establish a task force to study the impact of minimum wage increases on businesses.

“We’re not even two months into the minimum wage bill and (the Democrats) realize what a horrible mistake they’ve made and how damaging it’s going to be to the economy,” said Assemblyman Hal Wirths, R-Sussex, whose own legislation to provide an “off ramp” for minimum wage hikes was defeated earlier this year.

Wirths’ bill would have capped the minimum wage at $13 per hour, and halted increases for 18 months if three months or six months of job losses were recorded.

Wirths, the labor commissioner under Gov. Chris Christie, voted against the minimum wage bill that was eventually signed into law. He said although the Democrats’ off-ramp proposal is “weak,” he’d likely vote for it to improve “the disaster we have now.”

“I’m happy that the Democrats realize that the bill was overreaching and too expensive,” Wirths said.

Wirths said the state is already seeing the impact of choosing the $15-per-hour route, as employers brace for what’s to come. New Jersey’s private sector lost 9,300 jobs in February.

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