August 31, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
Trenton, NJ – Aug. 30 was time for some traffic problems on the road to a higher minimum wage in New Jersey, as Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have gradually raised it to $15 an hour in 2021.
Speaking in front of a shelf of bananas at a grocery store in the suburb of Pennington, the governor called the bill a “really radical increase in the minimum wage” that was “responsive to the demands of Democratic legislators’ political patrons.” He said it would make New Jersey only the third state in the nation to adopt a $15 minimum, and that “would trigger an escalation of wages that will make doing business in New Jersey unaffordable” and encourage stores and restaurants to replace cashiers with self-service kiosks.
“Governor Christie’s veto of a phased-in $15 minimum wage is sadly not surprising given his endorsement of Donald Trump, who has said that ‘wages are too high’,” New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech responded in a statement. “A minimum wage increase is not a matter of low-wage workers looking for a handout.”
The bill, passed by the Assembly in May and narrowly approved by the state Senate in June, would have raised the minimum from the current $8.38 to $10.10 per hour on January 1, with annual $1.25 increases after that bringing it to $15.10 in 2021. If the Consumer Price Index went up at a higher rate, the minimum would go up proportionately.
The measure would have given 975,000 people higher pay, New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal Trenton think tank, estimated. The phased-in increase, the group said in a statement, “would have mostly helped adults working full-time despite the myths perpetuated by opponents of raising New Jersey’s pay. In fact, far more of New Jersey’s low-wage workers are raising kids of their own (28%) than are teenagers themselves (9%), and about one in five New Jersey children have at least one parent who would have received a raise under this proposal.”
Democrats in the state legislature were not surprised by the veto. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson), the bill’s lead sponsor, called it “disappointing, though not unexpected,” and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said it was “unproductive but sadly predictable.” They now plan to put the proposed increase before the state’s voters in November 2017, bypassing Christie as they did in 2013, when he vetoed raising the minimum from $7.25.
“We gave him a chance to do the right thing by putting this bill on his desk, even though we knew the chances of him standing up for low-wage workers were slim,” Sweeney said in a statement. “We will do the right thing and introduce a constitutional amendment to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by the year 2021.”
Christie said the 2013 amendment to the state constitution, which also mandated cost-of-living increases in the minimum wage if warranted, was “ill-advised” because it meant wages would “continue to rise annually.”
“Governor Christie will repeat right-wing talking points about costs spiraling out of control and a minimum wage being bad for business, but the facts are simply not on his side,” Wowkanech said. “After New Jersey voters approved a minimum-wage increase in 2013, state unemployment dropped, and businesses continued to grow. It is clearly possible to raise wages while being sensitive to the concerns of business, as was the goal of the legislation shamefully vetoed by the governor today.”
“Raising wages for the lowest paid workers helps to build our economy from the bottom up; it translates to better wages across pay scales and boosts consumer demand for businesses,” said Charles Hall, Jr., chair of Working Families United for New Jersey, the coalition of labor unions, community, and religious groups that organized the campaign for the 2013 increase. “Our coalition fought for and achieved overwhelming voter approval of a minimum wage increase and annual COLA in 2013, but our campaign continues since there are still far too many hardworking people in poverty despite working two and three jobs.”