Last week, Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage in New Jersey to $15 an hour, effective immediately.

NJ Senate Pres. Steve Sweeney (David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)

Now, state Senate President Steve Sweeney has unveiled his proposal that calls for the minimum wage to be hiked to $15 an hour, only he wants to do it as a Constitutional Amendment, to be phased in over an eight-year period.

Sweeney’s plan would put the question on the ballot in 2017, and if approved by the voters, it would take effect at the beginning of 2018.

“It would raise the minimum wage $1 a year until you got to $15 by the year 2024, which would give businesses the opportunity to absorb the cost and have predictability,” he said.

So why have this in the form of a Constitutional Amendment?

“I watched the end of that movie where you pass the bill and the governor vetoes it. I’ve seen that one before; the governor has already signaled he’s not going to do this, I’m serious about raising the minimum wage,” Sweeney said. “There’s a reality that the 8 dollars and 38 cents doesn’t work, we’re way behind, so this gives us an opportunity to go to the people and give workers an opportunity to live with dignity and respect.”

He also said this plan would be good for the state economy.

“When you’re talking about people making minimum wage, they’re not investing it in off-shore corporations, they’re going to the grocery store or buying a coat for their kid,” he said. “They’re putting the money right back into the economy.”

Sweeney added there will be a companion bill that would offer tax credits to small employers, 50 workers or less, if they pay workers more than the minimum wage. The tax credit would be 50 cents for every additional dollar paid to a worker above minimum wage.

When asked if he had discussed his proposal with Prieto, Sweeney said no.

“Hopefully we’ll come together like we have on many other things, I think this makes a lot of sense and that’s why I’m introducing the bill on Thursday,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney made the announcement during a press conference at the Statehouse, alongside Jersey Congressman Don Norcross, who said he’ll soon introduce a similar measure on Capital Hill.

A short time later Michele Siekerka, the president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association released the following statement about the Sweeney proposal:

“Raising the minimum wage to $15, even with a phase in, will impact the state’s economic climate and be a direct hit on New Jersey’s small businesses. The current proposal represents an accumulated 79 percent rise in the minimum wage over the phase in period and would increase the cost of doing business at a time when the state is just recovering from the recession with three years of slow and steady growth. The mere mention of a minimum wage increase chills investment and job growth.

“Business needs certainty and predictability in order to invest and create jobs. In our most recent Business Outlook Survey, 83 percent of respondents said they are planning wage increases this year of up to 4 percent.  This proposal certainly upsets that planning.

“The business community has just adapted to the recent constitutionally mandated minimum wage hike, now there is a proposal to go back to the voters just three short years after the constitution was amended on this very same issue. Making law by constitutional amendment is simply not good public policy.

“This proposal completes the legislative trifecta.  Increasing the minimum wage, coming on the heels of the proposed constitutional amendment mandating pension payments, which no doubt will result in increased taxes on business, and a Senate vote Thursday on paid sick leave damages New Jersey’s ability to be competitive. We must keep New Jersey competitive and create jobs, not take actions to make us less competitive.  In addition, it is our expectation that we will face a renewed effort to pass a millionaire’s tax and a Corporate Business Tax surcharge later this year, as we have experienced most years in an effort to make up for budget shortfalls.  These are all the exact types of policies that are leading to the state’s ongoing outmigration problem.

“Before moving on proposals such as these, policymakers should determine the true economic impact of these policies on the business climate and overall economy before moving forward with them.”

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