PENNINGTON — Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday vetoed a measure that would have raised the minimum wage in New Jersey to $15 an hour by 2021.

Standing in the middle of the produce section of the Pennington Quality Market, Christie noted “this bill would make New Jersey only the third state in the nation to adopt a minimum wage of $15, and it would trigger an escalation of wages that will make doing business in New Jersey unaffordable.

"It fails to consider the capacity of businesses, especially small businesses to absorb the substantially increased labor costs it will impose.”

Democrats will put the issue to a vote as a Constitutional amendment question on the ballot next year. Christie said he hopes "there is going to large and I hope loud public discussion” about the ballot initiative.

Christie said after Seattle began phasing in a $15 an hour minimum wage, more than 900 restaurant jobs were lost.

He also noted several stores in New Jersey, including Wendy’s, Panera and Wawa, have already started replacing workers with self-service kiosks and “that’s the wave of the future if we continue to do this type of really radical increase in the minimum wage.”

He added that “all this sounds great, raising the minimum wage, when you’re spending somebody else’s money. This will increase the price of food across the state of New Jersey in an absolutely unacceptable way.”

The minimum wage is currently $8.25 an hour.

Christie stressed you might not think this would affect you, but when you head to the market “there will be fewer people here to tend to your needs, or the prices will go even higher to be able to keep the same level of service. These are not the kind of things we want happening in our state.”

“I don’t want to increase people’s wages cause I don’t have the right to do it. The people who should increase the wages of the folks who work for them are the people who run those businesses, based upon the contribution that they make to the success of the business, and based upon the profitability of the business. This type of heavy hand of government is the reason why in past administrations New Jersey has gotten less and less affordable.”

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Hudson, called Christie's veto "disappointing."

“The age-old rhetoric he is relying on also ignores the evidence – a substantial minimum wage increase will help lift countless families out of poverty, decrease government dependency and boost commerce by pumping more dollars back into the economy," Priety said.

“Today’s minimum wage does nothing short of tear families apart, forcing them to work multiple jobs just to live hand-to-mouth, while relying on government assistance to make ends meet. Meanwhile, the wealth continues to trickle up, not down."

Michael Rothwell, the owner and general manager of the Pennington Quality Market, said “businesses like ours operate on very slim profit margins, and a dramatic increase in the minimum wage would force New Jersey food stores to make up for this significant expense by reducing staff, cutting hours and raising prices, and we may be forced to reduce our health insurance benefits and require our associates to contribute more for their benefits.”

Tom Bracken, the president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, who was also at the event, said the push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour is disturbing.

“This is not a positive for the state of New Jersey, it’s not even a positive for the people who are proposed to get a benefit from this because a lot of people will be out of a job,” he said.

Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said the proposal  "is too much too fast."

"The governor’s veto has saved thousands of small businesses from the negative impacts of a 79 percent increase in the minimum wage.

“We should instead concentrate on comprehensive reform that would make New Jersey more affordable, including reducing the highest in the nation tax burden that is making it difficult for people to afford to live here.”

Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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