A bill to increase the New Jersey’s minimum wage to $8.50 per hour from its current rate of $7.25, and index it to the Consumer Price Index to ensure annual adjustments that are in line with increases in the cost of living was approved by the Senate Labor Committee today.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney, one of the measure’s sponsors says, “Those working on the bottom rung of the economic ladder desperately need a minimum wage that doesn’t condemn them to a minimum standard of living. While the cost of living has continually risen, workers earning the minimum wage have seen their incomes stagnate, keeping them farther and farther below even the poverty line. This is long overdue for those who most need it, and whose earnings will go directly back into the economy, spurring further economic growth.”

Mike Egenton with the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill. He says, “We’re hearing from a lot of our members that they didn’t even plan for this in their budgets for 2012 or 2013 so it’s a big surprise to them if it goes through.”

Egenton says smaller businesses may be forced to lay-off workers.

New Jersey’s minimum wage last increased in 2009, when the federal minimum wage was increased to $7.25 per hour. Prior to that, state law enacted in 2005 shepherded in a three-year period of growth that saw the rate increase from $5.15 per hour to $7.15 per hour. That bill was signed by then-Governor Dick Codey, and was sponsored by Sweeney.