A bill to hike New Jersey's hourly minimum wage to $8.50 and require the rate to then be adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index was approved yesterday by the Assembly.

The bill measure would boost the minimum wage as of July 1. The minimum wage be then be adjusted annually based on any increase in the Consumer Price Index, with the adjustment taking effect on July 1 of each year.

"This is economic stimulus and a recognition that thousands of households in New Jersey are struggling to subsist on minimum wage jobs that do not allow them to support their families," says Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, one of the bill's prime sponsors. "This is about livable wages for the lowest-income earners. Quite simply, we should all support economic stimulus, increased consumer spending and livable wages."

Oliver says under her bill minimum wage earners would get an extra $3,400 a year. She feels they'll spend it at local supermarkets, gas stations and restaurants and that's why she calls it a "stimulus package."

Stefanie Riehl, vice president with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association says her organization is opposed to the bill, "Especially now with the economy being what it is businesses have a set amount of money for payroll and if you have a forced wage hike it's not as if they can just go and increase their sales, increase their revenues to make up for their labor costs."

Assemblywoman Grace Spencer is another bill co-sponsor. She says, "Boosting the minimum wage has wide reaching positive economic benefits, acting as an economic stimulus. As five Nobel Laureates and six past presidents of the American Economic Association stated in joining hundreds of other economists in calling for raising the minimum wage, a higher minimum wage can significantly improve the lives of low-income workers and their families, without the adverse effects that critics have claimed. It's the right thing to do."

Riehl thinks money is better spent on workforce training programs and she says, "We have heard from some businesses that, yes already in anticipation of a possible minimum wage hike they're not going to hire as many people this summer."

"There are many small companies who simply won't be able to absorb this cost increase," says Assembly GOP Conference Leader Dave Rible. " Not only would this legislation impact their business, but it will have an impact on the people its supporters think they are helping. "New Jersey is finally on the road to an economic comeback, but this bill will not help in that effort. A business that is successful creates jobs. When legislators pass a bill that mandates wage increases instead of letting the marketplace determine the appropriate level of pay, then more harm than good will result."

Assembly Democratic Leader Lou Greenwald says, "Having a minimum wage that accurately reflects the state's economic realities is common sense, but also an essential economic development tool that will have an immediate positive effect on our economy."

"This legislation will make New Jersey's minimum wage the highest on the East Coast and the third highest in the nation, behind only Washington and Oregon," explains Riehl. "Additionally, New Jersey would become only the second state in the region to establish an automatic-wage-increase index. This proposal would put New Jersey businesses at a competitive disadvantage with their counterparts in 30 other states."

A spokesman for Governor Chris Christie did not offer comment, but in the past the Governor has said he's skeptical but would keep an open mind on the bill.