During the first two years of Governor Chris Christie's Administration leading Democrats in the legislature didn't always agree with one another on policies and proposals. State Senate President Steve Sweeney has often aligned himself with the Republican Governor when Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver was not willing to do so. Intra-party squabbles proved Democrats couldn't always play nice with each other. Ousted Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono butted heads with Sweeney and has been replaced by Senator Loretta Weinberg. The now former Assembly Leader Joe Cryan tried an unsuccessful coup to topple Oliver and he's been replaced by Assemblyman Lou Greenwald on the leadership team.

A new legislative district map in place this year led to Democrats retaining the 24-16 majority in the Senate and they actually gained a seat in the Assembly to increase their sizable majority there. The wins and the New Year seem to have produced an understanding that Party unity is needed. First, Sweeney, Oliver and other leading Democrats jointly announced plans to push for legalizing same-sex marriage. Now they're allies in the push to increase the minimum wage in New Jersey.

Oliver and Sweeney both want to increase the minimum wage from the current $7.25-an-hour to $8.50 with annual adjustments after that.

Sweeney says, "It improves productivity and it gets a better worker. We have to help our people who are working on the lower end of the economy. You can pick one measurement to pair it (the annual wage adjustment) to so that you don't fall so far behind and then you do this big increase where the business community says they can't afford it."

"Let's begin the discussion by accepting the 2009 recommendation of the New Jersey Minimum Wage Advisory Commission to increase the minimum wage to eight dollars and fifty cents per hour and establish an automatic annual increase based on the increase in the consumer price index," says Oliver. "I expect the Assembly will move on such legislation in the coming weeks."

Sweeney's bill increases New Jersey's hourly minimum wage rate to $8.50 on July 1, 2008 and then requires that, starting in calendar year 2009, the minimum wage rate be adjusted annually, based on any increase in the Statewide average weekly wage, with the adjustment taking effect on July 1 of each year.

Oliver says, "I know some people will call this a burden on businesses, but recent studies by the National Employment Law Project show minimum wage increases do not cost jobs. In fact, this is economic stimulus and this is 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."

According to the liberal Trenton think-tank, New Jersey Policy Perspective, on January 1, the minimum wage increased in eight states, modestly boosting the incomes of more than 1.4 million low-wage workers in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Despite a very high cost of living, as well as rising housing prices and transportation costs, New Jersey's lowest paid workers have not seen any significant wage increases in recent years.

"We would be immediately isolated in the region as the most expensive state in which to create new jobs and the opportunities will flow to the other states," says Laurie Ehlbeck, State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). "It's a bad idea and we strongly urge the Governor to resist raising labor costs in the middle of an unemployment crisis."