TRENTON — New Jersey will move toward a $15 minimum wage next year, Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy pledged on Monday alongside fellow Democrats who control the Legislature.

"This is as high on the priority list as anything we've got," said Murphy, who made a $15 minimum wage a centerpiece of his campaign, but stopped short of promising the legislation would be the first he enacts.

Murphy's appearance at the statehouse with Senate President Steve Sweeney, incoming Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross was the incoming governor's first public event with legislative leaders.

Murphy said Monday he'd like to reach $15 over three or four years, but stressed that specifics had yet to be worked out. Details of the bill were not immediately available.

The governor-elect stressed $15 dollars an hour these days is hardly heroic.

“We’ve got to get there. We’ve got to do it right. We’ve got to do it so we get there responsibly, but we must get there," he said.

Murphy said when working people get an increase in salary “guess what they do, they spend it. It goes immediately in the real economy, and that has a multiplier — so not only are you fairer, but you’re also going a long way towards strengthening the economy.”


The governor-elect said we must work to create a stronger, fairer economy “that works for every New Jersey family period, and a big element, top of the heap, of that fairness agenda is getting the needle moved now on minimum wage.”

Michele Siekerka, the president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, told New Jersey 101.5 she disagrees a higher minimum wage will boost the economy.

She said before the minimum wage is raised so dramatically “we need to have a discussion focused on a comprehensive solution, on how to lift the wages of a low-wage earner.”

“It’s absolutely more than just handing someone a $15 an hour paycheck," she said. "We need to look at where’s the role of building someone’s skills.”

She stressed if there’s a big raise in the minimum wage it will hurt businesses, especially smaller ones.

“The result will be they will have to increase price or decrease hours or decrease jobs," she said.

Siekerka said every wage level in New Jersey will have to be re-set if the entry-level wage is changed.

“A $16 an hour paralegal is now going to go to their boss and say. 'I want my 80 percent increase as well,'" she said.

She said she would welcome the opportunity for NJBIA to have a seat at the table and discuss the issue with legislative leaders and the governor-elect

Siekerka also said any phased-in hefty increase to the wage would need to take into account the state of the economy.

“We need to make sure we have some off-ramps in the event we have some economic impacts that take New Jersey in a spiral down, which we’ve had historically," she said.

"Companies don’t give multi-year raises in advance. Every year they look at the state of the economy. We would encourage that government do the same thing," she said.

Murphy, at the event, said there "are a lot of myths" around raising the minimum wage —  "that you’ll put us out of business, that you’ll raise unemployment. Those are 2 things you hear a lot about. Well, the facts don’t bear that out.”


Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that phased in the minimum wage hike to $15 over five years last year, saying that it would hurt small businesses and represented the "heavy hand of government."

But Murphy campaigned on the issue and defeated Christie's top deputy, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, by about 13 points.

Murphy and the Democratic lawmakers sought to nationalize the issue, contrasting it to Republican efforts to overhaul the tax code, including lowering rates on the country's top earners.

"It's like Robin Hood in reverse, you're taking from the poor and giving to the rich," said Norcross, who has sponsored federal legislation to increase the minimum wage.

Appearing alongside the Democratic leaders was nursing assistant Ella Moton, of Jersey City, who said she makes $11.59 an hour and sometimes cannot afford to pay to keep her electricity on. She said it was "way past time" to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

New Jersey's current minimum wage is $8.44 an hour and is set to rise to $8.60 in January. The current wage was set under a constitutional amendment in 2013 that provided for raising the rate from $7.25 to $8.25, and thereafter according to inflation.

Under the bill Christie vetoed, the wage would have risen to $10.10 an hour and reached $15 after five years.

California is set to reach a $15 minimum wage by 2022. New York's rate is set to move from $9.70 an hour to $10.40 by the end of the year. New York City is set to reach $15 by the end of next year.

Sweeney, at Monday's event, said raising the minimum wage is a decency and quality of life issue.

“We represent people that need help, and by the way we will grow the economy, I’m not just saying it, we’ve done it before, whenever we’ve raised the minimum wage the economy has done well.”

— With reporting by David Matthau and by the Associated PRess

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