Late last month, the full State Senate completed a two-pronged attack to increase New Jersey's minimum wage and have it adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

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The Upper House passed a bill to hike the wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50. To guard against a veto by Governor Chris Christie which could come as early as this week, the Senate also approved a resolution that would ask the voters next year if they'd like to amend the constitution to enact the increase with the adjustments.

Last week the Assembly passed the bill and today a committee will consider the amendment measure.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver has been pushing for the wage hike since January. She says, "I have really not encountered significant numbers of citizens in this state who are opposed to raising the minimum wage….If it is on the ballot you will see that most New Jerseyans would overwhelmingly vote to raise it."

Stephanie Riehl, a vice president with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBA) says, "The constitutional amendment is particularly troublesome…..The problem is that that takes away a lot of the flexibility of the legislature to respond in emergency situations and we see right now that there was a significant emergency situation (super-storm Sandy) that occurred."

Asked recently about the bill, Christie said, "No one has ever negotiated with me on the minimum wage and I've been begging to be negotiated with for months…….I've continued to say on the minimum wage that I'm willing to consider a responsible minimum wage package, but let's be clear on this now; we've got thousands businesses wiped (by super-storm Sandy) and is this really now the moment to say to those folks we're going to hit you with a $1.25 increase on March 1 and a CPI beyond that?"

Asked about the Governor's contention that no one has negotiated with him on the minimum wage, State Senate President Steve Sweeney says, "That's not true. The Governor was very clear in his position with me. He said there's no way he's going to sign a bill with a CPI. I respect that. He says that's a principled position for him. I can't be mad at him for that except that it's a principled position for me to have the CPI."

Sweeney says, "If he (Christie) strips the CPI from it, we will move forward with a constitutional amendment….It's either going to be implemented by the Governor or it will be implemented by the people of this state."

In September, Christie was asked about the constitutional amendment approach. He said, "That is just a stupid way to do it……That's not what the Constitution is there for. They control the Legislature. They want to raise the minimum wage, send me a bill and see what I'll do with it."

Oliver says, "A strong majority of New Jerseyans support a living wage for working class families because they know a higher minimum wage can significantly improve the lives of workers and their families, without the adverse effects that critics have claimed. It's the right thing to do. That's why I made it a top commitment earlier this year and it's why I continue to want to see the Assembly-approved bill sent to the Governor so we can see what he decides and determine the next step. A robust minimum wage is a key building block of sustainable economic recovery. It's long past time to provide this basic fairness, so it's time to move the bill."

"Rigid automatic increases in the minimum wage will make it almost impossible for the state to respond flexibly to future economic conditions," says NJBIA President Phil Kirschner. "Raising the minimum wage 14 percent in a weak economy is a bad idea that ignores the fact that most businesses sales are up only 2 percent and employers do not have more revenue to pay for state-mandated raises. Enshrining a wage increase and automatic annual increases in a constitutional amendment is a very bad idea."

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