TRENTON – Speaker Sheila Oliver, throwing down a postelection gauntlet, made it clear Monday that if the governor does not sign a minimum wage hike bill, which she expected the Senate Budget Committee to approve, then she would work with Senate President Steve Sweeney to place the issue before voters as a constitutional amendment.
Prior to today’s Budget hearing, Oliver and a coalition of labor, academic and spiritual groups called on the governor to make the right decision when the bill gets to his desk later this year.
The Assembly in May already passed the bill to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour and tie future hikes to the cost of living.
Oliver said this is about “economic fairness,” and that it’s “unconscionable” that when 18 other states have raised minimum wages, New Jersey continues to keep a ceiling on it.
She said that in the wake of the president’s re-election, Americans are looking for economic fairness.
She rejected some business arguments that in a post-Sandy New Jersey it is not the right time to raise the minimum wage and that it will lead to layoffs.
“The Legislature can walk and chew gum at the same time,’’ she said, meaning the lawmakers can hike the minimum wage as well as pass measures to help businesses recover from the superstorm.
Oliver said that if the governor sits on the bill until January once it hits his desk, the Legislature can post a constitutional question before adjourning. In addition, she said leaders in the GOP had offered a 25-cent increase, which she termed an insult.
Speakers from groups such as the NAACP, 1199 SEIU, National Organization for Women, and Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry also echoed similar themes: That the 41,000 people earning the lowest hourly wage in the state can’t ever get ahead when one emergency, or one transit fare hike, or one unexpected car repair, can push them further toward poverty.
Adele LaTourette, director of the N.J. Anti-Hunger Coalition, said that the food stamp qualifications – 185 percent of the poverty level for a family of four, or about $42,000 a year, can’t even be reached by those working at the minimum wage.