TRENTON — The state Assembly approved a measure to increase New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 an hour Thursday. Over objections on the floor from Republicans like Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon of the 13th district and ‘No’ votes from Democrats like Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey of the 11th, the bill will now go the the Senate.
The bill would increase the minimum wage from $8.38 to $10.10 on January 1, 2017, and then gradually increase the minimum until reaching that $15 mark as early as 2021. Governor Chris Christie is expected to veto the measure, as he did the last minimum wage increase in 2013. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), the bill’s Senate sponsor, has said that he will go through constitutional channels to get the increase through via a ballot question as he did that same year.
Assembly Speaker and sponsor Vince Prieto (D-32) said on the floor Thursday that the 2013 increase did not go far enough, with co-sponsor John Wisniewski (D-19) arguing that consumer spending would offset additional costs to businesses.
“The constitutional minimum wage that we established a few years ago set a floor, not a ceiling,” Prieto said. “We must ensure that all workers are paid fairly for their labor. We now need to strive for better to reverse the poverty trend in this state.”
“When businesses fail to pay a living wage, government is forced to fill the gap,” Wisniewski said. “The American economy works best with a healthy middle class that has money in their pocket to spend.”
While O’Scanlon and Anthony Bucco (R-25) reiterated their belief that the increase would put strain on non-profits and the state budget on the floor, Houghtaling and Joann Downey predicted job losses among those who work for small businesses after the vote.
“Roughly two of every three jobs being created is because of small business,” the Monmouth Democrats wrote in a joint statement. “We are very cognizant of the many small business owners in our district with whom we have had the opportunity to discuss this proposal, and who, it should be noted, would love nothing more than to pay their employees $15 an hour — but who currently cannot do so.”
Michele Siekerka, president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, echoed the LD11 Democrats’ call for cutting costs for employers in a statement before the vote.
“Artificially inflating the value of a minimum wage job to $15 an hour, and thereby resetting the value of every single job in New Jersey, is not the answer,” Siekerka said. “The focus must be on comprehensive tax reform and reducing the high cost of living in New Jersey so that people in entry-level jobs can afford to live here and advance in their careers.”