TRENTON – The Assembly Labor Committee released the minimum wage bill A2162, which would raise the wage from $7.25 to $8.50.
The vote was 6-2. Assemblymen John DiMaio and Jay Webber voted no. Assemblyman Ron Dancer abstained.
In addition to the hike, the bill calls for annual increases, consistent with increases in the Consumer Price Index. At least two states – Vermont and Oregon – have higher minimum wages than New Jersey’s current wage, officials said.
A person working a full-time job at the current minimum wage earns approximately $15,000 a year.
Supporters of the bill said the hike was long overdue, given how other expenses – utilities, gas prices, clothes, tolls – have all gotten pricier.
However, a businessman, Joe Olivo of Perfect Printing in Moorestown, said a “government-mandated” increase further adds to the burden of already higher unemployment insurance taxes, and could put him at a disadvantage against bigger businesses.
“It would have an unnatural, destructive effect on my wage scale,” he said.
The New Jersey Business and Industry Association, which described the proposed increase as a “17 percent minimum wage hike” opposed the bill and called for greater emphasis on skills training.
The New Jersey Retail Merchants Association said while there’s been growth, it’s been modest and remains precarious, adding that “any added pressure could upset the recovery.”
Ed Wengren of the New Jersey Farm Bureau said the bill could lead to higher wholesale costs for farmers.
Assemblyman Nelson Albano, (D-1), of Cape May, said more and more people are seeking state assistance since the wages haven’t kept pace with rising costs for just about everything else.
He believes consumers would spend the higher wages rather quickly, which would ultimately help the businesses.
“They’re not going to take that money and hoard it,” he said. “They’re going to spend it.”
Assemblywoman Grace Spencer, (D-29), of Newark, said the minimum wage hike would provide customers more purchasing power, just to help them buy staples like bread and milk.
“Representing the most vulnerable in New Jersey, this is personal to me,” she said.
She added that struggling residents aren’t just in the cities.
“The most vulnerable people, they may be your neighbor and you may not even realize it,” she said. “Businesses have to make hard decisions, but so too must the basic New Jerseyan.”
Assemblyman Craig Coughlin, (D-19), of Woodbridge, questioned the negative impacts – such as businesses closing up – that Kathleen Davis of the state Chamber of Commerce South Jersey said would result from a $1.25 wage hike.
“Is it really that dire?”
Davis couldn’t provide any data stating how many businesses shut down when the minimum wage was increased the last time.
He then asked the legislators a simple question.
“On a human level, can anyone tell me that’s not a good thing?” Coughlin asked business leaders about raising the minimum wage.
The New Jersey Food Council said increases for food stores, including employee wages, have led some of them to close.
However, Albano dismissed that observation, saying it’s the health care cost hikes that are ultimately the culprit.
“You can’t tell me they’re eating less,” he said about customers.