Minimum wage bill tying annual hikes to CPI released

TRENTON – The Senate Budget Committee released a bill that would amend the state Constitution that would require regular, annual cost-of-living adjustments in the minimum wage to help workers by reducing the impact of inflation.

The 7-6 vote was mostly along party lines, with Democrats in favor, and Republicans against the bill. However, Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1) of Dennis, voted no.

In a follow-up interview, Van Drew said he was concerned the minimum wage bill would have a devastating impact for his constituents. He said his district consists of a “significant” number of workers in the tourism industry, whose jobs would be particularly vulnerable if SCR1 passes.

“I’ve had employers come up to me and say they would have to fire people,” Van Drew said. 

He added that the economy is still “fragile” and he worried the bill would create a “net loss” of jobs.

According to the resolution, SCR1, the purpose behind COLAs is to provide “small, manageable, incremental increases in the minimum wage, which will end the historic pattern of large, disruptive increases in the minimum wage in very short time periods in between long periods with no increases.”

The question would appear on the ballot in November 2013.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) of West Deptford, prime sponsor of the resolution, said to the committee, “This is something we must get done.”

He described the current minimum wage in New Jersey as “woefully inadequate.”

“In fact, it has been a failure,” he said. “Imagine trying to feed a family, pay the rent… for a salary of less than $16,000 a year.”

Gov. Chris Christie has said he’s against tying minimum wage increases to keep pace with the rate of inflation.

“He’s out of touch with the working class citizens of New Jersey,” Sweeney said about Christie.

The Senate President pointed out Arizona, Missouri, and Montana, which are traditionally Republican-leaning states, all voted to increase the minimum wage.

Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25) of Boonton, said SCR-1 could actually lead to more unemployment.

“You have to do something to save your company,” said Bucco, who owns a business. “And that means laying off people. The increase in the minimum wage means nothing to the person who got laid off. ”  

But Sweeney said the additional wages earned by a worker would go back to stimulating the economy.

“Instead of getting soup, they might get a hamburger,” he said about raising it.

“Give hardworking people in this state what they need…a raise.”

Sen. Brian Stack (D-32) of Union City, described Sweeney’s bill as “a great piece of legislation.”

“I give you a lot of credit,” he said.

But Kevin O’Toole (R-40) of Clifton, asked Sweeney if he was trying to circumvent the legislative process. Sweeney initially introduced a minimum wage bill in 2005. He said the COLAs could make it difficult for businesses to keep track.

“As a business owner, there needs to be predictability,” he said.

But Sweeney said the bill enables businesses to better track their employment needs.  

Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-33) of Jersey City, said simply, “At some point we have to thing about what’s good for humanity.”

The for and against groups fell along the familiar patterns, with business groups opposed to the minimum wage hike and unions supporting it.  

Diane Walsh of the Commerce and Industry Association said tying minimum wage increases to the Consumer Price Index could stifle job growth and lead to the elimination of entry-level jobs.

But various union groups, including the AFL-CIO and Teamsters, said hardworking residents deserve to be paid property and a minimum wage hike helps to do that.   Minimum wage bill tying annual hikes to CPI released