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Minimum Wage Increase Could Go to Voters

The state Senate approved a 2013 referendum on raising the minimum wage and tying it to yearly increases

A proposal to raise the state's minimum wage could bypass Governor Christie and go directly to voters.

During Monday's Senate hearings, Senate President Steve Sweeney of Gloucester County received preliminary support for a resolution calling for a Constitutional Amendment to allow for an increased minimum wage and tie future yearly increases to national economic data. The initiative would be placed on the 2013 ballot for voter approval.

Sweeney's proposal, which was approved by committee 7-6, would effectively remove Christie from the approval process. Christie had previously indicated he would not sign a bill that included automatic indexed adjustments, according to a report on nj.com.

“For years, New Jersey has assigned a dollar amount to the minimum wage that is woefully inadequate,” said Sweeney, in a press release. “In fact, it is a complete failure. According to a 2011 analysis by the Office of Legislative Services, among the 307,000 workers in New Jersey who earned among the lowest hourly wages, nearly half worked full-time and one-quarter were parents. Imagine trying to feed a family, pay the rent and keep gas in the car on less than $16,000 a year.”

Voters would have to decide if they would want to raise the state's minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $8.25 per hour and allow future yearly increases to be tied to national economic data, called indexing.

The minimum wage in New Jersey has been the same as the federal minimum and 23 other states since 2010. A minimum wage earner who works 40 hours grosses $290 per week, according to a report by CBS. Senate Democrats have estimated that if the wage had been indexed annually since the state began statutorily setting the rate in 1968, New Jersey’s minimum wage today would be $9.20.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver introduced a bill in May that would raise the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour and include annual adjustments based on the Consumer Price Index. While her bill was approved in May by the full Assembly, it has not gone before the Senate for a vote.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Oliver told Bloomberg Businessweek of a higher minimum wage. “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.”

Currently Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Missouri, Montana, Vermont, and Washington all have their minimum wages increased tied to the national economic data. A Philadelphia Inquirer poll of 604 likely voters revealed that 76 percent of respondents supported raising the minimum wage but were split over approving the change through legislation or a constitutional amendment.

Sweeney's proposal requires legislative approval to get the question on the ballot and voter approval at the polls. It will next go before the full Senate for further discussion.

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