Earlier this year Governor Chris Christie received a bill that would have raised the minimum wage in the state of New Jersey. Like many bills forwarded by the Democratic-led State Legislature, Christie rejected and vetoed the bill. He would counter with a proposal like a few times before when he has issued vetoes. In this case, he wants to put a referendum on this November’s ballot that would ask voters if they favor a $1 increase per hour. The bill sent to Christie outlined raising the current state minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 and factored in future potential increases to the rate of inflation. However, overall Christie saw this like a millionaire’s tax and Democratic budgets as a strain on New Jersey’s economy.
As Christie would express,
“The sudden, significant minimum-wage increase in this bill, coupled with automatic raises each year tied to the Unites States Consumer Price Index, will jeopardize the economic recovery we all seek.”
The $7.25 rate in the state reflects the minimum rate set by the federal government four years ago.
Christie’s decision drew the ire of both Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), who were willing to use a ballot referendum if needed to get around Christie and his veto power.
“His action shows that he believes politics and politicians need to remain part of the process on minimum wage. I think they need to be removed from it entirely. Everyone deserves a wage that helps support their family and improves their quality of life. For too long, working people in this state have been struggling with stagnant wages. We gave the governor a chance to do the right thing for working people in New Jersey.”
While Oliver voiced,
“The optimal approach would have been for Gov. Christie to show some heart and approve this pro-worker measure as proposed. Gov. Christie has again failed hard-working New Jerseyans. Gov. Christie should have sided with Democrats and ensured an immediate livable wage for all residents, but he has failed miserably. This conditional veto is unacceptable. Any proposal that lacks annual adjustments to ensure wages keep pace with the economy is not a real solution.”
Republican lawmakers and the business community from the Chamber of Commerce to the New Jersey Business and Industry Association supported Christie’s decision. There was one major exception to that business group as the New Jersey chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business felt regret at seeing Christie’s choice.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21) would state,
“The governor has rightly rejected a partisan bill to set New Jersey’s minimum wage on auto-pilot regardless of the economic circumstances or needs of job creators. The recommendations for changes made in his veto statement are the reasonable and responsible way to increase the minimum wage without telling New Jersey’s business community to, in effect, drop dead.”
AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech and New Jersey Working Families Alliance Executive Director Bill Holland joined Sweeney and Oliver with discontent over Christie’s veto.
As Holland would exclaim,
“Governor Christie proved once again that his only real constituency is the state’s wealthiest. And once again he holds the livelihoods of the working poor hostage by making an end to his tax hike on low-income workers conditional on the Legislature’s acceptance of a bad deal.”
At the time of the veto, Oliver already seemed to have the gears in motion for the next step.
She would utter,
“The Democratic caucuses in both the Senate and the Assembly are, of course, disappointed that the governor did not sign our legislation as presented to him: $8.50 an hour with a Consumer Price Index. So, we will use a tool available to us legislatively. We will vote on a bill that will put this on the ballot in November 2013. We just need a simple majority of votes out of the Assembly and the Senate, which we know we will have.”
Those plans were tentatively paused until a few days ago when Oliver was joined by others in the state including fellow U.S. Senate candidate, Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
As Booker would outline in his support,
“You look all around this region and poor working people are having to pay more for rent, more for food, more for gas, more for transportation, more for tuition. All of these costs going up but minimum wage has stayed the same.”
The event held to gin up continued support for legislation on raising the state’s minimum wage was sponsored by the union-backed Working Families United for New Jersey. As Oliver mentioned earlier in the year when the Christie veto was issued, she hoped to get support built up for a November ballot question that went along with what Christie wanted and allow voters to decide on whether to raise the state’s minimum wage by $1 per hour. The ballot initiative as envisioned by Oliver would put a clause in the state Constitution that would increase the wage every year based on the Consumer Price Index. That method would rid Christie’s ability to issue a veto on increases.
Oliver would add to her previous comments by stating,
“Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a bill to immediately increase the minimum wage to $8.50 and his suggestion to gradually phase a wage increase in over the course of several years was abhorrent and an insult. You will hear all kinds of arguments about why New Jersey can’t elevate the minimum wage. It’s a job killer. Businesses will leave the state. A host of different arguments. But we continue in New Jersey to provide tax breaks for millionaires, corporate tax incentives for businesses. But we will turn our backs on the lowest wage earners in the state?”
Democratic gubernatorial nominee and state Senator Barbara Buono (D-18) in equally behind the initiative as Booker and Oliver.
“When we are victorious in passing that ballot initiative it will be a victory for every man and woman in New Jersey.”
However, business leaders like Stefanie Riehl, Assistant Vice President for Employment and Labor Policy at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, still do not favor a minimum wage increase regardless of if it is on a ballot for voters to decide.
As Riehl would express,
“At no time in the state’s history has the minimum wage been tied to the CPI,” Riehl said. “That does not allow for any type of adjustment if certain segments of the economy start to falter, if certain segments of the industry experience less growth.”
Democrats in Trenton largely led by Assembly Speaker Oliver have rallied to raise the state’s minimum wage. If a ballot initiative like the one Oliver envisions ends up on the ballot this November, it could change the future of the state’s minimum wage. It would be voters making the choice and there would be nothing Christie could do if reelected. A recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows support for Oliver’s potential measure as 77% of voters support raising the current wage. However, supports of the increase should not take that as any type of a guaranteed victory. Time will certainly tell what the next step will be in this battle.