NJ gov opposes putting minimum wage hike on ballot

By ANGELA DELLI SANTI | Small Business

LONG BRANCH, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey's lowest wage earners might be falling victim to politics.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Monday denounced a new approach to raising the minimum wage, calling Democratic state Senate President Steve Sweeney's proposal to amend the state constitution "truly ridiculous."

"That's not what the constitution is there for," Christie said Monday after a school groundbreaking ceremony in Long Branch. "They (Democrats) control the Legislature. If they want to raise the minimum wage, let them send me a bill and see what I'll do with it."

Sweeney told The Associated Press he decided to take the issue to voters after Christie indicated he wouldn't sign a bill tying future automatic yearly minimum wage adjustments to the Consumer Price Index.

The Gloucester County lawmaker insists that the indexing provision remain in the bill to give low-wage workers and the business owners who pay them predictability and consistency.

Business groups oppose efforts to increase the minimum wage.

Phil Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said raising the minimum wage by 14 percent in a weak economy "ignores the fact that most businesses' sales are up only 2 percent and employers do not have more revenue to pay for state-mandated raises."

If New Jersey had been indexing the minimum wage since it was statutorily set in 1968, the wage would be $9.10, according to figures provided by Senate Democrats. Ten other states index their minimum wage. Those states all pay workers a minimum that is equal to or greater than New Jersey.

Christie said he considered Sweeney's proposal to be an attempted end-run around him.

A bill requires the governor's signature to become law, while a resolution needs legislative approval to get on the ballot and public approval to change the constitution.

The Assembly passed a bill in May, sponsored by Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, raising the minimum wage by $1.25, to $8.50, and tying future increases to the CPI.

The Assembly action came after Democratic leaders who control both legislative houses identified a minimum wage increase as a priority for the year.

Oliver still wants to send the bill to Christie's desk.

Christie said Monday that he's willing to discuss raising the minimum wage but only if Republican economic development measures are also on the table.

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