- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey’s minimum wage would rise to $15 an hour over five years under a new agreement unveiled Friday by the leaders of the Democrat-led Legislature, who acknowledged the challenge of overcoming opposition from Gov. Chris Christie.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Senate President Steve Sweeney said at a statehouse news conference that they had resolved their differences in how to boost the state’s minimum from $8.38 an hour. Lawmakers last tackled the issue in 2013 through a constitutional amendment that raised the wage from $7.25 and tied it to inflation.

The new plan calls for raising the hourly wage to $10.10 in the first year before going to $15 after five years, an approach favored by Sweeney. It also will begin as a bill, rather than a proposal to amendment constitution, which Prieto had preferred.

“Democrats can disagree and work to a solution,” Sweeney said. Added Prieto: “It’s about working together and a common goal. … It’s a very expensive state to live and once you put money into the pocket of (low-income workers), those people in turn will buy goods and services.”

Christie, a Republican, is likely to veto the legislation, but Sweeney and Prieto said they would pursue a constitutional amendment, which can go to the ballot without the governor’s input if passed by a legislative supermajority or by a simple majority in two years.

During his annual budget address this week, Christie slammed the idea of hiking the wage and called it “economically irresponsible.”

On Friday, Christie spokesman Brian Murray called the proposal “political gamesmanship” and said it would “cripple New Jersey’s rebounding economy by doubling the minimum wage, which will kill our historic job growth.”

That’s not how labor unions and anti-poverty groups view the wage. Dozens from those groups turned out earlier this month with Prieto to endorse raising the wage immediately to $15 an hour. They say such a rate is needed to lift poor residents out of poverty.

Serena Rice, the executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, said on Friday she wants to review the leaders’ proposal in more detail, but sounded supportive of their plan.

“We’re going to continue to push to make sure it’s as strong as possible,” she said.

Business groups, who later on Friday announced a coalition whose purpose will be challenging proposals like the wage hike, say raising the wage will make businesses less competitive with other states.

“If businesses have to absorb these dramatically higher salary costs, they will have only two choices: raise prices on consumers or reduce jobs,” said Michele Siekerka, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

If approved this year, New Jersey would join 15 other states that have raised their minimums over the past two years.


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