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NJ Senate May Put Minimum Wage on the Ballot in '13

Gov. Christie has said he won't sign a bill that ties the minimum wage to economic indices, but the N.J. Senate approved a measure in committee that could take it to the people.

A proposal to raise the New Jersey minimum wage by $1 per hour could bypass Gov. Chris Christie and go straight to the ballot in 2013.

During Monday's state Senate hearings, Senate President Steve Sweeney received preliminary support for measure that would amend the state constitution to increase state minimum wages. The plan would also tie future increases to national economic data.

Sweeney's plan, 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,” Sweeney said in a press release.

“In fact, it is a complete failure," the statement read. "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 minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $8.25 per hour and allow future annual increases to be tied to national economic data, called indexing.

Since 2010, New Jersey, along with 23 other states, have kept their minimum wage levels at the federal minimum. A worker paid at this rate grosses $290 in a 40-hour work week, according to a CBS report. If the wage had been indexed annually since New Jersey began statutorily setting the rate in 1968, minimum wage in the state today would be $9.20, according to state Senate Democrats.

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. Her bill was approved in May by the full Assembly, but has not gone before the Senate for a vote.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Oliver told Businessweek. “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.”

Only 10 states—Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Missouri, Montana, Vermont and Washington—currently formally adjust their minimum wages increases in accordance with 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.

Do you support voters, not the governor, deciding minimum wage levels? Tell us in the comments.

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