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Minimum Wage Increase Could Go to Voters

The state Senate approved a 2013 referendum raising the minimum wage and tying it to yearly increases. Now voters could get a say.

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

During Monday's state Senate hearings, Senate President Steve Sweeney, of West Deptford, received preliminary support in calling for a Constitutional amendment allowing for an increased minimum wage. The measure would also tie future annual 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,” Sweeney said 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 annual 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. State 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 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.

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

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