TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey voters will get the last word on whether to increase the state's minimum wage by $1 to $8.25.
The state Assembly gave final approval on Thursday to a resolution putting the $1 minimum wage increase on the ballot in November and tying automatic annual adjustments to the Consumer Price Index. The Senate approved the resolution previously, so Thursday's vote ensured the question's place on the ballot in a gubernatorial election year.
Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation last month that would have increased the wage by $1.25, to $8.50 per hour, and provided for automatic yearly increases.
New Jersey is among more than 20 states with a minimum wage of $7.25, the same as the federal minimum wage. In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Barack Obama proposed raising the federal rate to $9 per hour and allowing for inflation increases.
Most states set a minimum wage. Washington has the highest at $9.19 per hour; Georgia and Wyoming have the lowest, $5.15 per hour, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
New Jersey's Democratic-led Legislature has not advanced the governor's counter-proposal to raise the wage by $1 per hour phased in over three years and delete the provision for automatic adjustments. The majority leaders planned to put the question to voters if the Republican governor vetoes their proposal.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a sponsor of the vetoed legislation and the ballot initiative, said wages in New Jersey have not kept pace with the rising costs of housing, food and transportation, causing substantial burdens for low-wage workers.
"We have no choice in New Jersey," Oliver said. "I have tried to work in a very collaborative, bipartisan environment with everyone on this issue for 14 months, and we just could not get there."
The resolution was approved 46-31 on Thursday. Assemblyman Matthew Milam of Cape May County was the only Democrat to vote against the measure. No Republicans supported it.
Business groups also opposed the proposal, especially the automatic indexing.
"Many small businesses cannot afford the 14 percent increase mandated by this resolution," said Assemblyman Sean Kean, who represents Monmouth and Ocean counties. "Adjusting the rate annually based on increases to the CPI only adds insult to injury. It would be devastating to any business' operations as it establishes an arbitrary formula for increasing wages and ignores market factors which is the proper way to determine wages."
Oliver and Senate President Stephen Sweeney said it was vital to retain the indexing component to ensure that wages went up slowly and steadily as the cost of living increases.
"If the voters of New Jersey approve this, the legislators no longer have to get embroiled in politicism about raising the wage," Oliver said. "When prices go up and rents go up and gasoline goes up, the CPI will then acknowledge that and incrementally, over time, workers will see a 25 cent increase, a 50 cent increase, and it will not be this culture shock."
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