By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
“There is not an editorial board in this state that has come out against elevating the minimum wage in New Jersey,” said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver at a news conference with a coalition of groups supporting her bill to hike the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50.
Two hours later, her counterpart, Senate President Steve Sweeney, led off a Senate hearing on her bill with favorable testimony.
“This is something that I honestly, truly care a great deal about, which is the working poor in this state,” Sweeney said.
Some wonder whether, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it makes less sense to mandate a higher minimum wage for some small businesses. A small business owner at the news conference said the opposite — boardwalk businesses would benefit.
“You give additional spending power to the consumers. So people will come to the Jersey Shore, they will buy ice cream at one of the ice cream shops that just got hammered by Sandy,” said Samia Bahsoun of the New Jersey Main Street Alliance.
The New Jersey Business and Industry Association isn’t buying that argument.
“As I understand it, the bill is going to have an effective date of March. Now many of our seasonal businesses are going to open in May, so in addition to their recovery costs, they’re gonna have extra wage increases, and then that’s gonna be compounded by the fact that there’s an automatic indexing in the bill that’s being considered today,” said Stefanie Riehl of the NJIA.
Other opponents of a minimum wage increase agree with the NJBIA.
“The fact that we suddenly had this disaster and that’s gonna create economic growth, that’s absurd,” said Steve Lonegan of Americans for Prosperity. “Anybody that argues that this hurricane’s going to drive the economy, well why not have a hurricane every week?”
When asked if Hurricane Sandy changes the equation, Sen. Joe Pennachio said, “I think it does. You have a whole new workforce that’s gonna be needed to clean the debris and to get the shore back into up and running status.”
Sweeney has dropped his plan to raise the minimum wage by constitutional amendment. He’s now on board with Oliver’s plan, which passed the Assembly, to do it by statute and risk a veto by Gov. Christie.
The minimum wage is the first real partisan fight here at the Statehouse since the big storm. The parties are planning their strategies around the likelihood Gov. Christie will veto the bill. Democrats say if they can’t ride override his veto, they’ll take it to the voters as a constitutional amendment on the ballot.