$15 minimum wage one step closer to becoming law

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

The Assembly Appropriations Committee went first as opponents of the minimum wage going to $15 raised all sorts of concerns. The wholesale fruit and vegetables industry is worried that farmworker wage hikes will outstrip price hikes.

“Comparing the wholesale price received for various vegetables in August 2009 with the price received this last year in August 2018 found nearly the same price or less,” said New Jersey State Board of Agriculture President Shirley Klein.

While nursing home workers showed up to support the wage hike, their industry’s representative warned it would hurt.

“We’re not opposed to a living wage and we appreciate the phase in. Unfortunately nursing facilities, 80 percent of our reimbursement is set by government rates. We can’t pass along the impact of this onto Medicaid or Medicare,” said John Indyk, vice president of the Health Care Association of New Jersey.

Even local government and local schools say they’ll feel the impact.

“Municipalities, school districts, and counties all are living within a hard 2 percent property tax levy cap, so any kind of increase in wages is going to put a squeeze on their respective budgets and could cause stress on other areas of the budget,” said John Pushman, a legislative advocate for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Democrats reminded their Republican colleagues that increasing the minimum wage is intended to help the working poor.

“They have to go to the grocery store just like we go to the grocery store. They pay the same prices for milk and bread that we pay and they deserve this raise,” said Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker.

“Milk, bread, eggs — the cost of eggs goes up all the time. That’s what this is about,” said Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera.

Originally the bill excluded workers at businesses with under 10 employees. A compromise between Gov. Phil Murphy and the two legislative leaders reset the exclusion at six to appease Murphy. A Republican spoke out against that.

“The SBA definition of a small business is 100 or fewer employees. We’re using a ridiculous number of six employees. Over six employees is a large company now? Give me a break. We don’t have a chance,” said Assemblyman Harold Wirths.

The business community says jobs will disappear and so will state tax revenues.

“Eating out less, buying less at the food store, shopping less, all that’s going to be realized in the tax revenue implication that the state budget’s going to be faced with down the road,” said Christina Renna, senior vice president of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey.

Supporters of the bill said it will stimulate tax revenue. Senate President Steve Sweeney agrees.

“The more times you put money in the pockets of the earners. They’re at the very bottom of the income level. They’re going to put that money right back into the economy. They’re not going to buy a shore house. They’re going to eat a little bit better or get a better place to live,” Sweeney said.

Democrats voted yes, Republicans no. Democrats hold the majorities.

“Today New Jersey takes a step that recognizes that what we presently have in place, what’s presently taking place in the workplace is not enough,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli.

The bill also passed the Senate Budget Committee Monday afternoon. Both houses are expected to approve it on Thursday and send it on to a governor eager to sign it.