By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
On the floor of the Assembly this afternoon, Republicans rose to say now is not the time to force businesses — especially small businesses — to pay more for labor.
“All it will do is send a message to the business community that we don’t trust their judgement, and we’re not invested in their success,” said Assemblywoman Amy Handlin.
“It’s just that the studies that I’ve read have said that this doesn’t work. It actually is counter-productive to those individuals whom we are trying to help,” said Assemblyman Gary Chiusano.
Democrats said they sympathize with business owners, especially after Sandy, but workers need a living wage.
“It’s unfair to expect people to be able to raise families and raise themselves up at a wage that does not take them beyond the poverty level,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski.
“We are at the federal minimum wage — $7.25 [an hour]. I know and most of the people in this chamber know that that is not enough to sustain yourself in this state,” said Speaker Sheila Oliver.
The bill, which hikes the minimum wage by statute, passed 44 to 31 on a strict party line vote.
Gov. Christie has said he’ll veto it it because it includes an automatic annual cost-of-living increase.
In that event, Democrats are prepared to put the measure on the November 2013 ballot as a constitutional amendment.
The politics behind that move are interesting. A ballot measure to hike the minimum wage would likely bring out pro-Democratic voters in an election in which Christie himself and all legislative Republicans are also on the ballot, something they’d surely like to avoid.
“They want to put it on the ballot, a constitutional amendment on a wage increase? That’s not what the constitution is supposed to do,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.
The governor’s office calls the constitutional amendment gambit a transparent political act.
Speaker Oliver says that’s not her interest. “Moving people from $7.25 an hour to $8.50, $8.25, is the thing that is of priority to me. I don’t care about the politics of it,” she said.
Christie last week wondered why Democrats haven’t tried to negotiate a compromise with him. Speaker Oliver left the Assembly floor to visit the governor this afternoon.
Today’s vote was only on a statutory hike. It takes a three-fifth majority — or a simple majority two years in a row — to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Both houses have plenty of time to make that happen next November.