Top N.J. Democrats, unions kick off campaign to raise the minimum wage

By Matt Friedman/The Star-Ledger

EAST ORANGE — Two Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate, the party’s nominee for governor and top union leaders this morning kicked off a campaign to raise state’s minimum wage.

“You look all around this region and poor working people are having to pay more for rent, more for food, more for gas, more for transportation, more for tuition,” Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the frontrunner for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination, told about 65 people gathered at the New Hope Baptist Church. “All of these costs going up but minimum wage has stayed the same.”

The event – sponsored by the union-backed Working Families United for New Jersey – was intended to gin up support for a November ballot question that lets voters decide whether to increase the wage from its current $7.25 – the federal minimum – to $8.25. The ballot initiative would also put a clause in the state Constitution that would increase the wage every year based on the Consumer Price Index. The group held another event featuring Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) later in the day in Bridgeton.

One of Booker’s three rivals for Senate, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, stood near him at the East Orange event. Oliver said Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a bill to immediately increase the minimum wage to $8.50 and his suggestion to gradually phase a wage increase in over the course of several years, was “abhorrent” and “an insult.”

By seeking a constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage, lawmakers bypassed Christie. Governors have no formal role in amending the state constitution.

“You will hear all kinds of arguments about why New Jersey can’t elevate the minimum wage. It’s a job killer. Businesses will leave the state. A host of different arguments,” Oliver said. “But we continue in New Jersey to provide tax breaks for millionaires, corporate tax incentives for businesses. But we will turn our backs on the lowest wage earners in the state?”

A Rutgers-Eagleton poll from Monday found 77 percent of voters support raising the wage. But advocates warned against being lulled into a sense of inevitability.

State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), the Democrats’ nominee for governor, stressed the need to make sure voters aren’t confused by Christie’s decision to call a special election for Senate on October 16, followed 20 days later by the regularly scheduled November election.

“When we are victorious in passing that ballot initiative it will be a victory for every man and woman in New Jersey,” she said.

Business leaders, however, say the ballot question is a bad idea.

Stefanie Riehl, assistant vice president for employment and labor policy at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, called writing a minimum wage increase into the constitution “bad public policy” and said that tying it to the Consumer Price Index is most harmful.

“At no time in the state’s history has the minimum wage been tied to the CPI,” Riehl said. “That does not allow for any type of adjustment if certain segments of the economy start to falter, if certain segments of the industry experience less growth.”

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak referred to the governor’s previous comments on the issue. In September, Christie dismissed putting the question on the ballot as “stupid” and “a truly ridiculous idea.”

Original article

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