New Jersey passes $15 minimum wage ... but Gov. Christie may veto

Starbucks CEO: Minimum wage headed in the right direction
Starbucks CEO: Minimum wage headed in the right direction

The New Jersey Senate passed a bill Thursday that would gradually raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour. Currently it's $8.38.

The measure has already been approved by the state Assembly, so the next stop is Gov. Chris Christie's desk.

The expectation, however, is that Christie will veto it. But his spokesman would only say that the governor has to see the final piece of legislation before making that call. Nevertheless, Christie has been highly critical of the proposal, citing it as "reckless."

If Christie doesn't veto the bill, New Jersey would become the third state -- behind California and New York -- to be on track toward a $15 minimum. And just last week, the District of Columbia passed a similar measure that the mayor is expected to sign.

If he does veto it, advocates may get their way through other means. Proponents have said they will put the measure on the 2017 ballot to let voters decide whether the state should move toward a $15 minimum wage.

That's what they did in 2013. When Christie vetoed a much smaller increase, voters approved a constitutional amendment that raised the then-$7.25 minimum wage by $1 and indexed it to inflation.

The bill passed by the New Jersey Senate on Thursday would raise the $8.38 minimum to $10.10 in 2017, and then by at least $1.25 every year thereafter until 2021. At that point it would continue to be inflation adjusted.

Unlike New York, the New Jersey bill does not allow for a slower implementation schedule in the less economically robust parts of the state.

Related: New York lawmakers strike deal for $15 minimum wage

"A $15 minimum wage is delivering the first big raise for workers at the bottom in decades," said Paul Sonn, general counsel for the National Employment Law Project.

NELP estimates it could means thousands of dollars more per year for nearly 1 million workers in New Jersey alone.

But members of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce aren't happy. They expect they'll have to reduce workers' hours, modify their benefits and not hire as many employees, said Michael Egenton, the Chamber's executive vice president of government relations.

And more broadly, it will be harder to strategically plan for their businesses, Egenton said. He noted that they are still adjusting to the 2013 ballot measure changes. He added that whenever the minimum wage goes up, that can lead to more experienced employees asking for a raise and owners' costs going up further once insurance and payroll tax expenses are factored in.

"All we're looking for is a little predictability, a little certainty," he said.

Sonn notes that if New Jersey does implement the approved measure, 21% of the U.S. workforce would be covered by a $15 minimum wage.

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