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Sweeney Introduces Plan for $15 Minimum Wage

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Co-Authored By Senator Turner Has Support of 19 Total Sponsors & Cosponsors

TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Shirley Turner today introduced legislation seeking a constitutional amendment that would require a $15 minimum wage in New Jersey with a proposal that immediately gained the support of 17 additional Senate colleagues who signed on as cosponsors.

The plan to phase in the increase mirrors legislation offered by Congressman Donald Norcross (D-NJ1) and cosponsored by Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ6) and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ12) that would set the same minimum pay scale nationally. Senator Sweeney’s proposal would have the voters approve a constitutional amendment, the same process used in 2013 to overcome Governor Christie’s opposition. Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald will sponsor companion legislation in the Assembly.

“Minimum wage workers should be paid a living wage that allows them to support themselves and their families with the basic necessities,” said Senator Sweeney, who sponsored both of the previous increases in New Jersey, including the constitutional amendment in 2013. “It’s a matter of economic fairness and human dignity. No one who works a full-time job should be living in poverty, especially at a time when the wealthiest are accumulating so much more in financial riches.”

The phased-in schedule will allow businesses to gradually absorb the increases and going to the voters for approval will provide more certainty by bypassing the inevitable veto of legislation by the governor, Senator Sweeney said.

“Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will help hard working people keep pace with living expenses,” said Senator Turner (Hunterdon/Mercer). “They need this increase to make ends meet. Too many low-wage workers are struggling to keep their heads above water, living paycheck to paycheck to try to provide basic necessities. This plan would increase the minimum wage in a responsible way that will give people in our state a chance to live a financially stable life.”

The increase will generate benefits for the economy, Senators Sweeney and Turner noted, because the increased paychecks are pumped into the economy by minimum wage workers spending their additional income on essentials like food and housing.

A fairer wage will also lower the burden on the state and federal governments to provide assistance because so many minimum wage workers have incomes so low they have to rely on various public assistance programs.

“The critics who always claim that ‘the sky is falling’ every time we raise the minimum wage are just trying to use scare tactics that just don’t come true,” said Senator Sweeney. “They said we would lose jobs when we raised it before but we actually gained jobs. They try to say it’s bad for the economy but every legitimate study shows that just isn’t true.”

When the wage was increased in 2013 the NJBIA predicted it would cause the loss of 31,000 jobs over a decade but New Jersey has actually experienced one of the most significant employment increases since then, gaining approximately 29,000 jobs in 2014 and more than 64,000 jobs in 2015.

The bill, SCR-1500, would raise New Jersey’s minimum wage to $9.00 per hour on January 1st of the year following the amendment’s approval followed by increases of $1.00 each year until it reaches $15.00 per hour. Congressman Norcross’ bill would follow the same process, with the federal wage increasing to $8.00 per hour no later than January 1, 2017, and then climbing $1.00 each ear every year until reaching $15.00 per hour.

Senator Sweeney and Senator Turner will also introduce legislation providing tax credits to small businesses that raise the wages of minimum wage workers faster than the schedule set in the proposed constitutional amendment,

The amendment would maintain the “indexing” already in the constitution that creates automatic future increases tied to inflation. As an amendment to the state constitution, the proposal would have to be approved by both houses of the Legislature with majority votes in two consecutive years or with three-fifth votes in one year. In order to become law, voters would need to approve the amendment by a simple majority. The likely two-year timetable would have the proposed amendment go to the voters in 2017.

In addition to Senator Sweeney and Senator Turner, the cosponsors include: Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Senator Paul Sarlo, Senator Peter Barnes, Senator Fred Madden, Senator Nellie Pou, Senator Jim Beach, Senator Richard Codey, Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez, Senator Sandra Cunningham, Senator Linda Greenstein, Senator Ronald Rice, Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, Senator Nick Sacco, Senator Bob Smith, Senator Brian Stack, Senator Joe Vitale and Senator Jim Whelan.