Democratic gubernatorial nominee and state Senator Barbara Buono (D-18) has spent much of 2013 trying to present herself to voters of the state of New Jersey and define where she stands on the issues facing the state compared to Governor Chris Christie. Recently, Buono outlined her opinion on a surging issue in the state: raising the minimum wage.
Democrats including Buono in Trenton have attempted a couple times to raise the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 to better reflect the raising rate of inflation since the last increase. Christie has been open to a referendum measure and it is something that Buono too has called for.
Buono has been vocal about the fact that New Jersey's minimum wage rate is not higher than the standard set at the federal level of $7.25 and has even called it an "atrocity". In a state like New Jersey, $7.25 an hour does not measure the same as most states especially since New Jersey is traditionally known as one of the more expensive places to live.
As Buono would express,
And I think it’s an embarrassment that 19 other states have a higher minimum wage than the state of New Jersey. Higher. We have mothers and fathers working 40, 50, 60 hours a week in this state, and yet they still have to rely on food stamps and live in public housing. People are struggling to put food on the table, a roof over their children’s heads.
Buono's push to raise the minimum wage is being joined by Working Families United for New Jersey, a group running a statewide campaign for a referendum that voters would support and pass to increase the minimum wage rate by $1 to $8.25 and allow for the cost of living increases to influence future minimum wage increases.
Buono would add,
We can do better. We must do better. 7.25 an hour isn’t living. It’s surviving, it’s subsisting. So increasing the minimum wage is about fairness, it’s about justice, it’s about uplifting the working people of New Jersey.
If approved, the future of the minimum wage and its increases would be tied to the state constitution. The state constitution would then be amended to trigger automatic cost of living increases based on the Consumer Price Index and would begin next September. The biggest kicker especially for Democrats with a likely chance that Christie is reelected is the fact that regardless of the party of the person who is governor, the state constitution would trump personal preferences of any governor.
According to the New Jersey Policy Perspective, 241,000 workers in the state would directly benefit from an increase while another 188,000 would likely see their wages go up because pay scales would move upward.
Despite popularity for raising the minimum wage in polls and around the state, Christie along with conservative lawmakers and business groups have been vocal that at the current time the economy is not strong enough for such a pay jump. Some companies have been extra vocal about the fate of some of their workers if an increase were to take effect.
As Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie's campaign, would voice;
Gov. Christie offered a responsible path forward for a phased-in increase of the minimum wage, along with an increase in the earned income credit for working families, that protects the steady progress we've made in our economic recovery and private sector job creation. Barbara Buono and her colleagues in the Legislature rejected that commonsense approach, choosing instead to politicize and grandstand on the issue, just as you saw today.
As the economy remains to be a top issue for voters, middle class voters and those who would be impacted by a pay increase will have a role to play in the coming months. There will be a campaign within the governor's race around increasing the minimum wage and if support for an increase is out there; it should override the previous objections of Governor Christie. Fighting for a higher minimum wage is certainly a cornerstone of Buono's campaign this year.