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Democrats in the State Legislature sound off on minimum wage increase

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After discussions and attempts to pass an increase in the state minimum wage under Governor Chris Christie's first term, Democrats finally saw the finish line this past November. That is when voters and not any elected leaders decided the fate of any increase in the state's minimum wage. Democrats led by outgoing Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) attempted to increase the state's minimum wage rate from $7.25 to $8.50 in 2012. However, that legislation was vetoed by Governor Christie. Ultimately, a ballot initiative was put forward to coincide with the November 5th state elections in 2013. While the state gave Christie a reelection victory with 60% of the vote, roughly the same amount supported a measure that he was against and set the state in motion to increase it's minimum wage by $1 to $8.25 an hour come January 1, 2014.

This increase will likely not be the last under Governor Christie as the initiative that passed in November will tie the state's minimum wage rate to the cost of living and inflation and be part of the state's constitution. Thus, it essentially prevents Christie from putting forward any regressive measures related to something he has fought Democrats over.

On the eve of a new year and the increase going into effect, Senate Democrats provided the following statement:

Tomorrow, at the will of the voters, New Jersey will boost the minimum wage to a more acceptable $8.25 an hour. In the face of strident opposition from those who'd rather condemn hard working people to a life of poverty, Democrats in the Legislature and the good people of New Jersey made this day happen. We are proud that we stood firm to support those forced to work two and three jobs simply to make ends meet.

The statement would continue to read,

Raising the minimum wage will provide real, positive results for our state. Not only does it mean fathers and mothers being able to provide more for themselves and their children, but it also provides a boost to our local economies. We have no doubt that as the years go by, tomorrow will be looked at as an historic and great day in New Jersey's history.

The statement included 23 of the 24 state Senate's Democrats. State Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1), who survived another tough reelection campaign this past November, voted against an increase in the past. Van Drew also is potentially a couple weeks away from announcing a run for Congress in the 2nd Legislative District against a popular Republican incumbent in Congressman Frank LoBiondo.

The outgoing and incoming assembly speakers would also sound off.

Outgoing Assembly Speaker Oliver would express,

We, Democrats and minimum wage supporters, believed it was time for a change in the how minimum wage increases were determined in this state, and time, after many years, for a boost in pay for New Jersey’s workers. The voters confirmed this on Election Day. Increasing the minimum wage and setting it on the path to support families in the future with annual increases helps men and women working long hours to keep up with the ever-rising cost of living in this state. They will no longer have to wait for government to determine if or when they deserve a raise.

Incoming Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) would utter,

Tomorrow’s minimum wage hike represents more than just a pay increase for 250,000-plus New Jersey workers. It represents compassion. It represents understanding. And, because New Jersey voters chose to tie future increases to increases in the Consumer Price Index, tomorrow’s increase represents a permanent first step toward increased financial security for 250,000 New Jersey men and women.

Opponents of increasing the state's minimum wage have been vocal critics of tying the increase to a constitutionally mandated cost of living adjustment. They feel like everything linked to any increases that it will have a negative impact on businesses. That is an argument seen by critics of increasing the minimum wage locally in New Jersey as well as nationally. Strikes and protests have taken place by some minimum wage workers. Studies have shown that the minimum wage rate is comparable to what the rate was over 40 years ago when you factor in the cost of living. So while the minimum wage may have increased, the cost of living has increased much more over the same span.

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