TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey voters are being asked in Tuesday's election whether to raise the state's minimum wage by $1, to $8.25 per hour, and allow automatic cost-of-living increases. The Democrat-led Legislature decided to put the question to a public vote after reaching a stalemate with Republican Gov. Chris Christie over the wage increase.
Here are some answers to questions about the ballot question proposal:
Q: Where do Democrats and the governor disagree?
A: Democrats presented Christie with a bill raising the wage by $1.25, to $8.50 per hour, with annual adjustments based on the Consumer Price Index, which measures how much consumers are paying for certain products and services. Christie vetoed the bill but offered an alternative: scaling back the increase to $1, phasing it in over three years and ditching the inflation adjustments.
Q: How does New Jersey's minimum wage compare with other states and with the minimum wage set by the federal government?
A: New Jersey's minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is the same as 21 other states and the federal government. Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., have a higher minimum wage; in four states, it's lower. The state with the highest minimum wage is Washington at $9.19 per hour; Georgia and Wyoming have the lowest at $5.15 per hour. Five states set no minimum wage.
Q: Is the federal minimum wage likely to increase?
A: In his State of the Union speech in February, President Barack Obama proposed raising the federal rate to $9 per hour in the next few years and allowing for inflation increases. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., later proposed the Fair Minimum Wage of 2013, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years.
Q: Do other states guarantee cost-of-living increases to minimum-wage workers?
A: Ten states have automatic adjustments based on the Consumer Price Index or other inflation formula, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They include Vermont, Oregon, Ohio and Florida.
Q: How many minimum wage workers are there in New Jersey?
A: The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 49,000 minimum-wage employees last year, about 3 percent of the work force. An additional 54,000 workers were paid less than the minimum wage, but those represent restaurant staff, casino workers and others who work on commission, rely on tips for a portion of their wages or are otherwise exempt.
Q: What is the argument for increasing the wage?
A: People deserve to earn a living wage. Families cannot afford basics like groceries and rent in New Jersey while earning $7.25 per hour. When the cost of living rises, wages should, too.
Q: What is the argument against it?
A: Business owners will be forced to lay off workers or cut employee hours to compensate for having to pay a higher minimum wage. Setting the minimum wage by changing the constitution makes it difficult to undo if there is another economic recession. Those making a little more than the minimum wage will expect a raise, too, creating a trickle-up effect.
Q: Who's for it and who is against?
A: Women's groups, educators, trade unions, nurses and citizens' groups are among those campaigning for it. Business owners and their trade associations are sponsoring ads opposing it.
Q: How does the public feel about the proposal?
A: Public opinion polls have shown residents strongly support a ballot measure amending the state constitution to raise the wage. In a Rutgers/Eagleton Poll in September, likely voters backed the increase by about a 3-to-1 margin.
Q: What has been spent to promote or oppose it?
A: The Election Law Enforcement Commission reports $2.3 million spent on the ballot question so far by six groups. Two opposition groups — the Coalition to Preserve Jobs and Our Constitution and Fund for Jobs, Growth and Security — have spent a combined $1.6 million. Two proponents — Working Families United for NJ and NJ Workers' Voices — have spent $569,000 supporting it.
Q: If approved, when would the new law take effect?
A: The change would be effective Jan. 1. Cost-of-living adjustments would be made every Sept. 1.
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