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Busy day in Assembly as minimum-wage increase set for vote

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A package of business-related bills passed the state Assembly today, but all eyes are on the effort to raise the state’s minimum wage and tie future increases to inflation, which is now on its way to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk.

The state’s business groups formed a coalition against the Democrat-led effort, which has taken two forms — a constitutional referendum led by Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, and an Assembly bill championed by Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver. Both measures passed the state Senate on Thursday, and the latter version advanced through the state Assembly today.

“A minimum-wage increase will not work for the simple fact that raising the minimum wage doesn’t provide businesses with more money to pay their workers. Instead, businesses will cut workers’ hours, hire fewer workers or simply lay people off,” said Philip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, in a statement. “The way to help low-wage workers is through job-training programs that increase employees’ value to employers, and through economic development that increases the demand for employees.”

Though the coalition of 11 state business associations vehemently opposes both minimum wage bills, it favors the traditional legislative process over Sweeney’s constitutional referendum because that “provides more opportunities for input from the business community, in terms of what this increase will mean to them,” Kathleen A. Davis, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, previously told NJBIZ.

Though it remains uncertain what action Christie plans to take on the bill — which will raise the state minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, effective March 1, 2013, and link annual adjustments to increases in the consumer price index, effective Jan. 1, 2014 — he has to act within 45 days.

In a statement following the Senate approval of the Assembly bill, Oliver said the Democrats will “quickly take stock and weigh our next step, including asking the people of New Jersey to decide this important matter” if Christie takes his veto pen to the measure.

Before the Senate vote, Christie said he’s “willing to consider a responsible minimum-wage package … but let’s be clear now: We’ve got thousands of businesses wiped out, and is this really the moment to say to those folks, ‘We’re going to hit you with a $1.25 increase on March 1 and a CPI (indexing) beyond that’?”

Joining the proposed minimum wage hike on the Assembly-approved list were bills to transform foreclosed properties into affordable housing, bar employers from demanding social media passwords from employees and make affordable housing more accessible to New Jersey veterans

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