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N.J. voters show bipartisan support for minimum wage hike

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New poll results released mere days before Gov. Chris Christie must sign or veto a bill to raise the state minimum wage, from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour, shows a large majority of voters — including members of the governor's political party — support the proposed hike.

In a statement timed with the state Assembly's delivery of the bill to Christie last month, New Jersey Business & Industry Association President Philip Kirschner said, "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."

But a poll of New Jersey voters conducted by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found 55 percent of the 1,647 responders reject the argument that businesses will reduce hiring if the state minimum wage increases. Additionally, the poll said 67 percent of the state's registered Republican voters favor a hike, and 45 percent of all responders want the minimum wage to be set above $8.25 an hour.

The Assembly bill currently sitting on Christie's desk would 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. If Christie vetoes that bill on Monday, New Jersey voters could decide as early as November 2013 on another Democrat-led proposal to amend the state constitution to set the minimum wage at $8.25 per hour with future hikes tied to inflation.

"New Jerseyans are in a generous mood when it comes to raising the minimum wage, with overwhelming support for an increase, even among Republicans," said Maurice Carroll, director of the polling institute, in prepared remarks.

However, Kathleen A. Davis, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, said a 2012 survey of her organization's membership — which is mostly made up of small businesses — found 56 percent oppose the wage hike and believe an increase in labor costs would make them less competitive, as it would raise the costs of products and services for their customers.

"If you ask the general public a question like that, and if those people are not involved in meeting payroll, then they would certainly have a different take on it from what our members are telling us," Davis said. "Certainly our concern is with those businesses and their ability to compete in a market where sales continues to be not a number one concern but a strong number concern."

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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