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In conditional veto of minimum wage hike, Christie seeks more gradual increase

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Gov. Chris Christie's conditional veto of a bill seeking to increase the minimum wage — and tie future increases to the consumer price index — won praise from the business community this afternoon.

In countering the Legislature’s proposed increase — an immediate increase from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 — Christie today suggested a gradual raise of the state minimum wage by $1.

Stefanie Riehl, assistant vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said in a statement the governor’s action represents “a reasonable compromise to a difficult and contentious issue that recognizes the difficulty of raising the minimum wage under current economic conditions.”

“Many small businesses are struggling in this economy and facing the daunting task of rebuilding after Sandy — and are not in a position to absorb a 17 percent wage increase all at once,” Riehl said in the statement. “By phasing the increase in over three years and eliminating the automatic cost-of-living increases in the future, the governor’s conditional veto would provide businesses with the time and predictability they need to prepare for this increase.”

In his conditional veto message, Christie proposed a plan to increase the minimum wage by 25 cents an hour, to $7.50 an hour, on March 1, then raise it by small increments over the next two years to $8.25 an hour by March 1, 2015. Additionally, Christie called for an immediate 25 percent increase to the state’s earned income tax credit for taxable year 2014.

Taken together, those measures “will give workers the additional income that will spur consumer spending, and … businesses will have a short, but necessary, period to plan for the implementation of the full $1 increase,” Christie said in his conditional veto message.

New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas A. Bracken echoed that point in a statement, saying a phased-in increase “will allow our members to plan their budgets with more certainty.”

Bracken also called on the Legislature to abandon its plan to seek a constitutional amendment seeking a minimum wage increase, but Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver today said Democrats in the Legislature still intend to advance that measure, which would hike the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour and tie annual increases to inflation.

“Governor Christie’s callous action leaves us no choice but to send this matter to the voters,” Oliver said in a statement.

A Quinnipiac poll released last week found 82 percent of New Jersey voters support the wage hike, though the poll questions did not mention the Democrats’ proposal to tie future increases to the CPI index.

Still, if Christie’s proposed raise becomes law, New Jersey’s minimum wage would exceed the minimum hourly rates currently set in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, as long as those states don’t enact any wage hikes of their own before March 2015.

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