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Senate OKs minimum wage referendum

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Stephen M. Sweeney's bill on increasing the minimum wage will get a vote this afternoon. (Aaron Houston / NJBIZ)
Stephen M. Sweeney's bill on increasing the minimum wage will get a vote this afternoon. (Aaron Houston / NJBIZ)

The minimum wage issue is one step closer to November's ballot.

The Senate Thursday approved SCR-1, Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney's (D-West Deptford) measure to raise the minimum wage to $8.25 and change the state's constitution to allow automatic future minimum wage increases based on the consumer price index.

If the Assembly follows suit and approves the resolution, a public question will be placed on November's ballot.

In a press release, Sweeney said he expects the measure to be a winner at the polls.

"The governor failed to stand up for working people in this state, so now we are going to take this issue directly to the voters," Sweeney said. "It is time to remove politics and politicians from this process once and for all. The people of New Jersey clearly support this issue and I have no doubt that they will overwhelmingly approve this measure in the fall."

Sweeney's office noted 10 states already have indexed their minimum wages to the CPI. All but one, Vermont, used a ballot initiative to achieve the CPI link.

Last month, Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed an Assembly bill that would have increased the minimum wage to $8.50 and created the CPI link without amending the constitution. Instead, Christie asked the Legislature to consider a $1 increase, phased in over three years, as well as an increase in the state's earned income tax credit.

Those changes were unacceptable to Sweeney, who now is "fully committed" to moving forward with the referendum, according to spokesman Chris Donnelly.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president at the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, said he's still holding out hope for a deal.

"We strongly believe the state constitution shouldn't be used in that manner, to determine public policy," he said. "It sets a bad precedent, and I think leaves the door open for a litany of issues to go that route."

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