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Assembly OKs Raising New Jersey’s Minimum Wage To $8.50

U.S. Currency (file / credit: clipart.com)

U.S. Currency (file / credit: clipart.com)

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TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The New Jersey Assembly voted Thursday to give the state’s minimum wage employees a $1.25-per-hour raise, which would increase their weekly wage by $50 — to $340 — for full-time workers.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who sponsored the bill, said the increase would help thousands of impoverished families make ends meet and would jumpstart local economies. She rejected opponents’ arguments that businesses couldn’t afford the increase, saying it would not have the negative impact some people feared.

“We are really, really, really putting the screws to poor people in the state of New Jersey,” she said before the vote. “The reality is you can live nowhere in New Jersey earning the current minimum wage.”

The 46-33 vote occurred along party lines, with Democrats supporting the bill and Republicans opposing it. The Senate has a similar bill pending in its budget committee.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie has voiced skepticism, but has not taken a position on the measure. Oliver said the governor has indicated he may be open to a compromise. A Christie-appointed panel recommended against raising the minimum wage this year.

Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, a Republican, said the bill threatens New Jersey’s fragile economic recovery and would benefit mostly students.

“It was recognized that this would put us at a competitive disadvantage with our neighbors,” he said. “If this bill is enacted, we well have a higher minimum wage than Delaware, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.”

New Jersey’s minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour, the same as the federal standard. Twenty-three states have a wage floor in line with the feds; 18 states mandate a higher rate than the federal standard and in four states it’s lower, according to U.S. Labor Department data.

New Jersey’s last minimum wage increase, from $7.15 an hour to $7.25, occurred in 2010, when the federal rate was also raised.

Oliver spoke twice on the bill — she was the first speaker and the final one, when she responded to Republicans who offered seveal reasons to vote ‘no.’

“There are a number of different ways to jumpstart the economy,” she said. “But there is no denying that putting additional money into the hands of our lowest wage earning families in the state, that money goes directley and immediately back into the local economy — it goes to the local supermarket, it goest to the gas station, to restaurants in neighborhoods — it is a stimulus for the economy.”

Stefanie Riehl, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, has been campaigning against the bill since it was introduced as a Democratic priority for the year in January.

“We have heard from some businesses that already, in anticipation of a possible minimum wage hike, they’re not going to hire as many people this summer,” she said. But there are other impacts as well. For instance, most economists agree that the minimum wage sets the floor for worker expections, so you may see an escalator effect.”

Do you think NJ will pass a higher minimum wage measure?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below…

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)