Winners and Losers in Today’s Minimum Wage Vote

Today, the New Jersey Senate passed a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour and would include a cost of living adjustment. The bill, which has already passed in the General Assembly, goes back to the Assembly on Monday to match the language of the Senate bill. It will then go to Governor Christie’s desk for signature.

I have no doubt that the Governor will veto the bill – not necessarily because he doesn’t think New Jerseyans deserve a decent wage, but because he is loath to alienate his big business corporate contributors to his presidential campaign.

While there was two hours of repetitive debate on the bill, a companion resolution, to amend the state Constitution, was passed without debate. With an anticipated veto by the governor of the original bill, the amendment will require passage in two consecutive years, and would then be put on the ballot in the November 2013 election. So relief to people earning poverty-level wages would not come until early 2014.

During the debate on the original bill, the Democrats argued that given New Jersey’s high cost of living, keeping the minimum wage at its current level only sustains poverty. Without an automatic cost of living adjustment the extreme difficulty, a large number of our fellow citizens will continue to struggle. The incremental dollars that go to minimum wage workers would be spent in New Jersey on essentials, and would stimulate small business.

The Republicans disingenuously harped on the impact of Hurricane Sandy. Rebuilding will require huge sums of money, and now is not the time to raise the minimum wage, they contend. Yet, Senator Paul Sarlo and others pointed out that the GOP would vote against a Cost of Living adjustment even if there had been no storm.

So who were the winners and losers in today’s debate?

Clearly, the people of New Jersey are both winners and losers. Winners because a majority of the legislature believes that people need to earn a decent wage, even while CEOs are “earning” obscene increases and getting tax breaks. But Governor Christie’s anticipated veto will be a major loss for the well-being of New Jerseyans.

Among the Democrats, Senator Barbara Buono is a clear winner. Her floor speech went beyond the common-sense reasons for raising the minimum wage, when she talked about launching a war on the failed GOP “trickle down” approach that has hurt the state and nation over the past 30 years.

The biggest Republican loser is Senator Gerald Cardinale who posited that LBJ’s War on Poverty has only led to more poor people. Kudos to Senator Buono for calling him out on this and for calling out Senator Sam Thompson for similar misleading statements on Food Stamps.

Another loser was any hope of Republican Moderation, when so-called “moderates” Senators Diane Allen and Jennifer Beck put the misleading mantra of their business patrons ahead of the well-being of their constituents by voting against the wage increase. And Senator Robert Singer is another GOP loser for lying on the Senate floor by contending that the Social Security System did not apply a cost-of-living adjustment in 2011 because it is going broke. (The truth is, inflation was so low that a COLA was not needed.)

If New Jersey is to be competitive, we need to eradicate poverty. Somehow, the GOP (and Senator Van Drew, the lone Democratic “no” vote) don’t get it. An increase in the minimum wage not only helps workers, but also helps small business and helps the state. People are not going to get rich with a minumum wage increase. Those earning minimum wage would still live paycheck to paycheck and would spend their money in New Jersey. The state would realize increased tax revenue. Raising the minimum wage in the second-highest cost of living state should be a no-brainer. But the GOP just doesn’t get it.

Here’s the vote tally: Click on the photo for an enlarged version.

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