The decision on making New Jersey’s minimum wage $15 an hour will be decided in the Statehouse Annex in Trenton, but the debate got underway today in New Brunswick at NJBIA’s Public Policy Forum.
Legislative leaders from both parties squared off during a taping of On the Record with venerable NJTV Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron. The episode was taped live before the Public Policy Forum’s audience.
Democratic Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin introduced a minimum wage bill on Thursday and it is scheduled for a vote in the Assembly Labor Committee on Dec. 10. Coughlin was joined by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a longtime advocate of a $15 an hour minimum wage increase. Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean and Assembly Republican Conference Leader Anthony Bucco Jr. oppose the measure.
“Mr. Speaker, obviously you think you have found a sweet spot,” Aron said to kick off the discussion. “Do you think this will sell in Trenton?”
Coughlin said his bill has received overwhelming support already.
“The truth of the matter is this reflects the value we place on the work that people do,” Coughlin said.
Coughlin and Sweeney argued that the bill strikes a balance between fair wages and the burdens placed on the business community, which will have to pay them. The leaders pointed out the bill phases in the increase over five years for most businesses, and even slower for companies with 10 or fewer employees, as well as seasonal and agriculture workers.
“Both sides came out against it, so I figured it’s perfect,” Sweeney said, referring to criticism from proponents of the minimum wage that claimed Coughlin’s bill moved too slowly and the business community, which said the proposed exemptions do not go far enough.
Bucco said he and Assemblyman Hal Wirths, (R-Sussex), have proposed a compromise that would raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour and provide tax credits to businesses to help them adjust to the added costs. He added that the Legislature also needs to have a way to put minimum wage increases on hold if need be.
“There has to be some sort of mechanism to slow this down if in fact we enter into a recession,” Bucco said.
Kean encouraged legislators to consider the full compensation of employees, not just wages. He pointed out that Amazon recently increased wages for its employees to a minimum of $15 an hour, but we learned later on that they also reduced benefits.