U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney on Tuesday announced they will introduce near-identical bills to gradually raise the state and federal minimum wage to $15 and offer tax breaks to small businesses that go above and beyond the minimum.
Norcross' bill in Congress, he said, would raise the minimum wage 75 cents in the first year and $1 a year until hitting $15 an hour. Future increases would be tied to the rate of inflation. Sweeney's state version would depend on amending the constitution to raise the rate to $9 in the first year and $1 a year until reaching $15 in 2024.
New Jersey's $8.38 minimum wage is more than a dollar higher than the $7.35 federal level.
The federal and state lawmakers' announcement comes less than a week after Assembly Democrats introduced a bill to immediately increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said Tuesday at a Statehouse news conference with Norcross that the Assembly bill will inevitably run up against a veto from Gov. Chris Christie, and he doesn't see any reason to go though the motions.
"You know the governor's not going to sign it," Sweeney said. "I saw that movie. I know how it ends. We might as well just go to the people of the state of New Jersey that have supported increases in the minimum wage."
Amending the constitution circumvents the Republican governor by asking the voters to approve the change. That vote likely wouldn't come until 2017.
Voters in 2013 agreed to amendment the state constitution to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25, and then annual increases based on the Consumer Price Index. The minimum wage went up another 13 cents in January 2015 and did not increase in 2016.
The annual take-home pay for a full-time worker earning the current minimum wage is about $17,430. The United Way of Northern New Jersey has estimated a single adult in New Jersey would need to earn $13.78 an hour to meet his or her basic needs, and $19.73 per hour "better food and shelter, plus modest savings."
Sweeney said he prefers to phase it in to help businesses transition to the higher payroll costs.
"By providing a phase in, you recognize the business community's difficulty in absorbing that large an increase all at once, and you give business predictability," he said.
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) will sponsor the measure in the lower chamber.
Both federal and state measures will include tax credits for businesses with fewer than 50 employees that exceed the minimum wage. A small business that beats the minimum wage by $1 will receive a 50 cent credit, they said, noting the credit will not be available to large corporations.
"This is a net plus," Norcross (D-1st Dist.) said. "They cut down on the benefits that they're collecting from government and they're paying more taxes. And they have the dignity of a job. That is a triple header by anybody's measurement."
The New Jersey Business and Industry Association warned Tuesday that such a drastic increase will harm the state's economic climate and small businesses.
"The current proposal represents an accumulated 79 percent rise in the minimum wage over the phase in period and would increase the cost of doing business at a time when the state is just recovering from the recession with three years of slow and steady growth," NJBIA President Michele Siekerka said in a statement. "The mere mention of a minimum wage increase chills investment and job growth."