Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Panel Oks $15 an Hour

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Panel Oks $15 an Hour

Article excerpt

Democratic lawmakers set the stage for a protracted battle over raising the state's minimum wage on Monday when a bill that would gradually increase it to $15 per hour within five years cleared a Senate committee.

After nearly four hours of testimony, by which time a standing- room-only audience had dwindled to a few, the Senate Labor Committee voted 3-1 along party lines to advance to the full Senate a bill that would raise the minimum from $8.38 to $10.10, and raise it by $1 annually until it reaches $15.

Sens. Fred Madden, D-Gloucester, Sandra Cunningham, D-Jersey City, and Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, voted for the measure. Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego, R-Burlington, cast the dissenting vote.

The bill is part of a strategy outlined in February by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus.

Sweeney co-sponsored the Senate bill, dubbed S-15, and Prieto said he will now post an identical measure in the Assembly. Both lawmakers have said they expect Governor Christie, a Republican, will veto the legislation. Once that happens, they plan a push to put the issue on the ballot in November 2017.

That's the same year voters will pick a new governor, and Sweeney is expected to be among the Democratic contenders.

Monday's hearing featured a lively debate between Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth, and Vitale, the bill's co-sponsor.

O'Scanlon, the Assembly Republican budget officer, said he believes "everybody here has their heart in the right place." But he added that the state is heading for "a cliff of epic proportions" as lawmakers grapple with issues such as funding the state's employee pension obligation and funding the nearly depleted Transportation Trust Fund. He also cited warnings raised during budget hearings by mental health providers who said their programs would be affected by the wage hike. …

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