The aftermath of Sandy, which changed so much about the state, was ever-present in Thursday’s two-hour debate on the Senate floor, giving another wrinkle to a debate that’s largely a moral and philosophical battle. It was still that on the Senate floor Thursday, with Republicans saying a minimum wage increase would hurt businesses and could force layoffs, and Democrats asserting that it’s wrong for New Jerseyans to be paid so little in a place where it’s expensive to live.
Republican Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Red Bank, said she supports raising minimum wage but said the storm made this the wrong time to do it. She told of small shore business owners “still sweeping up glass” and wondering if their businesses would survive the winter. “Our Legislature’s first response following a hurricane that devastated thousands is not a helping hand but a greater burden,” she said.
Christie also used that line of reasoning:
The Republican governor said Wednesday that he was “willing to consider a responsible minimum-wage package.” But with many businesses struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, Christie said, he has concerns about the bill, which would increase the hourly rate to $8.50 from $7.25 by March 1.
“We’ve got thousands of businesses wiped out,” he said at a news conference Wednesday in Trenton. “Is this really now the moment to say to those folks, ‘We’re going to hit you with a $1.25 increase on March 1 and [cost-of-living increases] beyond that?’”
Study after study has shown that minimum wage hikes do not, in fact, hurt business and force layoffs (even during rough economic times). And New Jersey was a premier test case: “University of California, Berkeley, economist David Card and Princeton economist Alan Krueger’s seminal study of the effect of the New Jersey 1992 minimum wage increase comparing fast food industry employment in New Jersey and Pennsylvania found no negative employment effect. In fact, it found stronger employment growth in New Jersey.”
“Let’s not hide behind the storm,” said state Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D). “This bill was opposed by many prior to that.” Sen. Richard Codey (D) added, “Can you live on $8.50 an hour? How about these people during the storm, you think they could go to the few diners that were open? They can’t do that.”