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Politics & Government

New Jersey Votes To Increase Minimum Wage


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is celebrating an impressive reelection victory but he also suffered a defeat. Voters handily approved a measure to raise the state's minimum wage. That's a measure Christie had opposed.

As NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, New Jersey is the fifth state this year to raise the minimum wage.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The referendum approved by New Jersey voters raises the minimum wage to 8.25 an hour, a dollar more than the federal level. They also approved a constitutional amendment tying future increases to inflation. Christie said he didn't oppose a gradual increase.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: But I will oppose amending our constitution. That is just a stupid way to do it. That's not what the constitution is there for.

ZARROLI: Christie's opposition notwithstanding, the amendment passed. That doesn't really surprise Jeanne Mejeur of the National Conference of State Legislatures. She says Congress hasn't raised the federal minimum wage lately, so a lot of states have been doing it on their own.

JEANNE MEJEUR: Minimum wage is a cyclical issue for the states. When the federal minimum wage hasn't been increased for several years, then the states start looking at it.

ZARROLI: And these increases appear to have a lot of voter support. Mejeur says that since 1996, 11 states have had referendums on minimum wage increases, and in almost every case they were approved by voters. Many other states have raised their minimum wage through their legislatures. California's is scheduled to increase to $10 an hour by 2016.

In each case, the increases were fought by business groups. In this commercial, a restaurant owner in SeaTac, Washington maintains that a wage increase would cost the city jobs.


ZARROLI: But voters in SeaTac disregarded those warnings and agreed yesterday to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for some workers. The city could get away with such a big increase because it's the site of the Seattle airport, which can't exactly pull up stakes and leave.

Paul Sonn, of the National Employment Law Project, says he thinks the impact of the vote will be felt throughout the area.

PAUL SONN NATIONAL, EMPLOYMENT LAW PROJECT: With the voters' approval last night, I think the expectation is we're going to see a proposal for higher city minimum wage at something like that level in the city of Seattle.

ZARROLI: Sonn notes that the new mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray, has already said he favors raising the city's minimum wage to $15.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.