Christie Vetoes Minimum Wage Bill, Calling Raise to $15 ‘Really Radical’

When it comes to the subject of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the gulf between the governors of New Jersey and New York is much wider than the Hudson River.

On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey reminded low-wage workers of the breadth of that divide when he vetoed a bill that would have raised his state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years. Had Mr. Christie signed the legislation, New Jersey would have joined New York and California as the only states with plans to lift lowest wages so high.

Instead, he appeared at a grocery store in Pennington, N.J., and explained his opposition to the measure, which he called a “really radical increase” that “would trigger an escalation of wages that will make doing business in New Jersey unaffordable.”

Statements like those place Mr. Christie, a Republican, near the conservative end of the political spectrum on the subject. Even the main voice of big business in the state, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said its opposition was to the pace of the increases, which it called “too much, too fast.”

Still, that schedule would have left New Jersey well behind New York, where the minimum wages for employees of most companies in New York City will rise to $15 an hour by 2018 under a state law enacted by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, in April.

Mr. Christie’s veto means that Democratic leaders in Trenton will again turn to the ballot to try to circumvent Mr. Christie’s opposition. Stephen M. Sweeney, the State Senate president, and Vincent Prieto, the State Assembly speaker, said the Democrats would introduce an amendment to the State Constitution to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.

The Democrats took a similar tack in 2013, when they arranged a referendum on raising the state’s minimum wage by $1 an hour and then adjusting it annually to cover increases in the cost of living. After voters approved the initial increase to $8.25 an hour, the wage rose to $8.38 in 2015.

But because the inflation gauge used in calculating the annual increases did not rise, the minimum wage in New Jersey held at $8.38 an hour. Meanwhile, labor leaders and liberal activists were staging rallies around the country as part of a movement known as the “Fight for $15.”

Mr. Cuomo, after initially dismissing calls for a $15 minimum wage in New York City, eventually embraced the idea. He stirred up momentum for the idea in Albany by convening a panel known as a wage board to study the potential costs and benefits of such a big increase in entry-level wages.

The wage board recommended that fast-food workers in New York City be paid at least $15 an hour. So, by 2018, those workers on the Manhattan side of the Hudson could be earning $6 an hour more than their peers on the New Jersey side.

“At $8.38 an hour, the current minimum wage is a poverty wage,” said Joseph Vitale, a Democratic state senator who sponsored the Senate version of the bill that Mr. Christie vetoed. He said that full-time wage translated into an annual income of $17,400, an amount that is “impossible to get by on.”

Analilia Mejia, director of New Jersey Working Families Alliance, said the proposed increase in the minimum wage would have raise the pay of about 975,000 New Jersey workers.

“Him vetoing this is not shocking,” Ms. Mejia said of the governor. “It’s Chris Christie at his worst.”

She disputed the view that a higher minimum wage would simply push up prices and accelerate the automation of many jobs. She said low-wage workers would have more money to spend, increasing the revenue of retailers and other businesses.

Brandon McKoy, an analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective, said he believed voters would approve another measure raising the minimum wage because the issue “polls very well.” He said that voters appreciated how expensive it was to live in New Jersey and that there were “almost one million workers in this state who are unable to afford even halfway-decent living on their wages.”

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