Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro

Star Ledger – New Jersey’s minimum wage rose to $7.25 per hour in 2009. What should be shocking is not that it happened, but how it happened. It actually took the federal government to act when Trenton wouldn’t, as state government hadn’t increased the minimum wage since 2005.

We live in one of the nation’s most expensive states, with housing costs among the highest anywhere. It’s embarrassing enough that we have dragged our feet in ensuring a livable wage for those at the very bottom of the economic ladder, but more so that we have left the minimum wage to the whims of politics.

It’s easy to dismiss the minimum wage as the domain of teenage burger-flippers, but it’s not. There are families trying to scrape by on just $7.25 per hour. A 2011 analysis found that, among the 307,000 workers who earned between $6.52 and $8.50 an hour, 20 percent were teenagers, nearly half worked full time and one-quarter were parents.

Imagine trying to feed a family, pay the rent and keep gas in the car on less than $16,000 a year. Many families struggle at twice that.

I recently proposed asking voters to amend the state constitution to increase minimum wage to $8.25 and tie it to the rate of inflation. Not only would this provide a needed increase now, but it also would help families living on the bare edge of poverty to meet a rising cost of living. Most importantly, it would take politics and politicians out of the discussion.

Indexing the minimum wage to inflation and taking out of the hands of legislators and governors is something I hoped to do in 2005, only to see it stripped from the final law. But consider this: If we had indexed the minimum wage from the start, today it would be $9.20 — nearly a dollar more than I am now proposing.

Already, those opposed to taking the minimum wage out of the political arena have begun to voice their opposition. Gov. Chris Christie called it “stupid and truly ridiculous.”

The minimum wage shouldn’t be a matter of politics at all. Ensuring a basic standard of living shouldn’t be left in the hands of partisan legislatures and governors to debate only when the minimum wage stops meeting the needs of the workers it is intended to help. That lesson already has been learned in Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Ohio, which amended their constitutions to guarantee a minimum wage that keeps pace with inflation.

We have amended the state constitution to legalize bingo and casino gambling, to give seniors and veterans a guarantee of property tax relief, and to dedicate and rededicate tax money for specific purposes. Each was put to voters with the idea that citizens should have a hand in the ultimate direction of the state.

Our state constitution’s overarching goal is to ensure a basic standard and quality of life for residents. For 65 years, the people have amended it to ensure their own security. Amending it to guarantee a livable minimum wage is part of that tradition.

District Offices

Gloucester County

Kingsway Commons
935 Kings Highway, Suite 400
West Deptford, NJ 08086
Phone: (856) 251-9801
Fax: (856) 251-9752

Salem/Cumberland Counties

The Finlaw Building
199 East Broadway, Suite G
Salem, NJ 08079
Phone: (856) 339-0808 or
             (856) 455-1011
Fax: (856) 339-9626