Oh, Chris Christie, you feisty New Jersey truth-teller who eschews partisan politics in lieu of street savvy solutions! We loved it when you fought for the little guy before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy. There was something noble about your embrace of Obama while collaborating to get things done during that rough patch. How refreshing has it been to watch a real politician put people over demagoguery, truth over party line, and personal principles over pontification. So, tell me, why is a $1.25/per hour raise to the minimum wage veto-worthy? And why, when you had a minute to think about, did it seem that lowering it by one quarter, 25¢/per hour, was doable? I guess going all the way up to the staggering $8.50, instead of the current $7.25, was just too big of a leap, yeah? But go with $8.25, bring you that 25¢ decrease on a platter, and you’re ready to go? One New Jersey governor knocked off his pedestal. Who in this life and times thinks even $8.50/per hour represents anything more than the most basic – most “minimum” – of wages? Yes, anyone who’s desperate for a job, anyone who needs income regardless of the rate, would gladly accept that amount; but any businessperson, anyone who’s been part of the working world and is older than the age of 15, understands that this is exactly what it’s called: minimum wage. The lowest you can go. It’s not a good wage, it’s a minimum wage. So as a father of four, a man of the streets, a guy who knows what it’s like for people out there in the real world, how does Christie justify squabbling over 25¢? According to SFGate, Christie hit the January 28th deadline affixed to the bill and activated a “conditional veto,” returning the bill to lawmakers with his conditions: Christie’s conditional veto returns the bill with the suggestion that lawmakers scale back the increase by 25 cents, to $1 per hour and phase it in over three years in increments of 25 cents the first year, 50 cents the second year and 25 cents the third year. Christie also rejected the idea of implementing automatic annual adjustments while encouraging the Democratic-led Legislature to restore a tax credit to the working poor. “The sudden, significant minimum-wage increase in this bill, coupled with automatic raises each year tied to the United States Consumer Price Index, will jeopardize the economic recovery we all seek,” Christie said in his veto message. “We can only build our State’s earnings if we foster an environment that lifts up the working poor and struggling small businesses alike.” Yes… God forbid you should “lift up the working poor” that single quarter more! I found it particularly telling the way others responded to Christie’s veto. John Hobub, president of the Retail Merchants Association (who, of course, opposed the increase), felt this haggling over a quarter was wise: “The governor clearly understands a 17 percent wage hike, with ongoing annual adjustments, would have had a serious negative effect on New Jersey employers,” Holub said. “We appreciate the governor listening to our concerns and trying to strike a balance between both sides.” [Source] Note the use of “a 17 percent wage hike.” That sounds so onerous, doesn’t it? 17%…wow. But if Golub had used actual figures instead of the more elusive percentage assignation, here’s how it would’ve sounded: “The governor clearly understands a $1.2325 wage hike, with ongoing annual adjustments, would have had a serious negative effect on New Jersey employers,” 17% sounds a lot less “serious” when you put it in terms of $1.25 (rounded up). But either way, they’re okay with $1.00 increase. Phew. It’s just that damn extra 25¢ that’s kickin’ their ass. I bet Christie and Golub and any of the people haggling like a bunch of cranky old ladies over ONE EFFING QUARTER haven’t seen numbers like those on their paychecks since they were young enough to think that was a lot of money. But New Jersey’s working poor know it’s not and they’re are supposed to house, feed, and clothe their children with those numbers…and Governor Chris Christie, champion of the people, wants to make sure they do it with that one quarter less than the Democrats wanted. Now, Christie says he will sign the bill if Dems do what he wants, but apparently that’s a no-go for state legislators of the liberal persuasion. Senate President Stephen Sweeney says: “The bill has to include automatic adjustments.” Senator Barbara Buono claimed: “It’s a sad day for the middle class.” And the New Jersey Policy Perspective noted: “The first year increase proposed by the governor of 25 cents will be erased by inflation by the time the third year kicks in its 25 cents.” [Source] To Christie’s credit, he did insist on restoring the tax credit for the working poor – which he cut by 5% in 2011 – and that’s good. If raised, it would allow a $550 annual benefit. But while that offers some relief to those in need, it’s a day-to-day wage that’s the barometer of financial security for low-income families. And to the argument that an increase to $8.50 would have put New Jersey’s minimum wage at third highest behind Washington state and Oregon, the fact is that the cost of living in New Jersey is about 30% higher than the national average. Seems like a fair trade to me. It’s one thing to talk about helping the working poor, it’s another to realize that even if there is some “pain” for employers in paying that 25¢ more, the gain in terms of consumer spending, payroll taxes, and less dependency on other forms of support is tangible. Additionally, Christie’s veto impacted more than just the minimum wage. According to New Jersey Policy Perspective: Here are the facts. The bill conditionally vetoed today by the governor would have provided a crucial boost to New Jersey’s low-wage workers and to its ailing economy. It would have immediately stimulated New Jersey’s economy • Wages would have increased by $439 million in the first year • Overall economic activity would increase by $278 million in the first year • The equivalent of 2,420 new full time jobs would be created It would increase wages to many New Jerseyans • 537,000 people would have received an increase in wages: 307,000 New Jerseyans making between $7.25 and $8.50 per hour would’ve seen an immediate raise, and 230,000 New Jerseyans making between $8.50 and $9.75 per hour would’ve seen a raise as pay scales were adjusted upwards. Many families with children would benefit • It would have benefited 127,245 parents • 279,815 children have at least one parent that would have be affected Most potential beneficiaries are educated but can’t find a higher paying job • 76% have at least a high school diploma • 39% have some college or a college degree These low-wage workers are a diverse group • 46% are White, 13% are Black and 34% are Hispanic • 56% are women and 44% are men Most of these workers are adults, not teenagers • 85% are 20 years old or older Many are working full time • 78% are working either full time (35+ hours a week) or mid time (20-34 hours a week). Only 21% are working part time (19 or fewer hours a week) Lots of percentages in that list too. Christie has claimed that, “The sudden, significant minimum-wage increase in this bill, coupled with automatic raises each year tied to the Unites States consumer price index, will jeopardize the economic recovery we all seek,” which sounds like a reasonable concern. But in digging deeper, the Center for American Progress’ T. William Lester, David Madland, and Nick Bunker see the truth as contradictory to the Governor’s argument: “We reviewed academic research that examines the effects of minimum wage increases during a recession or stretch of time with high unemployment and found significant evidence that even during hard economic times, raising the minimum wage is likely to have no adverse effect on employment.” [Source] If that’s so, this is where, as they say in the streetwise vernacular Governor Christie favors, the rubber meets the road. You can joust with Jon Stewart, toy with self-righteous Republicans, poke fun on SNL, and position yourself as a down & dirty real guy lookin’ out for the people, but it takes more than a likeable public face to actually be a “man of the people.” Sometimes all belts have to tighten a bit to help boost an economy that will ultimately benefit both rich and poor. While Christie likes to be seen as non-partisan, when 25¢ spells the difference between passing or vetoing a minimum wage bill along with all its other benefits, I’d say Governor Chris Christie has shown his true colors. And those are a deep, dark Republican red.
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