TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill Thursday to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, sending the bill to Gov. Phil Murphy, who is expected to sign it.
The Democratic-led Assembly and Senate put their seal of approval on a bill that leaders and Murphy, a Democrat, announced this month to phase in the higher wage, up from the current $8.85.
Supporters filled the galleries overlooking both chambers, applauding and cheering after the bills passed.
If the law is enacted, New Jersey would join California, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia in phasing in the $15 rate.
Democrats and other supporters of the bill cast it as sending a lifeline to low-income residents in one of the county's highest-taxed states.
“The realities are, we cannot continue to keep people in poverty,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said during rare remarks on the floor.
Republicans raised concerns that employers would cut other benefits like 401(k) plans and insurance in order to keep costs down. They also worried that the bill would commit employers to pay raises even if the economy slows down.
“This proposal goes too far too fast, and locks us into this multi-year commitment,” said Republican State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R., Monmouth).
Sweeney promised to revisit the bill if there are "unintended consequences" in the future.
In the Assembly, Republicans tried to substitute their own proposal to raise the wage to $13 an hour but were defeated by the Democratic majority.
If enacted, the measure would be the fulfillment of a major campaign promise for the first-term governor, who ran with the backing of left-leaning groups based in part on his pledge to hike the rate.
Democratic lawmakers tried to hike the wage for years, but were blocked by former Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Supporters said the bill would buoy workers and communities where the higher wages would likely be spent.
Industry groups, business owners and Republicans worry the high rate will hurt commerce and make the state more expensive.
The proposal would raise today’s rate from $8.85 to $10 by July 1, climbing by $1 annually until reaching $15 in 2024 for most workers.
Farm workers' wage will climb to $12.50 over five years. Small businesses with and seasonal employees would see their minimum wage reach $15 an hour in 2026. Tipped workers, who have a minimum hourly wage of $2.13, would see it climb to $5.13 an hour by 2024.
Despite full control of state government, the Democrats nearly stumbled while presenting their deal to the public.
This week, Murphy, Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin met at a diner to promote the measure. They were met by the owner, who initially said he opposed the deal and would have to close shop under such a high wage.
But after his comments circulated on social media, Coughlin sent a statement from the owner clarifying his earlier remarks.
Terry Lutas said he didn’t realize the wage would be phased in over five years. He says he is not worried about closing and backs the measure.