Legislative leaders agree on plan to gradually increase N.J. minimum wage

 Senate President Steve Sweeney, left, and Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto announce an agreement to resolve their differences on increasing New Jersey’s minimum wage. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Senate President Steve Sweeney, left, and Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto announce an agreement to resolve their differences on increasing New Jersey’s minimum wage. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

The top Democrats in the New Jersey Legislature have resolved their differences on raising the minimum wage.

Instead of his plan to boost the base pay to $15 all at once, said Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto, the agreement with Senate President Steve Sweeney calls for phasing it in over five years.

“We are actually being mindful of businesses, businesses that we have given over $5 billion in tax credits over the last few years,” said Prieto, D-Union. “So it’s time for somebody to watch out for the people whose voices are not heard, and we need to take care of the most vulnerable in New Jersey.”

A constitutional amendment enacted in 2013 mandating yearly increases in the minimum wage based on the rate of inflation isn’t helping to lift people out of poverty, said Sweeney, D-Gloucester.

“It went up $1.13, but it’s just not enough, recognizing the way costs are going in this country and the state that we live in,” he said Friday. “We didn’t get it right. I’m acknowledging we need to go back and do it to get it right.”

Industry groups say higher wage costs would hurt small businesses and stall job creation.

If Gov. Chris Christie rejects their new plan, Sweeney and Prieto said they’ll try to get it on the 2017 ballot for voters to consider.

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