By South Jersey Times – NJ.com

For a while, it looked as if Democrats who lead the state Legislature would be left with a difficult choice about raising the minimum wage.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie was widely expected to conditionally veto a bill on his desk, leaving in place all or most of a $1.25-per-hour boost to $8.50, but rejecting a plan to make future increases automatic and linked to the Consumer Price Index.

In that case, the Legislature could have gone along with Christie’s veto, and given everyone with a minimum-wage job a near-immediate raise of significance. Lawmakers have also proposed a state constitutional amendment to encompass the CPI link, but it would delay any raise until after the fall elections.

We would have recommended going along with Christie’s conditions, given that New Jersey is such a high-cost state and its lowest-wage workers have not seen an increase since 2005. The CPI link is a good idea, though it could have waited.

But it didn’t play out that way. On Monday, Christie did the best post-Christmas impression of Ebenezer Scrooge we’ve seen in a while. Not only did he strip out the CPI clause, he failed to leave in a reasonable immediate increase.

Instead of $1.25, or $1, or even 75 cents, Christie sent the bill back with a 33.3-cent-an-hour raise each year for the next three years — a total of $1. That means the minimum wouldn’t hit $8 before 2016. We’re cognizant of the argument that 17 percent all at once might have been disruptive to a fragile economy. But crumbs like Christie offered are unacceptable.

Assembly and Senate leaders have vowed to press ahead with the constitutional amendment, first proposed by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney. We initially called this a dumb way to change the minimum wage, but Christie has left little choice. To go before state voters in November, the amendment requires simple majorities in both houses. Go for it.

Christie, in a partial concession, has said he’d offer more funding for the state’s Earned Income Credit, which would help working poor families. But since he slashed the EIC in the first place, low-income families won’t gain much ground without a pay boost, too. Hopefully, voters will do what the governor won’t.

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