New Jersey voters on Tuesday approved raising the state's minimum wage by $1, to $8.25 an hour, and to provide for automatic cost-of-living increases as 10 other states already do.
The new hourly minimum will go into effect Jan. 1 under the constitutional amendment that was approved. Cost-of-living increases will go into effect every September.
About 50,000 workers in New Jersey get minimum wage, or about 3 percent of the workforce. That number doesn't include those who get paid less because they rely on commissions or tips.
The Democrat-led Legislature put the measure on the ballot because Republican Gov. Chris Christie wanted an increase phased in over three years, and opposed automatic-cost-of-living hikes.
New Jersey's current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is the same as the rate in 21 other states and the federal government's. Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., currently have a higher minimum wage, with the state of Washington at the top at $9.19 an hour.
With the move to $8.25 an hour, New Jersey moves into the top 10.
Labor groups campaigned for the ballot measure, saying New Jersey's high cost of living means families cannot afford basics such as groceries and rent while earning $7.25 an hour.
"Increasing New Jersey's minimum wage will give nearly half a million working New Jerseyans a crucial leg up while pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the state's economy," Gordon MacInnis, president of the liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, said in a statement.
Business groups opposed the increase, warning it would force some employers to lay off workers or cut employee hours to compensate for higher wages. They also said it would affect more than those getting minimum wage because those earning slightly more would also now expect their pay to go up.
They also said setting the minimum wage by changing the constitution makes it difficult to undo if there is another recession.
Daryn Iwicki, New Jersey director of the pro-business, anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity, called the constitutional amendment "both reckless and stupid."
"The very New Jersey workers this aims to help, teenagers and low-skilled workers in particular, will be the ones hurt the most in the way of lost jobs and opportunity," he said in a statement.
Democrats had presented Christie with a bill raising the wage by $1.25, to $8.50 per hour, with annual adjustments based on the Consumer Price Index, which measures how much consumers are paying for certain products and services.
Christie vetoed the bill but offered an alternative, which lawmakers rebuffed — scaling back the increase to $1, phasing it in over three years and ditching the inflation adjustments.