NJ.com- Gov. Phil Murphy could sign a law within weeks putting New Jersey on a path to a $15 minimum wage.
But the future of another one of Murphy’s top priorities — legalized marijuana — is still murky.
The state Legislature is scheduled to vote at the end of the month on a recent deal Murphy and top lawmakers struck to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour for most workers by 2024.
The state Assembly labor committee will consider the measure Thursday, while the state Senate budget committee will consider it Monday.
Both houses are expected to vote on final passage Jan. 31. It would then be up to Murphy to sign it.
“I’m looking forward, with the pen right here ready to go,” the Democratic governor said Tuesday at an unrelated news conference at Newark Liberty International Airport.
“It’s a really good deal,” Murphy said. "We’re very proud where we came out on that."
Murphy and his fellow Democrats who lead the Legislature — Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin — had disagreed for months on what the final minimum wage measure would look like.
But they struck an agreement last Wednesday. The plan is to raise the standard minimum wage to $10 an hour on July 1, $11 an hour in 2020, $12 an hour in 2021, $13 in 2022, $14 in 2023 and $15 in 2024.
New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal Trenton think tank, estimated more that than one million workers in the state will benefit from the hike.
Still, about 10 percent of those workers will be placed on a slower path. Seasonal employees and small business employees won’t reach $15 an hour until 2026, while farm workers will hit $12.50 in 2024. After that, it would be left up to state officials in the executive branch to decide whether to keep going to $15 an hour by 2027 for farm workers.
Not everyone is pleased. Republican lawmakers — and some Democrats — oppose the plan, saying it would hurt small business.
The New Jersey Business and Industry Association, which represents 20,000 businesses in the state, said it marks “another hit” to small businesses.
But numerous Democrats would have to vote against the measure for it to fail in the Senate and Assembly.
Sweeney was asked by NJ Advance Media on Tuesday if there are enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate.
“I would think so,” the Senate president said.
As for marijuana? Murphy has said getting minimum wage done would allow leaders to focus on other issues — especially like legalizing recreational weed for adults as a way to improve social justice and bring in more tax revenue to the state.
Murphy and legislative leaders all agree on legalizing pot. But they have disagreed on what the tax rate would be and who would regulate the industry.
A legislative source told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday that they remain “far apart” on the issues, although Murphy is “legitimately getting along" with Sweeney and Coughlin after some rough patches in his first year as governor.
The source spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Sweeney told NJ Advance Media that there’s “nothing” new on the marijuana discussions.
“We’re in the same place we’ve been,” he said. “I’m hopeful we get someplace soon. There hasn’t been a whole lot of movement.”
The lead sponsor of the marijuana bill, state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, told NJ Cannabis Insider last week he’s “losing faith” that Senate Democrats and Murphy will come to an agreement.
Scutari, D-Union, also said he and Sweeney have discussed letting New Jersey voters decide by putting the issue on the ballot in November.
Murphy said Tuesday that his staff has a meeting with legislative staffers coming up, and pot is expected to be a topic.
“I still believe we can make progress on this,” the governor said. “To be determined.”