Chris Christie Vetoes Minimum Wage Increase, But Still Holds Huge Popularity in New Jersey

Chris Christie is definitely one the most popular governors in the nation, and arguably one of the most popular members of the GOP. Seventy-four percent of New Jerseyans support the governor, including majorities of Democrats, women, blacks and Hispanics. 

Occasionally, though, the governor likes to remind us he’s a Republican – as he did Monday by vetoing a proposed minimum wage increase supported by the Democratic Party-controlled State Senate.

The State Senate wanted to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50, effective immediately. Unsurprisingly, Christie was opposed to the increase, but agreed to a plan with moderate changes to dampen the impact on business. Using a “conditional” veto, Christie sent back the legislation with the following three modifications required for his signature: reduce the increase from $8.50 to $8.25, phase it in over three years, and eliminate provisions within the bill that would require the state to tie the minimum wage to inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

Here’s ThinkProgress’s assessment of the benefits denied to working-class New Jersey residents:

– A $439 million increase in wages.

–  $278 million in increased economic activity.

– 2,420 full time jobs.

– 537,000 people would have seen their wages go up: 307,000 state residents who would have seen an immediate increase to their paychecks, and 230,000 workers who made between $8.50 and $9.75 who would have gotten a raise due to adjustments in the pay scale.

“The sudden, significant minimum-wage increase in this bill, coupled with automatic raises each year tied to the Unites States consumer price index, will jeopardize the economic recovery we all seek,” Christie said.

Reactions to Christie’s veto were mixed. The Star-Ledger said that Democrats should modify the state constitution to insert the minimum wage-inflation provision, as the governor’s “hostility to low-wage families has gone unchallenged long enough.” The Home News Tribune hailed the governor as striking the right balance on the bill, saying that under the increase some workers would be forced to cut back hours. “That may sound like standard corporate whining, but it can and does happen, especially in smaller businesses,” the Tribune said. Finally the Courier-Post said that Democrats should take the $1 increase now and fight for the CPI-minimum wage mechanism in a ballot referendum later.

The governor remains extremely popular some three months after Hurricane Sandy, during which Christie famously ditched partisanship and praised President Obama for his attention to disaster relief – a move that earned him the ire of many Republicans. He has huge leads over all potential challengers to the governorship, including a 29 point lead over potential competitor state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex). Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg supports the governor, inviting him to California for a massive fundraiser on February 13.

“When Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan offer to hold a fundraiser for you, you say, ‘Yes sir, what time should I come?’” the governor joked in Seaside Heights on January 24.

That lead in both popularity and money gives Christie the leverage to strike traditional Republican positions on economic issues, while maintaining healthy margins of support among both independents and moderate Democrats. 

No wonder the Democrats are having trouble finding a credible challenger to Christie. In this contentious day and age, commanding such massive leads across the aisle seems practically mythological. Even if and when his star deflates, the governor will still enjoy large advantages over all opposition. That means continued conservative economic leadership in New Jersey and a healthy Republican presence in the blue state.