ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Legislative leaders from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are pushing a novel, unified approach to promote higher minimum wages, hoping to spur a national movement and eliminate a major argument of opponents in the Northeast who say hikes hinder a state's competitiveness.The Democrats want to increase the minimum from $7.25 an hour to about $8.50 in New York and New Jersey, and to about $9.75 over two years in Connecticut, where it's $8.25. There are several active proposals in the states.New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his counterparts, Speaker Sheila Oliver in New Jersey and Speaker Chris Donovan in Connecticut, want to defuse the argument by critics and business groups that a state puts itself at a disadvantage if it increases the minimum when neighboring states don't."The gap between the rich and poor has risen dramatically over the past four decades, as more and more Americans work harder to make less," the leaders stated in an opinion piece for newspapers Tuesday.They said that if the federal minimum wage now standing at $7.25 an hour had kept up with inflation since the 1960s, it would be more than $10 an hour now."In New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, we are also failing our working families because we do not increase the minimum wage each year to keep up with the rising cost of living, as 10 other states do," the leaders said.Silver, a Democrat from lower Manhattan, is making raising the minimum wage a major goal for the current legislative session. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he has supported raising the minimum in the past and is considering Silver's bill.The Senate's Republican majority has warned raising the minimum is a "job killer" because employers won't be able to afford higher wages.The bill has been introduced and is expected to be debated after adoption of the state budget, which is due April 1.A bill boosting New Jersey's minimum wage to $8.50 an hour was approved by an Assembly Labor panel last month. It came after a worker told lawmakers she can't get by on $7.25 an hour and business groups said employers can't afford to pay more in the still-sputtering economy. The bill calls for automatic future annual adjustments to be linked to the Consumer Price Index.The bill being pushed as a priority by Democrats who control both houses of the Legislature hasn't had a hearing in the Senate. Republican Gov. Chris Christie said he hasn't made up his mind on the bill, but indicated he would not support it if he wasn't included in legislators' discussions.In Connecticut, the bill hasn't been to a vote yet. But the measure sponsored by the Democratic House speaker is alive in the Democrat-controlled Legislature. However, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is pushing for job growth, hasn't yet committed to it."If we want to rebuild a strong economy, we need jobs that can support families and get consumers back into stores, purchasing goods and services again," the leaders said.___ Associated Press writers Angela Delli Santi, in Trenton, N.J.; and Susan Haigh, in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.