Minimum Wage Hike Question on Today’s Ballot [AUDIO]
NEW JERSEY 101.5
Along with the governor's office and all 120 seats in the legislature up for grabs in today's general election in New Jersey, there are also two ballot questions for voters to consider.
Ballot Question No. 1 asks voters if they approve amending the constitution to allow veterans' organizations to use money collected from existing games of chance to support their organizations.
The second question asks voters if they think the State constitution should be amended to increase the minimum wage by $1 per hour this year followed by annual increases tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
Ballot Question No. 2 is by far the more controversial of the two. Many in the business community are urging voters to reject it, while top Democrats and labor unions are leading the charge in trying to get it approved.
"Every minimum wage increase in the history of New Jersey up until now has been done legislatively," said New Jersey Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Tom Bracken. "This is an economic issue. Economic issues have no place in our constitution….The constitution by its own definition embedded in the constitution says that the legislature can change the constitution for things that impact the public good."
Does Ballot Question No. 2 impact the public good? The answer depends upon who is being asked the question.
"This is about the quality of life that people live in this state," said State Sen. President Steve Sweeney. "There are several states that have the minimum wage in their constitution and their economies are better."
How many people would be impacted if the ballot question is approved has also been hotly debated.
"At most, this increase in the minimum wage is going to impact three percent of our population," explained Bracken. "I think it's going to be significantly less than that, but I'm using the opposition's number to give them credit for a 3 percent population impact. Three percent does not meet to me the definition of 'public good.'"
The "Raise the Wage" coalition claims there are 429,000 minimum wage workers in the Garden State. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) disputes that figure.
"Treating low-wage workers with minimal respect does not signal the end of businesses' profitability," said Gordon MacInnes, President, New Jersey Policy Perspective. "Raising the minimum wage will give a better shot at success to hundreds of thousands of New Jersey's low wage workers."
NFIB, which is part of a coalition of groups opposed to the upcoming ballot question to raise the minimum wage, have asked the group backing the proposal to explain the difference between official figures and its campaign claim.
"The union campaign is claiming that there 429,000 minimum wage workers in New Jersey. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says the real number is almost 10 times smaller," said NFIB New Jersey State Director Laurie Ehlbeck. "Voters deserve a straight answer."
The immediate wage increase followed by the annual adjustments will leave business owners with uncertainty about their true overhead according to some.
"When companies become challenged from a profit standpoint they have a bunch of bad choices to make," said Bracken. "Increase their prices, cut back on the hours that their existing employees work, maybe lay off people and none of those are good."
The time for the wage increase is now, according to Sweeney, who insisted he's always had a good working relationship with business leaders including Bracken.
"I was the prime sponsor of it (a minimum wage hike bill) seven years ago and we didn't do the indexing and the minimum wage didn't go up for seven years," said Sweeney. "It took us seven years to get to this point again. I wish we could've negotiated a legislative solution this time around, but I firmly believe that our constitution is intended to promote the quality of life and standard of living here in New Jersey."