By Tom Bracken, Laurie Ehlbeck, John Holub and Stefanie Riehl
New Jersey’s voters face an important choice on Nov. 5. We can either make annual job losses a permanent part of our state’s constitution, or we can send the minimum-wage debate back to the state Legislature where it belongs.
For the sake of New Jersey’s economy, we hope our state’s voters will choose the second path and vote no on Public Question No. 2.
Public Question No. 2 may seem well-intentioned at first glance, but its placement of future annual increases in the minimum wage on a constitutional autopilot is the wrong policy at the wrong time.
On a constitutional level, this minimum-wage hike should not be placed in the state’s founding charter. Instead, it’s an issue that deserves good, old-fashioned back-and-forth and political compromise between the Legislature and Governor’s Office. In fact, both the governor and Legislature admit that they already support a minimum-wage hike.
The minimum-wage debate belongs in the Legislature, not the constitution. For this reason, both Republicans and Democrats — including those who otherwise support an increase in the minimum wage — have spoken out against this irresponsible and harmful proposal.
Gordon MacInnes of New Jersey Policy Perspective said, “The constitution is no place to settle issues like the minimum wage.” Similarly, Richard Connors, emeritus professor of political science at Seton Hall University, argued, “The state constitution shouldn’t be used as an end run when traditional lawmaking fails.”
These arguments are absolutely right as applied to the minimum wage. But they’re not the only considerations when it comes to this issue.
The fact is that it will harm the very people it’s intended to help. The state’s employers have already weathered a recession, Superstorm Sandy, and most recently a fire on the Seaside boardwalk.
Small businesses attempting to rebuild from these disasters need all the help they can get. But a minimum-wage hike is the opposite of a helping hand. A recent report from the National Federation of Independent Business Research Foundation found that more than 31,000 job opportunities would be lost over the next decade due to the initiative — with nearly 60 percent of those losses occurring at small businesses.
Many of the state’s business owners have warned what Public Question No. 2 will do to their employees. Joe Olivo, who owns Perfect Printing in Moorestown, said: “I have seen how the increase in the minimum wage will have a directly negative impact on my employees.” Seaside Heights business owner Bobby Stewart, who had a business burned down in the recent boardwalk fire, has also predicted that this minimum-wage hike “would devastate us” at a time when he’s already struggling to rebuild.
In total, 93 percent of the small businesses in the state oppose altering the constitution to raise the minimum wage. And seven out of 10 New Jersey business leaders agree that the ballot question will hurt the state’s competitiveness.
There are hundreds of other stories that could be told about the negative, unintended consequences that Public Question No. 2’s minimum wage would have. Whether those stories are coming from our state’s businesses or the state’s employees, the simple truth is that Public Question No. 2 is the wrong policy at the wrong time.
Tom Bracken is president and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. Laurie Ehlbeck is director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses in New Jersey. John Holub is president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association. Stefanie Riehl is assistant vice president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.