New Jersey poised to add a minimum wage hike to its constitution

October 31, 2013

A protestor in neighboring New York protests for a minimum wage hike there. (Mike Segar/Reuters.)

Note: It may be an off-year for federal elections, but Nov. 5 will prove pivotal for some local measures. This week, we’ll take a daily look at the policy questions facing voters in some states. Today, we look to New Jersey.

If the polls are even close to right, things are looking good for proponents of raising New Jersey’s minimum wage.

On Tuesday, voters there are expected to overwhelmingly pass an amendment to the state constitution that raises the minimum wage by a dollar, to $8.25, and sets it to increase automatically with inflation. If passed, it would make New Jersey the fifth state to include the minimum wage in its constitution and the 11th to adopt automatic increases, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The measure has a huge margin of support, according to two late-September polls. Some 65 percent of registered voters said they will vote for the measure with just 12 percent planning to vote against it, according to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll of nearly 700 registered voters. A Rutgers poll released at the same time found even broader support, albeit by a similar margin. Voters in that poll of 925 adult New Jerseyans supported the measure 76 percent to 22 percent.

The ballot question is the result of a fight between the state’s all-Democratic legislature and Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Earlier this year, Christie vetoed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $8.50, with automatic adjustments tied to inflation increases. That bill, he said, was bad for the economy. Instead, Christie offered to raise in the minimum wage to $8.25 over three years and increase the earned income tax credit. Democrats said no thanks and instead voted to pose the question to voters.

Christie and other opponents say a constitutional amendment is not the right process for a minimum wage hike.

“That is just a stupid way to do it, that is not what the constitution is there for,” he said.

In a Monday editorial, The Wall Street Journal urged voters to reject the measure. The Asbury Park Press called the annual increases “bad for business and, ultimately, bad for employees.” Other opponents include the state Chamber of Commerce and several business groups who similarly argue that the immediate hike and automatic adjustments are too burdensome and potentially harmful to the economy.

Proponents include New Jersey senator-elect Cory Booker and Democratic nominee for governor Barbara Buono. A number of lawmakers and progressive groups back the idea, as do a number of newspaper editorial boards, including The Star-Ledger, The Daily Journal, The Courier-Post and The Echoes-Sentinel. They argue that real wages—those adjusted for inflation—have consistently dropped and income disparities have been widening.

“The minimum wage reached its peak value in 1968, and has dropped by 32 percent since then,” The Star-Ledger editorial board wrote on Sunday. “That happened even as the nation grew richer, with median incomes rising by 14 percent. It is not plausible to argue that businesses today, with profits at record highs, can’t handle a modest increase. Time to fix this.”

Eighteen states and D.C. have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage, according to a late-August NCSL chart. Five states have not established a s state minimum wage.

Read more about what issues voters will take up next week:

• On Monday, we looked at the nearly $1 billion in new taxes Coloradans will consider.
• On Tuesday, we looked at Washington’s well-financed fight over genetically modified food labels.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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