In New Jersey vote, hope for supporters of higher state minimum wages

November 6, 2013

If you want to see into the political future, look no further than New Jersey — and not just because of the brash conservative leading the state and, potentially someday, his party.

Voters there overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution Tuesday to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 and authorize regular increases in line with inflation, making it the fifth state to constitutionally enshrine such wage standards and the 11th state to approve automatic increases.

Although voters overwhelmingly reelected Republican Gov. Chris Christie , the vote on the constitutional amendment was a repudiation of one of his policy stances. This year, Christie vetoed a bill to raise the minimum wage, along with automatic adjustments tied to inflation. He proposed, instead, to raise the minimum wage by $1 over three years and increase the earned-income tax credit. The Democratic-led state legislature turned him down and voted to place the issue on the ballot. And, on Tuesday, voters passed the measure 61 percent to 39 percent.

Proponents of minimum-wage increases see a referendum as a winning strategy. To Democrats and progressives, it’s an issue on which they can differentiate themselves, and it’s also one that enjoys broad support.

“This is an issue that cuts across the typical partisan boundaries,” says Jack Temple, a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, which supported the New Jersey measure. The group expects similar measures next November on ballots in South Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas and Massachusetts. And it expects Maryland, Minnesota, Hawaii and Illinois to take up the issue in legislative sessions early next year.

Such fights can have high stakes, as was the case in one small Washington state city — SeaTac — which approved one of the nation’s highest minimum wages Tuesday. About $2 million was spent by both sides of the issue in a Seattle suburb of just 12,108 registered voters. Many of them took to the polls to approve a $15 minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers.

Other ballot questions posed to voters across the country Tuesday could have significant implications for efforts to legalize marijuana, enact gun controls and label genetically modified foods.

Washington state GM foods

In Washington state, a $30 million food fight came to an end when a measure to require labeling of genetically modified foods was defeated 55 percent to 45 percent.

The battle was fueled mostly by a few giant corporate interests, with virtually all of the money raised in opposition to the measure — known as Initiative 522 — coming from out of state.

The initiative would have required labels on GM food and seeds sold within the state, with exceptions for a few categories, including alcoholic beverages and certified organic foods.

Marijuana measures

Tuesday was also significant for proponents of legalizing marijuana. Three Michigan towns removed penalties for possessing small amounts of the drug; Portland, Maine, overwhelmingly approved its legalization; and Coloradans, who did the same last year, agreed to tax it.

Voters in Colorado handily approved a pair of taxes that amount to a 25 percent levy on marijuana. The potential tax revenue is a key part of the argument advocates make in favor of legalization. And with up to $40 million a year from one of the two taxes dedicated to school construction, Colorado legalization advocates can point to benefits to the economy and public welfare.

Meanwhile, Coloradans rejected another tax proposal by the same margin. That measure would have replaced the state’s flat income tax with a two-tiered system, raising nearly $1 billion in its first full year of implementation, according to estimates, much of which would have been dedicated to school funding.

Sunnyvale gun safety

In the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, voters approved a gun-safety measure that both sides of the gun-control fight see as potentially important to the national debate.

Residents of Sunnyvale, a mid-size city at the southern end of San Francisco Bay, passed a set of four gun-safety rules: Gun owners must report the loss or theft of a firearm within 48 hours of when they should reasonably know it is missing; guns must be locked when not in use; large-capacity ammunition magazines are prohibited, with some exceptions; and vendors will have to keep sales logs for two years. The National Rifle Association sees the measure as a great opportunity to bring a case challenging limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

New York gambling

In New York, voters approved the establishment of up to seven gambling resorts in the state.

Colorado secession

Five Colorado counties voted to secede from the state, and six rejected the idea. The effort was led by the Weld County commissioners, who said the Democrat-led state government was neglecting rural interests. But Weld was one of the six counties whose voters rejected the secession.

Houston Astrodome

Voters in Houston rejected a plan to convert the Astrodome, the world’s first multipurpose domed stadium, to a convention and events center. The stadium is expected to be torn down.

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