Despite the fact that hiking the minimum wage will clearly devastate New Jersey’s already weak job market, and disregarding the already steep fiscal cliff facing all Americans (but particularly New Jersey filers) on January 1st, the New Jersey State Senate voted 23-16 yesterday to pass two individual minimum wage hike measures: S3 and SCR1.
We’ve discussed both legislative items extensively here at Save Jersey. S3 will raise the state minimum wage by $1.25 — from $7.25 to $8.50 — and tie future increases to the volatile cost of living index. Just the initial increase alone would make the already business-unfriendly Garden State’s minimum wage the third highest in the country.
The key difference between S3 and SCR1? The later is a constitutional amendment that, if passed again by a simple majority of both houses of the state legislature in 2013, will appear on the November 2013 ballot as a public question.
Procedural hurdles for SCR1 are set forth in Article IX, Section 1 of the New Jersey State Constitution…
Any specific amendment or amendments to this Constitution may be proposed in the Senate or General Assembly. At least twenty calendar days prior to the first vote thereon in the house in which such amendment or amendments are first introduced, the same shall be printed and placed on the desks of the members of each house. Thereafter and prior to such vote a public hearing shall be held thereon. If the proposed amendment or amendments or any of them shall be agreed to by three-fifths of all the members of each of the respective houses, the same shall be submitted to the people. If the same or any of them shall be agreed to by less than three-fifths but nevertheless by a majority of all the members of each of the respective houses, such proposed amendment or amendments shall be referred to the Legislature in the next legislative year; and if in that year the same or any of them shall be agreed to by a majority of all the members of each of the respective houses, then such amendment or amendments shall be submitted to the people.” [Emphasis Added]
What does this all mean?
With Democrats firmly in charge of both chambers, Governor Chris Christie is faced with a tough decision; he must either (1) sign S3 into law and take the entire issue off the table for Election 2013, or (2) veto S3 and prepare to fight a minimum wage ballot question engendered by SCR1’s passage in advance of next fall. Democrats assume they can use the question to drive base turnout (since they typically win a solid majority of low income voters). Expect another vote on gay marriage to follow shortly for similarly tactical reasons.
Having recognized the futility of their situation, Trenton Republican opposition was muted. “Both parties by and large agree that the minimum wage should be increased, and my amendment hits the Democrats’ mark of $8.50,” said the reliably conservative state Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-Morris) by way of press release. “But legislative Democrats still refuse to compromise and would rather hold workers and small businesses as political hostages for next year’s campaigns.” Pennacchio attempted to amend S3 to set into place a more gradual schedule of increases: 35 cents on 1/1/13; 40 cents 1/1/14; and 60 cents on 1/1/15.
Senator Pennacchio’s proposal would also result in a $8.50 minimum wage, just two years further down the road and in a more predictable manner for business accounting purposes (since it’s not tied to any arbitrary indexes/measures).
But why would Democrats accept a “compromise” when they hold all the cards?
They want a ballot measure to drive their base turnout in a challenging “Christie” year, and their caucus can easily make it happen with a simple majority coalition; moreover, with even conservative Republicans openly conceding that “the minimum wage should be increased,” why wouldn’t liberal ideologues feel as if they have license to push for a more radical solution?
The disaster that was 2011 redistricting is what it is, folks. We can’t turn back the hands of time. And guess what: through no fault of his own, Chris Christie’s approval rating won’t register at 77% forever.
Now is a time for courage and leadership (and creativity, too). New Jersey Republicans need to shift gears and start attacking the substance of Democrat policies rather than restrict their primary objections to the procedural issues.
If I may be so bold (and you know we always are here), they should follow our Save Jersey contributors’ leads and develop ways to better market conservative, free enterprise solutions instead of staking out which ground to surrender. A viral web campaign featuring real New Jersey small business owners comes to mind. I think we’d find that a minimum wage ballot measure could actually work in our favor if handled correctly by the right messengers; we can all agree that Governor Christie is the perfect politician to articulate why this constitutional amendment stunt just the latest example of how the decade-old Democrat state house majority has made New Jersey one of America’s least hospitable states to work, start a family, build a business and retire. If he can’t/won’t do it, no one can. The legislature is much less popular than he is right now, and that’s likely to remain the status quo through next November.
Use it or lose it!
And we’re going to keep losing unless we start teaching/education/explaining our positions to voters. It’s not a matter of being “louder” or “more conservative.” It’s about being creative, pragmatic, and articulate. We might lose anyway, honestly, given how far the public has drifted away from this country’s core republican (little “R”) principles. But be assured that we’re definitely not going to win anytime soon by adopting the Democrats’ bad premises while simultaneously arguing for a more gradual (yet not perceptibly different) approach. That’s the road to permanent to minority status, and I for one refuse to walk it.