BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Assembly, Senate Leadership Come Together on Minimum Wage Legislation

By Michael Hill
Correspondent

“It’s too important not to be able to come together,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

“We always knew we would come to an agreement,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

The Senate president and the Assembly speaker said they were not dueling Democrats and so their competing bills have become a compromise to raise the minimum wage — starting at $10.10 an hour and going up to $15 in five to seven years.

“This is an opportunity to give people who get up every day and go to work to live with some dignity,” Sweeney said.

A compromise considered crushing to Joe Olivo’s Perfect Printing company. Olivo says some of his workers make minimum wage and some make $33 an hour.

“I believe this $15 minimum wage at best will cause me to downsize, or worse cause me to close my business that my parents started 37 years ago,” he said.

But the Anti-Poverty Network says even though a constitutional amendment increased the minimum wage by $1.13 recently to $8.38, it sill leaves many New Jerseyans struggling.

“I really appreciate the point that they made that about how bringing up wages is really an investment in our people and in our economy that these folks will spend the money and we will get a return and it will be good for all of New Jersey,” said Serena Rice, executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey.

Sweeney and Prieto expressed doubts the governor and the business industry would go along, so they say they’re prepared to put the issue on the ballot in 2017 when voters would elect a new governor.

“We are actually being mindful of businesses, businesses that we have given over $5 billion to in tax credits over the last few years and we did the business incentive. You know, we’ve done a lot of things. So it’s time for somebody to watch out for the people whose voices are not heard and we to take care of the most vulnerable in the state of New Jersey,” Prieto said.

“The mere mention of it chills economic opportunity. New Jersey businesses need certainty and predictability, not more burdensome mandates which make New Jersey less competitive in our region,” said Ralph Albert Thomas, CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Society of CPAs.

What about negotiating a compromise with the business industry?

“They’re not even reasonable to try to work with,” Sweeney said.

But the business community, meeting to form a new grassroots group called Opportunity New Jersey, says hold on, there’s more to this story.

“We not only asked them to have a discussion, they agreed to have a discussion back in September and it didn’t happen,” said New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Bracken.

What would work for businesses in terms of raising the minimum wage?

“Well, I think we have to start with the fact that the minimum wage is all about Main Street New Jersey, so we’re not talking about big corporations. I think we have to recognize that across the state of New Jersey, we have a myriad of companies who offer beyond minimum wage at this point in time,” said New Jersey Business and Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka.

Opportunity NJ is a 501(c)(4) — a designation that allows it to function as a nonprofit, to raise big bucks as it says it plans to do starting next week and to use those donations to influence public policy and elections.

It means business has its sights set on challenging the Legislature’s Democratic leadership on several big issues — including waging war over the minimum wage.