By David Cruz
With a swipe of his veto pen, this year Gov. Chris Christie put a stop to Democratic lawmakers’ efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15. But the minimum wage debate, that continues. Lawmakers say they’re ready to go back to voters with another referendum — the second in three years — that would raise the wage. But some Republican lawmakers hope for a chance to broaden the conversation before it comes to that.
“They’re pushing an agenda,” said Republican Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi. “They will never provide a balanced approach to it, and that’s the unfortunate thing. In order for the public to completely understand what the implications of something are, they have to understand the entire story and make a determination from there. What you have is these unions pumping millions and millions of dollars into a narrative that’s only a partial portion of a narrative.”
Which, you might not be shocked to learn, is just about what the other side says. By now, the arguments have been made. Worker advocates say they can’t live on $18,000 a year and employers say they can’t afford to pay everyone $15 an hour. But there has to be a middle ground somewhere, no?
“This debate has been on the table for the past several years and I think we all understand that living in New Jersey, we need to increase the minimum wage,” added Democratic Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. “We need to have people, you know, get dollar for dollar what they’re working for, however I think there is some tweaking that we have to do to resolve some of the challenges.”
Absent a governor with an inclination to help find a middle ground, the business side — as personified by groups like the New Jersey Business and Industry Association — and workers — backed by unions eager to recruit and organize — appear headed for the same old debate.
“All these issues are complex and they require the opportunity for us to sit down and talk about comprehensive solutions,” concluded Michele Siekerka of the NJBIA. “And what we tend to do is look at things in a vacuum all the time, so we look at minimum wage as ‘what should the check say?’ Along with that, we don’t have a discussion about what benefits come along with that; what are the skills required to get to the next level? Are there opportunities to get to the next level? These are complex discussions, so we shouldn’t do things in a vacuum.”
Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno is against the hike. “Let’s look at the numbers,” she said. “Let’s go to an objective economist — not mine as a Republican, not theirs as a Democrat — and let’s evaluate who’s really going to be hurt and who’s really going to be helped by going to $15 and then make a decision, an informed decision and let’s go from there.”
Which sounds great but given the current climate in Trenton, is unlikely. In the end, the question of what New Jersey’s minimum wage should be will be left up to voters, again. And what voters will be thinking a year from now is anyone’s guess.