BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Senate President Wants Increased Minimum Wage, No More NFL Replacement Refs

The issue of minimum wage in New Jersey has divided some politicians and those in the business world. Senate President Stephen Sweeney wants voters to decide if minimum wage should be increased. He told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor that he doesn’t believe business and industry officials’ claims that they can’t afford to raise minimum wage. Sweeney also said he disagrees with Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed fine for unauthorized release of revenue figures and believes allowing replacement referees to officiate NFL games amounts to consumer fraud.

Sweeney was the prime sponsor of a measure raising minimum wage in 2005 and believes another increase is overdue. In 2005, the legislation included a segment that would ensure the minimum wage increased to keep up with inflation, but it was taken out because Democratic leaders at the time said other states weren’t taking that step. “It was a mistake for me to take it out and I feel the best way to get this done and the fairest way to get this done is to go to the voters and give them the opportunity to vote on this because I think it’ll pass overwhelmingly,” he said.

According to Sweeney, six states — including Arizona and Florida — have amended their constitutions to allow for increases to minimum wage. “The way I look at this is it really gives the working poor an opportunity to raise the bar,” he said. “And understand that once they get a raise if you listen to business and industry, everyone else gets a raise.”

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While pay may increase across the board, business owners say they can’t afford such a hike. “That’s not true,” Sweeney said. “They said that back in 2005 when we did the minimum wage. Business and industry will give you the same answer every single time — we can’t afford anything. If it was up to them, there wouldn’t be a minimum wage.”

Sweeney pointed out that there was a lot of push back to paid family leave with members of the business community claiming “everyone was going to go out of business,” which didn’t happen. He also said the states with higher minimum wage have better economies than New Jersey.

“When you give people on the lower end more money, they’re not running to the bank and sticking it in the bank. They’re spending it,” Sweeney said. “And that money goes right back into the economy and it strengthens your economy, it doesn’t weaken it.”

Other statistics show the states with higher minimum wage have better worker productivity, Sweeney said.

The state revenue numbers are below the current administration’s estimates. Christie is proposing a $10,000 fine for unauthorized release of revenue data. Sweeney said the idea is “ridiculous” because the public is entitled to know the information and it’s no longer Christie’s job to meddle in that area. “The governor’s the governor now. He’s not the prosecutor,” Sweeney said. “You don’t put bounties on giving out financial information.”

While the numbers don’t make anyone happy, Sweeney said that’s no reason to keep the figures secret. He also said Christie issued an executive order previously that ordered the release of revenues. “How can you say one thing and do something completely opposite?” Sweeney asked. “It makes no sense what he did on this one.”

After what many consider a blown call during the NFL game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks Monday night, Sweeney called for the state to ban the use of replacement officials in New Jersey. He said he weighed in on the issue to preserve the integrity of the game.

“When we passed sports betting in the state of New Jersey, the NFL actually sued us saying this was going to harm the integrity of the game and then they went out and hired former lingerie league football officials that were fired by the league. They hired high school referees that aren’t really up to speed to officiate games and the outcomes were really being impacted and it’s not fair to the consumer,” Sweeney said. “This was consumer fraud.”