Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ballot initiatives 2013 edition: New Jersey

New Jersey has two ballot initiatives facing statewide election on the November 5 ballot.  They are just regarded as Question 1 and Question 2.  I'll do a little breakdown of each of the questions on the ballot.

Question 1

  • Allows for veteran organizations to use money collected from existing games of chance to support the organizations
  • There is an exemption for senior citizen groups, but the money collected can only be used educational, charitable, patriotic, religious, or public-spirited purposes.
In 2012, New Jersey gained over $125 million in gambling revenue.  Passage of the question would allow veteran organizations to tap into some of that revenue.  While we have had problems with economic recovery and an influx of veterans, many organizations serving veterans are facing increased economic hardships.  Gambling is a socially risky behavior and can easily lead to gambling addiction.  Veteran organizations and senior citizen groups are being chosen as winners, even though other organizations do provide value to people, as well.

But many veteran organizations are unlikely to continue offering their services without this ability to tap into gambling revenues.  If veteran organizations have to close, many veterans will be without help.  Even if veteran organizations can stay afloat without the revenue, providing additional revenue would allow them to help more veterans and provide additional assistance.

My take: I would enthusiastically vote for the passage of this amendment.  I believe we need to help these type of organizations.  By allowing them access to gambling revenues, we allow them to offer additional services and allow them to help even more veterans at a time, when they need our help.

Question 2

  • Would set the minimum wage at $8.25 with annual adjustments for inflation beginning January 1, 2014
Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would raise the state's minimum wage, which is $7.25.  The legislature wanted to raise the minimum wage by 17%, or a $1.25 raise.  Christie also rejected a measure that would give an annual increase to the minimum wage.  Christie wrote in his veto that the raise for the minimum wage would jeopardize the state's economy.  He proposed a measure that would factor in a $1 raise to the minimum wage over a three year span.  

Currently, workers making the minimum wage are going to earn $15,080, in New Jersey.  With the raise, it is a slight increase to $17,160.  The current minimum wage has not kept up with inflation.  If you adjust for inflation, the current minimum wage is less than what people were making in 1967.  By tying in the minimum wage to the consumer price index and adjusting for inflation, it ensures that minimum wage workers will have a living wage for years to come.  Minimum wage has not been adjusted in New Jersey, since 2005.  In a comparable state, New York, the minimum wage will be raised to $8 on December 31, $8.75 by the end of 2014, and to $9 by the end of 2015.

The biggest argument against the proposition is that the raising of the minimum wage should not be set by the Constitution and raised without conversing with the legislature and the governor.  Christie even said that he opposes to amending the Constitution for this purpose.  Thomas Bracken, the President and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an editorial that the minimum wage should be set by careful consideration by the legislature and the governor.  Potentially, tying the minimum wage to the Constitution will make it less flexible and difficult to change, should the need arise.  Some advocates have argued that the minimum wage should be set to $10 per hour, if the wage is increased by annual increases in the Constitution, it could be inadequate for awhile.  But, of course, this could be amended by another ballot initiative.  But, oh well.  Some make the free market argument.  The free market argument is brought about by free market fundamentalists and goes something like this.  If the wage increases really make for more productive workers and reduced turnover, then wage increases should come about by the market rather than a mandate.  I don't, necessarily, buy this argument, because it assumes that people can leave jobs whenever they feel like.  

My take: While I do believe that tying the minimum wage to the Constitution does make it less flexible and more difficult to change, I would vote for the passage of the question.  If supporters of Christie believe that the wage should be increased but not through the Constitution, then they should look no further than Christie to see why people decided to put it on the ballot.

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