Surrender on the $15 minimum wage amendment | Editorial

on December 10, 2016

It's never easy to surrender, but it's time to admit that Gov. Chris Christie will win his fight to keep 975,000 New Jersey workers in poverty right up to the moment he makes his exit. Bravo, Governor. Legacy assured.

The effort to establish a $15 minimum wage in our state constitution will likely fail, but as noted before, using ballot measures to set wage policy is not an ideal arrangement. It was done three years ago because the existing wage was an absurd $7.25 and the governor wouldn't budge. Engraving such an initiative in the constitution was born of desperation, and is not the best way to do business.

But does it make sense to amend the Constitution again now? Any change would take effect only after the voters approved an amendment next November, when Christie will have only a few months left in office. Why not do this the right way instead, through legislation signed by the next governor?

Democratic leaders probably realize this, amid reports that they're still trying to beat the clock for a 2017 ballot amendment.

That is too much of a tangle at this stage: They'd have to agree on a draft, then let it marinate for 20 days, then have a public hearing - leaving virtually no time to beat the Dec. 31 deadline.

Even more knotty, they cannot agree on terms. Senate President Steve Sweeney has proposed a piecemeal oddity that creates a $15 minimum for everyone but farm workers and teens; Assembly speaker Vincent Prieto wants an amendment that puts all workers on the same floor, no carve-outs.

As Jon Whiten of New Jersey Policy Perspective put it, "It makes no sense to put all this energy into a balloting campaign if it's not even the outcome you want to see."

Indeed, it's hard to justify telling farm workers that their back-breaking labor isn't as valued or valuable as fast food employees or homecare workers.

So this fight will resume in January 2018, and let's remember how we got here: Christie vetoed a bill in August that established a $15 minimum by 2021, choosing a grocery store loaded with $9-an-hour cashiers to gloat about it. He lied about the effects of automation, and he dusted off all his class-warfare tropes.

As usual, he ignored the fact that 91 percent of minimum-wagers are working adults, half of them over 40, and all of them thinking that the 2017 election can't come too soon.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment