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NJ Legislature Takes Next Step Toward a Radical Minimum Wage Constitutional Amendment

On January 2, 2013 by Schnader in Labor and Employment

By James R. Costello, II

On December 17, 2012, the New Jersey General Assembly passed by a vote of 46-29-1 Assembly Bill ACR-168, a version of Senate Bill SCR-1 that passed on November 19, 2012, seeking to amend the state’s constitution to require an immediate increase of the minimum wage to $8.25 per hour, with yearly increases tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Because ACR-168/SCR-1 passed only by a majority (as opposed to a 3/5 majority of all members of both houses), the bill will be presented again next year in both houses of the legislature, and if passed again by a mere majority, New Jersey voters will determine in November whether to amend the constitution.

If such a measure passes, New Jersey would be only one of 10 states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington) to have a yearly increase of the minimum wage tied to the either the CPI or a cost of living formula, and the only state to do so by a constitutional provision.

California is considering a similar measure, by statute instead of a state constitutional amendment.

The constitutional amendment bills are a political tactic by the New Jersey legislature to dissuade Governor Christie from vetoing Bill S3, a version of Assembly Bill A2162, which would boost the New Jersey minimum wage to $8.50 per hour and tie future increases to the CPI. Bill S3/A2162 passed in the New Jersey State Assembly on May 24, 2012 and in the New Jersey Senate on November 19, 2012. Governor Christie is on record that he would oppose any bill tying the minimum wage to the CPI.

While amending the state constitution would avoid a gubernatorial veto, the wisdom of such an amendment is questionable at best. The amendment of New Jersey’s constitution is a difficult process. A proposed amendment takes at least one year (if the proposal is supported by the required 3/5 majority of all members of both houses), and possibly two years (if the proposed amendment was supported only by a mere majority in both houses for two straight legislative terms) to get out of the legislature. Then the proposed amendment must be presented for public ratification in the next election cycle.

If the implementation of a state constitutional amendment proves unwise, repealing that amendment could be equally laborious, and therefore seriously affect New Jersey’s economy. The states locally competing for employers – New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware – are not among the 10 states that currently have a minimum wage tied to either the CPI or a cost of living formula, nor are those states contemplating such a measure. A clunky, slow amendment process could encourage employers to cease lobbying efforts, and simply move operations to New Jersey’s neighbor states.

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