Tomorow (November 5th, 2013) is Election Day, and everyone is anticipating a landslide victory of Republican Governor Chris Christie over Democratic Former State Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono. We have been following that race, as polls still show him ahead by anything from nineteen to twenty-four percentage points, with a majority of New Jersey voters firmly behind him and barely over a third supporting his opponent. The only significant question is whether Christie's popularity will result in a shift in the control of the legislature, currently firmly held by democrats with supermajorities in both houses, twenty-four to sixteen in the forty-member State Senate, forty-eight to thirty-two in the eighty-member General Assembly. All seats are up for re-election, and most incumbents are running for re-election--seventy-five of eighty assemblymen, thirty-nine of forty senators (the latter excluding only Buono herself, on the gubenatorial ticket). There are candidates for every seat from both major parties except that in District 25 the incumbent Republicans are opposed only by independent candidates, and in District 20 the incumbent Democrat is similarly opposed only by an independent. There are also a few other independents and a few libertarians in scattered districts.
There are also two Public Questions on the ballot.
The first is a minor matter. The New Jersey State Constitution authorizes the use of games of chance as fundraisers for a limited selection of purposes--educational, charitable, patriotic, religious or public-spirited, along with an exception for senior citizen groups raising money for their own benefit. Public Question 1: New Jersey Support for Veterans' Organizations from Gambling Proceeds Amendment will create a similar exception for veterans to use bingo, raffles, and lotteries to raise money for their own benefit. It was placed on the ballot by the unanimous support of both houses of the legislature.
The other is more controversial. Public Question 2: New Jersey Minimum Wage Increase Amendment would raise the minimum wage in the state immediately by a dollar (to a dollar more than the Federal minimum wage) plus tie it to the Consumer Price Index in a way that would create mandatory increases in the minimum wage annually, as long as inflation continues.
In New Jersey the legislature can put such an issue on the ballot by a supermajority vote of sixty percent in both houses, but although the Democrats hold sixty percent of the seats in both houses they were unable to achieve this. The alternative is that the same question approved by a simple majority in two consecutive sessions of the legislature is placed on the ballot, which is what happened in this case. The majority of voters appear to want to raise the minimum wage and so support the ammendment, but it has its problems, chief among them that once it becomes a constitutional amendment (as opposed to a legislative act) it can only be reversed by constitutional amendment. Governor Christie has argued that he wants to raise the minimum wage, but not as drastically or abruptly, phasing in higher wages over several years and not locking the state into a situation that might not be easy to reverse. He conditionally vetoed a 2012 bill which raised the wage by a dollar twenty-five, looking for compromise, but the legislature instead took it to the level of constitutional amendment.
The concerns of those in favor are simple to grasp: a higher minimum wage means better living conditions for those working bottom-level jobs. The concerns of those against are more difficult to see, but perhaps can be simplified. Let us suppose that our hamburger restaurant pays its employees the equivalent value of two superburgers per hour, and cannot run the store with fewer than four employees. They must therefore sell eight superburgers an hour to pay those wages, plus let us guess two more to pay for the ingredients and energy to make them. If the state mandates that employees be paid more, let's say twenty-five percent more, that's an extra burger per hour going into wages for those four employees. However, the company is unlikely to be able to sell more burgers at the same price, so they have to find the money somewhere. They can hire fewer workers (or the same workers for fewer hours), but only if they can run the company on three instead of four employees. They can instead raise the price of the burger so that they are able to pay the wages on the same number of sales. However, they are unlikely to be able to continue selling the same burger at the same rate at the higher price, and so they will have to increase the price more than they increase the wages. Since the law ties the wage to the cost of everything, including the price of those burgers, that means that the increase in the price of the burger means another increase in the minimum wage. The price of everything escalates as everyone increases his own pay so as still to afford what he has always been able to afford before, and the value of the dollars which went into that increased minimum wage falls putting the recipients in no better position than they were. Rising wages without increased production is a fundamental cause of inflation; raising the wage to keep pace with inflation is chasing your tail.
No one opposed to this amendment opposes raising the minimum wage; they oppose putting such increases out of the control of the government, making it impossible for future legislatures to discuss what increase is right in the economic conditions that will exist in the future.
Again, tomorrow is Election Day. Vote.