New Jersey voters — the live ones, at least — are used to the sensation that their votes don't count in a presidential election, since we are committed to a blue state, like a maniac depressive patient who refuses to take medication. (The dead voters, by contrast, are just happy someone keeps their memory alive by registering them.)
But a pair of discussed ballot issues could make the next two Novembers elections to remember. I'm referring to, of course, the higher education referendum on the books for this year and the minimum wage question that seems likely to get on the 2013 ballot.
The higher education bond — which would borrow $750 million to fund badly needed improvements at state universities — seems likely to pass, since it involves borrowing, as opposed to sensible budget appropriations, paid for via cuts to other services or new revenue generation, such as putting the Revel casino on a truck and driving it to the Meadowlands. We voters love our borrowing: New Jersey's state bird is the goldfinch, the state insect is the honeybee, the state tree is the red oak and the state sport is borrowing. It's a hard one to endorse, but there's no denying how badly upgrades are needed at our universities, and if Rutgers, et al, can keep some of the graduates from shiny new facilities from leaving the state after they graduate, it could have a tangible effect on business.
When it comes to furrowed brows and scowls, the minimum wage issue is the referendum you want. Chris Christie looks at a minimum wage increase the same way you do when you examine your shoes after stepping on a stinkbug, but when it comes to getting such a measure passed, legislative Democrats are more deeply divided than I was as an undergraduate at Villanova University, torn between studying a career that would leave me fulfilled, happy and wealthy, or journalism. Christie already has drafted a veto message for a bill, should it reach him, so the constitutional amendment seems like a sensible route.
At that point, expect some heavy lobbying as businesses work to kill it. The concept of voters telling businesses how much compensation they should offer is a novel one, but you'll notice the economies of places that have tried this — like Cuba and the Soviet Union — are more bust than they are robust. That measure shouldn't get any support, but New Jersey has a fantastic record of favoring poorly defended ballot measures (be sure to click that editorial, I'm very proud of it, especially the part at the end warning about trialkyl prebiotic pneumorrhagia) and rejecting economically intelligent ones, so it will be interesting theater going forward.
I'm even more irreverent on Twitter @joe_arney.