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State Street: Lobby effort against wage increase likely to fall short

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All of the state's largest employer organizations have been engaged in an active lobbying effort against a proposal to increase the minimum wage, but it's increasingly looking like an uphill battle.

Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-West Deptford) has set the Senate on path toward supporting a constitutional amendment providing for annual minimum wage increases. The measure would have to pass both houses this year and next to be placed for voter approval in November 2013.

While a constitutional amendment isn't subject to Gov. Chris Christie's approval, Christie may still have a chance to consider a wage increase. Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-East Orange) would like to see the Senate pass a bill that would increase the minimum wage — including an annual increase based on the consumer price index — without changing the constitution.

Rider University political scientist Ben Dworkin doubts that Christie will change course and sign the bill. "He'll either oppose it when it comes to his desk, or he may well oppose when it's on the ballot," Dworkin said.

If Christie were to veto a minimum wage increase, the Assembly is likely to pass the Sweeney-supported constitutional amendment, according to a high-level lobbyist who has been following the issue.

This leaves little room for the organized business community to affect the measure before it heads to voters.

Kathleen Davis, senior vice president of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, said the issue should be decided through the legislative process, not a constitutional change. She noted South Jersey legislators blocked a previous effort to introduce referenda as a way of setting public policy in the state.

"There's going to be some industries that are really going to be on the ropes if the CPI increase goes into effect," Davis said, adding that the issue is one of the few where the chamber and local legislator Sweeney part ways.

"We have a great relationship with the Senate president," she said. "The vast majority of the time we're on the same page."

Dworkin said the business community will still have a chance to stop the issue.

"It's going to go on the ballot," Dworkin said. "That's where this will end up, and those who oppose this method for raising the minimum wage will have a chance to convince the public, assuming everything moves forward. I don't know if it can be stopped here" in Trenton.

Advocate says sports leagues have met their match in N.J.

Lobbyist William J. Pascrell III, of Princeton Public Affairs Group, one of the state's leading lobbyists on gaming issues, sees hypocrisy in the opposition taken by the professional sports leagues and the NCAA to New Jersey legalizing sports betting.

"If they were against betting, they would sever their TV contracts, they would sever their relationship with the fantasy sports culture," Pascrell said, noting the frequent reference to fantasy sports in TV coverage.

Pascrell questioned whether the leagues are sincere in their opposition.

"I don't believe that's what they're really doing here," Pascrell said of the idea that they oppose gambling. "They're protecting the financial interests they have with the current betting culture."

The NCAA has pulled several championships from the state and may end consideration of locating men's basketball tournament games at the Prudential Center in Newark.

"The reason everyone's into March Madness is the betting," Pascrell said.

Pascrell likes the state's odds in ultimately being successful in adding sports betting.

"They have met their match in Governor (Chris) Christie, Senator (Jim) Whelan (D-Northfield), Senator (Raymond J.) Lesniak (D-Union)," Pascrell said. "I'm putting my money on those individuals who've shown real leadership here. It's not easy taking on the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA."

Nev. gaming measure is a 'huge danger' to Atlantic City

Ray Lesniak is ringing the alarm bell over a measure advancing in the U.S. Senate.

Lesniak said a bill sponsored by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, would allow Reid's home state to become the home of the national online gaming industry.

Lesniak would like to see the Garden State's congressional delegation take a front-and-center role in combating Reid's effort, which sets qualifications for online gaming that only Reid's home state meets.

"I think that's a huge danger to Atlantic City's casinos and the state of New Jersey — and no one's paying attention to it," Lesniak said.

"The governor and our Senate and House of Representatives delegation ought to be out in full force, or we're going to be left behind the eight ball, and Nevada is going to get all the goodies," Lesniak said.

Lobbyist Pascrell said the Democratic Reid's bill may meet a stumbling block in the Republican-held House of Representatives.

Still, Lesniak noted that Reid already has support from Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, of Arizona, and may be able to reach an agreement with House Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio. Lesniak said conservative Tea Party members may oppose any expansion of online gaming, but said the possibility of a bill passing during Congress's lame-duck session is real.

"It's going to seriously hurt Atlantic City's economy and all those who depend on it — you better start paying attention to it," Lesniak said.

Christie position on expedited foreclosures remains unclear

While Christie vetoed a bill earlier this year that would expedite foreclosures of abandoned houses, it's not clear what position he'll take on the current version of the measure.

New Jersey Bankers Association Vice President Michael P. Affuso said some people in Trenton — including news reports — have reached mistaken conclusions about Christie's position.

While Christie has said he opposed the Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act, which he vetoed and which previously included expedited foreclosures of abandoned properties, he hasn't taken a public position on the new bill.

The issue is further confused because there is a separate, new version of the Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act, which doesn't include the abandoned property provision.

But Christie included that bill in a list of measures he would veto because they would increase state spending; bill sponsors have countered that it wouldn't cost the state any money.

The bill affecting abandoned properties has received backing from a wide range of statewide business groups, including those representing bankers, real estate agents and developers, as well as housing advocates.

"This bill, we believe, is very good public policy," Affuso said.

Correction appended: An earlier version of the first item about a constitutional amendment providing for annual minimum wage increases misstated the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey's position. The chamber believes the issue should be decided through the legislative process, not a constitutional change.

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