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He's pushing hard to defeat a ballot measure that would raise the state's minimum wage, but New Jersey Chamber of Commerce president Tom Bracken insists he's not opposed to the idea altogether.
"We are not against a minimum wage increase," Bracken said this morning in a radio debate on the issue with Democratic Lt. Gov. candidate Milly Silva on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show. "We've been characterized as that, but we're not."
On Tuesday, voters will decide on a constitutional amendment to not only raise the state's minimum wage by $1 to $8.25, but also to tie future hikes to the consumer price index.
Bracken said this morning he prefers to see the issue of raising the wage done legislatively rather than through an amendment to the state's constitution. He said he was supportive of Gov. Chris Christie's plan to raise the minimum wage by $1 over a three-year period, a proposal Christie offered in his conditional veto of the Legislature's push last year to raise the wage to $8.50 with future adjustments again tied to the consumer price index.
He added the amount of the increase is "not the issue." But by calling for an amendment to the constitution, the proposal "takes part of the free enterprise system away from the business community," he said.
"We do not need economic policy in our constitution," Bracken said. "And setting wages is economic policy."
Silva, who is the running mate of gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen), today called the proposal "a step in the right direction" toward lifting her estimate of 400,000 New Jerseyans out of poverty.
"It is about our social obligation to the greater good," said Silva, vice president of SEIU 1199.
Silva defended the possibility of a constitutional amendment and the idea of putting the issue on the ballot, saying that doing so helps to "take politics out of the question." Had minimum wage adjustments already been made for inflation, it would be currently set at $10.74, Silva said.
"This is an opportunity to say that people need to be able to make ends meet," Silva said.
Bracken refuted Silva's claims, saying that the amendment wouldn't be a "cure-all" for poverty in New Jersey. Going off of Silva's number of 400,000 impoverished state residents, Bracken said that with a statewide population of over 8 million, the raise would barely be scratching the surface.
"Five percent of the population does not constitute the public good," Bracken said.
And while Bracken fears that the proposal may "turn away companies" that want to do business in New Jersey and potentially force employers to cut hours and jobs, Silva says it will put more disposable income in people's pockets for consumer spending — and in turn — help small businesses.
Polls open statewide at 6 a.m.