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Business groups, disappointed by minimum wage passage, eye new issues

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Laure Ehlbeck, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, is proud of the campaign ran by a coalition of state business groups to defeat a ballot question measure Tuesday to raise the minimum wage through a constitutional amendment by $1 to $8.25 and tie future increases to the consumer price index.

Voters opted to pass the measure and did so resoundingly by over a margin of 20 percentage points.

"We're really disappointed that the voters did not see the potential harm this could have going forward," Ehlbeck said this afternoon.

For months, business groups have warned that raising the wage and tying it to the consumer price index would hurt small businesses by forcing employers to reduce hours and cut jobs.

The new wage is set to take effect Jan. 1. Ehlbeck said research she's seen has led her to expect annual increases due to the automatic nature of the amendment.

"I'm fairly confident that we will see an increase every year," Ehlbeck said.

Ehlbeck said in retrospect, she believes the coalition could have made more headway amongst voters had it started its campaign against the measure sooner. It wasn't until early October that the coalition really began circulating its message.

"If we had started a little earlier, maybe we could've turned the tide," Ehlbeck said.

New Jersey Chamber of Commerce senior vice president of government relations Michael Egenton said he thought that the ballot question's wording contributed to some voter confusion about the measure altogether.

"The way the question was worded was very cryptic, very confusing to the voter," Egenton said today.

Egenton said he imagines confusion over the question contributed to the final vote count in some fashion. Still, he said, the final margin was less than some polling outlets had predicted, which he says "goes to show on an issue like this how we did chip away at it."

"I'm proud of how we brought this campaign out," Egenton said. "Obviously, I would've liked a different outcome."

With minimum wage now in the books, both Ehlbeck and Egenton said they believe topics such as statewide paid sick-leave and ban-the-box legislation will emerge as pertinent issues to the business community. Whether or not they will be taken up in the upcoming lame duck session, is still yet to be determined.

 

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Andrew George

Andrew George

Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com and he is @AndrGeorge on Twitter.

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