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$15 minimum wage in New Jersey? Don't laugh, it could be happening out West

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Is a $15 minimum wage in New Jersey's future?
Is a $15 minimum wage in New Jersey's future? - (Thinkstock)

By Andrew George | Email | Twitter

If New Jersey business groups were upset by the voters raising the minimum wage by $1 – wait until they see what could be coming next.

How does $15 an hour sound?

Despite the state of Washington already having the nation's highest state minimum wage at $9.19, voters in the Seattle suburb of SeaTac were deciding last night whether to increase the local minimum wage there to $15 for some transportation and hospitality workers. Early results had the measure ahead but a final tally had not been recorded as of early Wednesday morning.

In addition to the new local minimum wage, the ballot proposition also mandated paid sick leave for some workers – an issue that appears to be picking up in New Jersey.

The measures will most directly impact business at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is based in SeaTac and is the region's busiest. But Michael Egenton, the senior vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, says that SeaTac's story is a cautionary tale.

Egenton said businesses suffer when local and municipal governments take it upon themselves to craft economic policies.

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"Doing initiatives like that piecemeal is really economically destructive," he said. "Public policy, in my opinion, should not be done on the local level."

Although he said he needs more specifics on SeaTac's wage hike, Egenton said he could easily see why such a measure might be a "huge financial hit to a business."

"That may make or break a certain airline carrier flying out of that hub," Egenton said.

New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday raising the state's minimum wage by $1 to $8.25 and tying future increases to the consumer price index.

Will a $15 minimum wage be on New Jersey's table anytime soon?

Egenton said he fears that the precedent set through Tuesday's ballot question leaves the door open to the unknown, especially given that the consumer price index will now dictate future increases.

"Where do we go from here?" Egenton said.

One example Egenton is concerned with is that of California, where Gov. Jerry Brown last month signed legislation raising the state's minimum wage by $1 to $9 next July and then again to $10 by January 2016.

"My biggest concern is that we don't turn into California," Egenton said.

Or Seattle.

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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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