Business leaders fear precedent set by wage vote

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    Michael Egenton, the senior vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, was sorry to see voters approved a ballot measure to raise the state's minimum wage last week.

    But he's scared of what could be coming in the future.

    With Republican Gov. Chris Christie firmly in control of the executive branch and a Democratic majority running both the Assembly and Senate, Egenton worries using the ballot box to avoid true legislating will become common.

    Simply put, he's concerned about the message that was sent by Trenton.

    "This really does set a bad precedent," Egenton said.

    Egenton questioned the role of state legislators altogether if they're not actually legislating, noting that "they have a duty and responsibility to do what we elect them to do."

    "I do get concerned that when there is a controversial issue, that they now have this ulterior mechanism that they can utilize," he said.

    With hot-button issues such as paid sick-leave and ban-the-box legislation due to come up in the coming months, business groups say the need for lawmakers to focus on compromise is especially pertinent.

    Laurie Ehlbeck, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said she too worries about a "bad precedent" being set and said it's much more efficient for business groups to deal with issues as a point of legislation rather than through ballot referendum.

    As was the case with the coalition's costly minimum wage campaign, she says appealing to the wider public on a controversial issue is more difficult than working directly with legislators.

    While optimistic, Ehlbeck says she has a "fear" that with the success of the minimum wage vote for its supporters in the Statehouse, compromise at the legislative level might become a thing of the past.

    Egenton said he too is hoping the ballot doesn't become a first resort for gridlock.

    "That's what I'd rather see," Egenton said. "I'd rather see the bipartisanship continue."

    That didn't happen in regard to the ballot measure amending the constitution to raise the wage by $1 to $8.25 and allow for future increases to be tied to the consumer price index.

    After the Legislature sent a proposed wage hike of $1.25 with tie-ins to the CPI last year, Christie came back in January with a conditional veto of the measure, instead suggesting an increase of $1 over a three-year period.

    With both sides unable to reach an agreement, the Assembly voted in February to send the matter to the November ballot.

    E-mail to: andrewg@njbiz.com
    On Twitter: @andrgeorge

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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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