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Ready to Wage War Over Raising New Jersey’s Minimum Wage

“This particular amendment being put on the ballot is something that we haven’t really done,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “It involves economic policy and not borrowing. A typical ballot issue involves how much the state can borrow for open space, roads or higher education. So the politics of dealing with it are pretty unique for this state. There have been other ballot initiatives around the country where you see outside money, but I am not sure what will happen here because we have never had this kind question on the ballot.”

Paul Sonn, legal co-director of the pro-labor National Employment Law Project in Washington, said the experiences of other states that have put wage questions on the ballot do not offer much of a window into what will happen here. There have been nine minimum wage referenda since 1998, all of which passed. Six of those occurred in 2006. While national money did not play a role in those votes, it is impossible to know whether the 2010 Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which prohibits states and the federal government from limiting independent spending by political committees, corporations, and unions, would encourage outside groups to weigh in.

So far, the only national group to enter the fray is the Employment Policies Institute, which kicked off a $500,000 advertising campaign on July 9. The campaign is featuring radio and cable TV spots that focus on what it says are the negative impacts of increasing the minimum wage.

Mike Saltsman, EPI’s research director, said the ads are part of an “educational campaign” designed to show the “consequences to the entry-level job market.”

“Our interest is in showing that raising the minimum wage doesn’t accomplish what people think it will,” he said.

Saltsman said there is not a strong correlation between increasing the minimum wage and reducing poverty, and that it was important to inject a critical view into the discourse on the issue.

“Our radio pieces are not about voting ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but about the consequences of the higher minimum,” he said. “It is about raising the cost of hiring and training entry-level employees.”

EPI’s ads will run for about two months, he said. The organization then would “assess how things stand at the end of August.”

State groups say they are not expecting their national counterparts to join the campaign. Michael Egenton, senior vice president for government relations at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said that the national chamber – which spent $35 million on national races in 2012, according to – generally “does not get involved in statewide or local issues.”

“They have enough on their plate nationally with health care and immigration reform,” he said. “I think they are aware of it, but we will not be involving them or asking them for resources.”

Egenton said state business groups would be meeting to discuss strategy later in the summer, but he expected that their goal would be to make sure that voters understand that a minimum-wage hike could serious consequences.

“We have to educate and inform the voters about the consequences and ramifications of voting for the measure,” he said.

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