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Business groups still hot on minimum-wage battle

Business advocates remained worried the Legislature will move to revive a proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage in the fall, after the proposal moved to the back burner during the debate of the state budget.

Business advocates remained worried the Legislature will move to revive a proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage in the fall, after the proposal moved to the back burner during the debate of the state budget.

The hourly minimum wage would rise from $7.25 to $8.50 under the proposal, which was passed by the Assembly but hasn’t come up for a vote in the Senate. Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-East Orange) is a prominent sponsor of the measure.

New Jersey Retail Merchants Association President John Holub said the coalition of business groups that opposed the measure is prepared to pick up the battle again. Holub said employers had a sense the increase wasn’t going to be going into effect July 1, as was written under the law, as that date moved nearer without the Senate passing the bill.

Gov. Chris Christie has said that he opposes a provision in the bill that would trigger annual cost-of-living adjustments, a measure backed by Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-West Deptford).

Business groups plan to continue to hammer away at the point that businesses have limited flexibility to offset wage increases, and could consider cutting back employee hours or layoffs to counter the measure.


Block of DEP waiver bill is in Senate’s hands now

Like the minimum-wage bill, a move to block the rule allowing the Department of Environmental Protection to issue waivers of regulation didn’t pass before the Legislature left Trenton, opening the door to the waiver rule going into effect in August.

The Legislature could block the rule by passing a resolution stating the rule violates the intent of legislation. While the Assembly passed such a resolution in May, the Senate hasn’t passed a companion bill. The administration would have 30 days to respond before the Legislature could put the anti-waiver rule into effect.

New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Michael Egenton said the waiver rule should be a given a chance to be applied.

“You can be constructively critical once you see it go through” and observe how it’s applied, Egenton said of the measure.

He compared the measure to the licensed site remediation professional program, which has been the subject of legislative hearings after it went into effect.
“Let’s give the waiver rule its due diligence and opportunity,” Egenton said. “If there are kinks, everyone will collectively work it out.”

That argument merited a cool response from New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel, who supported the anti-waiver effort.

“I think it would send a clear message to the governor that the waiver rule goes to the extreme and it does not meet the legislative intent,” said Tittel, who added that he hopes waiver advocates are personally affected by environmental pollution, so they understand the need for current regulations.


Bill would make it tougher to get farmland designation

A bill making it tougher for property owners to receive farmland assessments was passed by the Senate in June with the backing of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, the trade group for farms in the state.

Farm Bureau Executive Director Peter J. Furey said the measure struck an appropriate balance in meeting the needs of farm owners and towns. “It does it in a way that allows for some collaboration between tax assessors and the farm industry,” Furey said.

The bill, S-589, would raise the minimum annual gross sales needed to qualify for a farmland assessment from $500 to $1,000.

Furey said farmers are always concerned that legislators will pass policies without understanding how they affect farm businesses, but that this bill took into account farmers’ concerns. He singled out Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank), the bill’s sponsor, for working with farmers.

In addition, the bill “prevents people from being in there that shouldn’t be in there,” Furey said of the assessment program. The bill also requires tax assessors who assess farms to take a course on how to evaluate the properties.

The Assembly version, A-3090, has been referred to the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

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