EDITORIAL: Help veterans and workers by voting 'yes'

With the U.S. Senate election less than a week behind us, we now turn our attention to Nov. 5, when New Jerseyans will vote for governor, state legislators, county freeholders and local officials. But that’s not all, folks; two statewide ballot questions would amend the state constitution, and we urge you to vote “yes” to both.

The first would allow veterans organizations to use the money they collect from games of chance to support their own organizations.

The state constitution gives VFW halls and American Legion posts the right to hold games of chance but the proceeds must be devoted to “educational, charitable, patriotic, religious or public-spirited uses.”

So it’s totally legitimate for these mainstays of our communities to host bingo night or sell raffle tickets, as long as the money goes toward scholarships, parades or other qualifying causes. But when their own aging buildings need repairs, veterans groups must rely on the generosity of others. This makes no sense.

If voters approve Public Question No. 1, such groups would be able to use the proceeds from their gaming events to pay their bills — a privilege already granted to seniors associations. There is absolutely no reason to deny veterans organizations the same ability to support themselves.

The second ballot question has encountered more organized opposition, but its approval would help many more people.

Public Question No. 2 would raise New Jersey’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $8.25 and require annual adjustments in line with increases in the cost of living.

That’s still well below minimum wage in Oregon, Vermont and Washington state, which all have a lower cost of living than New Jersey. That’s still not a living wage for a family. That’s still $2.50 less than the minimum wage of 1968, adjusted for inflation. But it’s a start.

New Jersey’s minimum wage, like the federal rate, has been $7.25 since 2009. During the Great Recession, workers were asked to sacrifice, but they weren’t given much choice. Layoffs, buyouts, furloughs and pay freezes have taken their toll on workers from the low end of the scale to the middle. According to the Economic Policy Institute, wages fell for the bottom 70 percent of workers between 2007 and 2012.

Consumers have also paid the price. Productivity may have grown 7.7 percent in that time, but as workers have been asked to do more with less, standards have dropped. Have you noticed a decline in quality and customer service? You’re not alone.

Meanwhile, CEO compensation rose 37.4 percent between 2009 and 2012. Funny how those stock options don’t seem to trickle down to the families who are barely scraping by.

But for a low-wage earner, an extra $2,000 or so a year is much more likely to be pumped right back into the local economy than tucked away in some untouchable fund or offshore account.

Some argue a minimum-wage increase, while perhaps necessary, should be left to lawmakers rather than enshrined in the state constitution. And perhaps that would be ideal — if you’d prefer tying raises to the whims of politicians over pegging it to the economy.

Opponents argue that a higher minimum wage means higher prices. And it will, a bit. But we’re already paying a high price for low-paying jobs, in the form of food stamps and welfare for people whose full-time jobs aren’t enough.

Voting “yes” on Nov. 5 can only help.

Original article

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