The issues swirling around Under the Dome in Trenton are heating up just as is the New Jersey summer! There is no shortage of issues or complications to resolve.
One of the hottest topics that is being debated on the national level also is front and center in our state: raising the minimum wage. Recently, the General Assembly passed legislation that would raise the minimum wage level incrementally over the next five years. The current state minimum wage is $8.59. If enacted, the rate would increase to $10.10 on January 1, 2017 and then between 2018 and 2021, it would increase by at least $1 per hour, plus any increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). If the federal minimum wage is increased, then the state rate would be set to match that level with CPI applied to the federal level.
At the current level, New Jersey’s minimum wage is just over a dollar above the federal floor for wages. Yet, the state is one of the costliest to live in nationally. A full-time New Jersey worker making minimum wage earns less that $18,000 per year currently. The United Way of Northern New Jersey finds that a single adult worker with no children living here would need to earn $13.78 per hour to cover basic costs such as food and shelter or $19.73 per hour for a “better” level of food and shelter, plus modest savings.
Reports show that more people than ever living in our state are living in poverty. A Legal Services of New Jersey study found that approximately $2.8 million adults and 800,000 children lived in poverty in 2014. That rate of poverty is the highest in five decades; and 40 person higher than before the 2008 Great Recession.
We cannot let this level of poverty continue in every corner of our state and in every community. Hard-working employers who get up every day and work long hours should not be living below the poverty line where one sick day could put them in jeopardy of being without food or shelter. By lifting the minimum wage, we are striving to lift families out of the grips of poverty without having to rely on assistance programs for basic life needs.
Another issue making headlines nationally also has been under consideration by the State Legislature: the age at which younger men and women can register to vote in primary elections. Under the proposed “New Voter Empowerment Act,” individuals who will turn age 18 prior to a general election would be able to register to participate in primary elections directly prior to that general election while they are still 17 years-old.
Currently, 20 other states and the District of Columbia allow 17 year-olds to vote in primaries if they will turn 18 between the primary election or caucus and the general election. Proponents of the legislation cite the importance of choosing a Party’s candidate for the general election through participation in a primary. Others note that emancipated 17 year-olds, or others with parental consent, are allowed to enlist and serve in the Armed Forces.
As has been seen in the recent presidential election, the ability to participate in the Party nominating process is very personal and critical to voters. We should be allowing those who will ultimately be casting their vote in the general election to be participating in as much of the process as possible. Engaging our youth in the democratic process, regardless of party affiliation, is important for our society for future generations.
Shifting gears a bit to a bill currently under consideration by the Legislature that would affect those visiting Jersey Shore beaches and local parks. Under Senate Bill 1734 recently passed by both the General Assembly and Senate, smoking would be prohibited at state or municipal beaches; state forests, and state, county or municipal parks. Under the proposed law, a municipality or county could reserve up to 15 percent of a beach for permitted smoking and golf courses would be exempted.
The measure extends the “New Jersey Smoke Free Air Act” passed in 2005 that prohibits smoking in most enclosed indoor public places and workplaces. A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Christie last year. However, legislators continue to advocate for the bill in order to address the serious health implications of second-hand smoke at beaches and parks. Supporters also point to the decreasing number of cigarette smokers who face health care ailments and the associated costs form smoking-related diseases.
While these three measures provide a glimpse of the range of issues that the Legislature has recently considered, June is annually considered one of the busiest months of the year for lawmakers. Matters such as protecting the state’s military bases, allowing retired law enforcement officers to carry firearms, testing lead in our school drinking water, solving the deficiency of the Transportation Trust Fund and many more issues will all be considered in the closing weeks of June.
Most importantly, the State Constitution requires that the Legislature passes a balanced State Budget and it is signed into law before June 30 annually. Unlike the federal government, the state constitution does not permit deficit spending. Both the Assembly and Senate will be working feverishly in the next few weeks before breaking for a brief summer recess.
But, before you and your family head out to the beach this summer — a reminder to those who may wish to consider applying for the Senior Property Tax Reimbursement program — the “Senior Freeze” program that the deadline to apply has been extended to October 17, 2016. In order to qualify, household annual income for 2014 under $85,553 and an annual household income under $87,007 for 2015. In addition, applicants must be age 65 or older ore receiving Social Security disability benefits; a New Jersey resident of at least 10 years; a homeowner at the applicable residence for at least three years; and fully up-to-date on property tax bills. Anyone needing an application book or looking for the status of an existing application can contact my office at (609) 631-7501.
Editor’s Note: Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton) represents the 14th Legislative District which includes parts of Mercer and Middlesex counties. He can be reached at AsmDeAngelo@njleg.org; phone (609) 631-7501; www.WayneDeAngelo.com; Facebook: Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo; or Twitter: @DeAngeloLD14.