Editorial: Amendment 2 would hit Florida businesses just as they’re struggling to come back

Naples Daily News Editorial Board

There are ideas whose time has come.

And then there’s Amendment 2.

The proposed change to Florida’s constitution on the Nov. 3 ballot would gradually raise the minimum wage in the state from the current $8.56 to $15 an hour by 2026.

The first jump, to $10 an hour, would take effect in September of 2021.

With Florida businesses reeling from the effects of COVID-19 related shutdowns and a public still wary about venturing out, we simply can’t endorse imposing higher costs on them now.

It may take years for businesses, especially those in the tourism and hospitality sectors, to return to normalcy, if they ever do. Raising the cost of anything they require to operate, including labor, means they are likely to purchase less of it.

That translates to fewer jobs, especially for those on the bottom of the employment ladder hoping to gain that first rung on the way up.

When the Amendment was first promoted by Florida For A Fair Wage, which gathered enough signatures to put the measure before voters, COVID-19 wasn’t an issue.

Now that it is, supporters such as Orlando attorney John Morgan, who chairs the group, say it should become part of the state Constitution anyway because the pandemic will eventually end and it’s the right thing to do.

While he has a point on the first contention – although it’s difficult to say when precisely the devastation to the economy will be fully mitigated – we do not agree with the second.

Yes, a higher minimum wage would provide an immediate raise for those who now earn that amount.

Florida For A Fair Wage puts that figure at 200,000 workers.

But Florida’s workforce comprises close to 9 million workers, so minimum wage jobs account for less than 3% of all jobs in the state.

Based on that, it appears the market is already prompting employers to offer above the minimum to attract workers.

At least it was before the pandemic.

It is better to let those market forces get people back to work at pay befitting their value to their employers.

A 2019 Congressional Budget Office analysis of a proposed federal minimum wage hike found that while it would produce a raise for 17 million workers nationally, it would likely result in 1.3 million lost jobs, with an upper range of 3.7 million lost jobs possible.

With businesses struggling to bring in customers, we fear those numbers could be much higher today.

We’re perplexed by Morgan’s insistence that every job in Florida must pay a “living wage,” something his group defines as “the minimum cost that covers the basic needs of an individual and the needs of their family without government assistance.”

Are they not aware of young people entering the job market for the first time hoping to gain experience on their way to a better job? Or seniors who take part-time work to supplement income? Those types of jobs would be the first to go.

We’re beyond perplexed at his contention that today’s minimum wage is the modern-day equivalent of slave labor. That’s an affront to those who suffered under slavery in the past and their ancestors and ignores the reality that human trafficking continues to this day, sometimes right here in Florida. We doubt the perpetrators will abide by an increase in the minimum wage.

Opponents warn that an increase in the minimum wage would force businesses to raise wages up the employment chain. While, “Everyone gets a raise!” is no doubt a popular sentiment, it isn’t realistic to expect government, or voters for that matter, can pass a law to make that happen.

Businesses, especially restaurants, operate on thin margins. Raising the cost of operating might not just cause some to hire fewer people. It can be expected to drive some out of business completely.

For these reasons we recommend voting against Amendment 2 on Nov. 3.

Let’s get as many Floridians back to work as soon as possible and support a robust economic recovery that will allow workers to command higher wages under market conditions.

(Brent Batten wrote this for the Naples Daily News editorial board.)