As we look ahead to 2014, New Jersey businesses are more optimistic about the future than they have been in a very long time. In fact, in NJBIA’s 2014 Business Outlook Survey, our members gave New Jersey high marks for an improving business climate. Therefore, it is important for lawmakers to continue to work on policies that will improve the economy and to avoid the kinds of legislative mandates and obstacles to economic growth that have hurt New Jersey in the past.
Over the last four years, the Governor and Legislature have improved New Jersey’s business climate. Bipartisan tax reforms enacted four years ago are saving businesses $540 million this fiscal year, and more relief is coming. Caps on property taxes along with public-employee health and pension benefits reform have helped curb increases in local taxes for businesses. And throughout the last four years, regulatory reform has been an ongoing priority.
Businesses have noticed. According to our survey, a larger net percentage of businesses expect sales and profits to increase than any time in the last 12 years, and 17 percent of businesses expect employment to increase in 2014, the highest net percentage since the 2005 survey.
Governor Chris Christie’s approval rating among businesses remains the highest of any governor since 1991, when the question was first asked. Three out of every four businesses say the Governor is doing an excellent or good job. The Legislature also received its highest ratings in more than 10 years, and New Jersey received its highest ratings in a decade as a good place for business expansion.
Optimistic as they are, however, businesses still are confronting many obstacles in 2014. The biggest is the implementation of the new healthcare reform law. The new law and its flawed rollout have added a great deal of uncertainty to the cost of health insurance, which was already New Jersey businesses’ biggest problem. Also, New Jersey’s minimum wage has just been increased 14 percent to $8.25 an hour, which will hurt some industries.
In addition, there are several possible workplace mandates that could pose even more obstacles.
Last year, lawmakers discussed a bill to mandate that all businesses, regardless of size, provide several days’ worth of paid sick leave to their employees. Many businesses would have to pay twice — once for the worker who is out and again for someone to replace them. Employers who already offer paid time off would still be affected by such measures as they would supersede existing company policies for paid-time-off. Another measure would have prohibited employers from asking about a job candidate’s criminal history until a conditional offer of employment is made. This could severely hamper efforts to maintain safe and secure workplaces and to hire the best employees possible. These bills are expected to be reintroduced.
These are the kinds of ideas from years past that gave New Jersey a reputation as an anti-business state where businesses are over-regulated and micro-managed. Four years ago, the Governor and the Legislature changed course. As a result, our business climate improved and private-sector employment increased. New Jersey is better off without these kinds of workplace mandates. The Legislature should keep it that way in 2014.