Florida Governor, Attorney Trade Barbs on Minimum Wage Ballot Measure

(CN) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and a prominent attorney clashed Friday over whether a ballot measure to increase Florida’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026 will prompt companies to increase automation and shed low-paying jobs.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday approved the language on the ballot item, which would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 by 2021, and then by $1 each year until 2026. By October 2026, the state’s minimum wage would be $15 an hour.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waves during his inauguration ceremony on Jan. 8, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The November 2020 ballot item needs a 60% voter majority to pass. It would embed the wage increase into an amendment to the Florida Constitution.

In a statement issued to Courthouse News on Friday, Republican Governor DeSantis claimed the measure will have unforeseen consequences on the Florida job market.

“Many companies pay more than the current minimum wage but those who cannot do so will have to let employees go [in order] to meet this requirement, while others will rely more on automation,” the governor’s office said. “That is why Governor DeSantis believes policy issues should be handled through the regular legislative process where legislation can be tweaked or changed, because if policies are not working as intended, you cannot tweak an amendment to the Constitution.”

In a phone interview, Orlando attorney John Morgan responded to the governor’s apprehensions. Morgan is a wealthy trial lawyer and business owner who founded the law firm Morgan & Morgan. He also heads up the Florida for a Fair Wage campaign to get the measure passed.

“Companies will use automation with or without the minimum wage increase. The robots are already here. Anytime a business is gonna be able to give a job to a machine — that never gets sick, gets no benefits — they’re gonna do it,” Morgan said.

As for DeSantis’ suggestion that state wage policy should be handled through legislation, Morgan said Florida politicians have had countless opportunities to ensure the working-poor a solid base wage.

“It’s like medical marijuana legalization and the restoration of felons’ voting rights in Florida. The Legislature did not address those issues. Without voters approving constitutional amendments, nothing would have ever happened,” he said.

Morgan publicly proclaimed to Florida politicians early Friday: “If you’ve got a better idea than my idea, do something. Put up or shut up.”

Florida’s current minimum wage is $8.46 an hour, while the federal minimum wage is $7.25. Morgan said the state’s proposed 10 cent increase for 2020 will do little to help low-wage workers afford groceries and housing.

“People cannot live on that minimum wage. It’s not even close to possible,” Morgan said in the interview.

When asked about the measure’s prospects of passing, he said: “You just hope people have compassion and love. With the politics of today, I really don’t know what people are anymore.”

Morgan, who reportedly switched his voter registration from Democrat to Independent in 2017, is one of the most prominent funders of public policy campaigns in the state. He poured millions into the campaign for Florida medical marijuana legalization.

In its Thursday advisory opinion to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, the state’s high court approved the wage-increase ballot question for the November 2020 vote, calling the summary “clear and unambiguous.”

“The ballot summary is nearly identical to the language of the proposed amendment itself, and it explains in a straightforward and accurate manner how the proposed changes to … Florida Constitution would affect the existing system,” the Florida Supreme Court ruled.

The court declined the attorney general’s request for an advisory opinion on an economic impact statement prepared by the Financial Impact Estimating Conference, which is comprised of agents from the governor’s office, Florida Senate, state House of Representatives and the Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

The per curiam decision found that court did not have constitutional jurisdiction to review the financial impact statement.

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