As Floridians cast their ballots in the upcoming election, one of the things they’ll be voting on is Amendment 2, which would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2026.
Supporters say this measure will help lift those earning state’s $8.56 minimum wage out of poverty at a time when they need it most. Opponents, however, predict it will mean fewer jobs, less opportunity and higher costs for residents and small businesses.
These were the two central arguments presented during a virtual Florida Tiger Bay Club forum Friday, where panelists John Morgan and JT Corrales squared off on either side of the debate. The amendment requires 60 percent of the vote in order to pass.
Morgan, a prominent attorney and supporter of Amendment 2, called the current minimum wage “subhuman,” and said that it makes it impossible for people to pay their rent, child care and groceries.
“People are working like crazy doing all the right things and all the wrong things are happening,” he said. “Amendment 2 tries to lift the working poor out of poverty and reward them for a hard day’s work.”
JT Corrales, director of business development for the Crabby Bill’s family of restaurants and a representative of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association’s group Amendment 2 Hurts You, spoke of the challenges his business faced during the pandemic and said they’re still working to get back on their feet. Adding the cost of raising the minimum wage at this time would make it difficult for many small businesses to survive, he said.
“Now is not the time for this. A constitutional amendment is not the way,” he said. “This will kill jobs. This will raise the cost of living. This will change the way of life for the residents who call the Sunshine State home.”
Morgan said the reason it has to be a constitutional amendment is because Floridians can’t count on legislators to take action and said they work for the state’s Chamber of Commerce. He also rejected the idea of using the pandemic as an excuse not to raise the minimum wage.
“If they’re going to make the bogeyman the pandemic, that dog won’t hunt. The pandemic’s going to pass. This first time this goes to $10 an hour is next November. If this panademic hasn’t passed by then, we’re all in a much deeper world of hurt.”
Corrales pointed out that many business owners don’t have the cash reserves that Morgan has, and said that a number of them have had to take drastic measures like mortgaging their homes to stay afloat.
“Yes, the pandemic may pass but the scars will be with us for a while,” he said.
Raising the minimum wage would eliminate the tax burden Floridians are paying “to keep people sitting at home and not working because it’s better not to work,” Morgan said.
To that point, Corrales noted the language of Amendment 2, which said that raising the minimum wage may result in higher taxes or a loss of government services.
“So, is it good for the taxpayers?” he asked. “I would say it isn’t.”
When asked about what will happen should the amendment pass and the price of goods and services rise as a result, Morgan predicted that people won’t have a problem paying a little more if they have to. He also noted that inflation has “gone through the roof” and there has been no minimum wage increase of any substance.
“That’s a fraudulent argument and it’s playing to the most selfish base of people’s emotion: ‘it’s all about me,’” he said. “It’s not all about you. It’s all about us. It’s about taking care of each other and lifting each other up.”
Corrales said that prices will go up “tremendously” if the minimum wage is raised and it will have the most dramatic impact on seniors living on fixed incomes who have chosen to retire in Florida.
“It’s irresponsible to them more than any other category because they will not be able to make up the difference,” he said.
Should the amendment pass, Corrales expressed concern that businesses like his will end up paying more to vendors and wholesale costs will be higher. To make up for that, the costs will end up getting passed onto the consumer, something he doesn’t want to see happen.
“I can say with 100 percent certainty that prices will go up and if they don’t, someone will lose hours or will lose their job,” he said. “That wasn’t what this amendment is intended to do.”
Morgan noted that he does share concerns about how the increase in the minimum wage would impact small businesses, and said that’s why he supports the idea of gradually phasing it in over time.
“It will give business the time to adapt, to get ready and to get past the pandemic,” he said.
That doesn’t make it easier for businesses to absorb and continue to operate as they are now.
“Things will have to change no matter how you space it out,” Corrales said. “It’s inevitable. This idea of a gradual increase doesn’t hold any water here.”
To watch the full debate, click here.