June 26, 2019

FLORIDA KEYS — Local chambers of commerce are mulling whether to join the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association in opposing an effort to place a Florida constitutional amendment on next year’s presidential election ballot to raise the state’s minimum hourly wage to $15.

The Florida For A Fair Wage ballot initiative is being led by attorney John Morgan, who spearheaded Florida’s successful medical marijuana amendment in 2016.

Under the proposed amendment, the state’s minimum wage would increase to $10 an hour on Sept. 30, 2021, which is $1.54 more than the current minimum wage of $8.46 an hour. Each year after 2021, it would increase by $1 until 2026 when $15 an hour would be reached on Sept. 30. The minimum wage for tipped income earners would increase to $11.98 per hour.

If passed, this amendment would result in a 77 percent increase in labor costs over the course of six years, with the restaurant and lodging industries feeling the brunt, according to a statement released by the the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

To place the amendment on the ballot, Morgan must collect 8 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last presidential election. He needs 766,200 signatures by Feb. 1, 2020.

As of Saturday, Florida For A Fair Wage had 288,653 valid petition signatures. Only 76,632 are needed for a judicial and financial impact review, and no one had filed opposition to the ballot initiative through the court system in the allotted time.

“Failure is never an option,” Morgan responded in an email to the Free Press when asked if he has a plan B should he fall short of the required signature.

His firms, Morgan Firm P.A. and Morgan & Morgan P.A., have contributed nearly $2.27 million to the amendment’s political action committee, which is chaired by Morgan.

A Quinnipiac University poll released June 20 found that 76 percent of Florida voters support increasing the minimum wage. But only 36 percent favored $15 per hour.

“[T]hree-quarters of Sunshine State voters think the minimum wage in the state needs to be higher. Many voters, however, aren’t ready to go as high as $15 per hour,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

“Anything is possible and sentiment could change, but the target of $15 per hour could jeopardize chances for raising the minimum wage if the question is on the ballot in November 2020.”

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association issued a statement strongly opposing the proposed amendment.

“The proposed ballot initiative to raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour has a lot of feel-good appeal, but behind all the warm and fuzzies lie a plethora of unintended consequences. An increase like this would have disastrous impacts on businesses and individuals alike,” said Carol Dover, CEO and president of FRLA.

“Business owners will be forced to find solutions to control costs, and these solutions will have a direct impact on our state’s 1.4 million hospitality workers. The most obvious solutions include reducing the number of employees, reducing the number of hours remaining employees work and seeking labor alternatives like automation.”

In the Florida Keys, each chamber of commerce will consider taking a position on the matter during their respective July meetings. Collectively, if they are in agreement, they’ll move forward with a unified statement.

Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dave Turner expressed his personal concerns about the proposed amendment last week.

“McDonald’s is an example of how they raised their wages but eliminated positions. They’re using more kiosks now. We are still looking at whether to stand behind it or not,” he said. “There’s a lot of ramifications that could come back to us later down the line. I know everyone is working two to three jobs just to pay their rent down here, but at the same time, it could easily break the businesses down here.”

With lodges and restaurants often operating with thin profit margins, many could be forced to close if the amendment is successful, according to Daniel Samess, Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce CEO.

“A lot of consumers may not understand the impact that this will have on their pockets and the industry,” he said. “This is a trickle-down effect that starts with the business owner, then the employees and it gets passed on to the consumer.”

But for minimum wage earners, the increase would be greatly welcomed.

“I’m for it,” said Christine Smith, a local server. “This would help me tremendously. I’m raising four kids between two jobs down here.”

tjava@keysnews.com