NJBIA: ‘Obamacare’ could drag recovery down

TRENTON – It’s all coming up roses until someone pricks their finger on the thorn.

The N.J. Business and Industry Association’s annual member survey released Tuesday yielded the most confident outlook since the recession year of 2009.

Then there is that Affordable Care Act to factor in: Ouch.

If there is one thing that could bring the burgeoning recovery in New Jersey to a screeching halt it is the health insurance reform that critics derisively dubbed Obamacare, the survey of 1,200 respondents showed.

“The survey certainly indicated by a factor of ten to one that companies thought Obamacare would have a negative impact on them,” said NJBIA President Phil Kirschner.

Eighty percent of the respondents expected their healthcare costs to rise, but even worse, according to Kirschner, 46 percent of that 80 percent expected the costs to rise by more than 11 percent, well outside the rate of inflation.

Most owners have grown accustomed to budgeting for healthcare increases from 5 to 7 percent, still outside the rate of inflation, but more predictable.

But over 11 percent? Maybe as high as 20 percent? “Those are not sustainable numbers,’’ Kirschner said.

NJBIA and other business groups campaigned unsuccessfully this election season against the referendum to increase the minimum wage, warning it would serve to drag down hiring.

But ACA’s unintended consequences?

“Most other aspects a business can control, the number of people hired, what kind of raises they’re going to give, but one area that has resisted change over 20 years (is health insurance costs) … throw in Obamacare … that might be a brake on the expansion,’’ Kirschner warned.

“One of the messages we hope the Legislature takes away from this is that while things are getting better this is not the time to assume that everything is back to normal and we can start passing things like minimum wage (hikes) and mandated sick leave.  It isn’t,” Kirschner said.

But to the chagrin of business groups, the wage hike is now in the state Constitution, and towns such as Jersey City under new Mayor and potential gubernatorial candidate Steve Fulop are addressing leave issues and enacting programs.

The Economic Opportunity Act recently signed into law strengthened tax incentives and “helps us get back in the game,’’ Kirschner said, but with New York and Pennsylvania dangling incentives of their own, holding the line on paid leave and possibly revisiting tax cut plans are more important than ever, as far as the business community is concerned.

“We can’t have a recovery without construction and durable manufacturing,” he said. “We were gratified to see a huge jump in confidence in residential and commercial construction and durable manufacturing.

“That was something we weren’t necessarily expecting to see.”

But in recent weeks, Gov. Chris Christie has resurrected the idea of revisiting tax cuts next year, with the Democrats immediately responding: show us the numbers first.

NJBIA hopes the numbers shown in the annual survey can be used to help sway policy-makers in which direction to head.

NJBIA: ‘Obamacare’ could drag recovery down