SPRINGFIELD – The biggest issue hanging over Illinois lawmakers in a final three-day veto session this week is whether they can muster the votes to approve a minimum wage hike an uphill climb that proponents are continuing to pursue amid behind-the-scenes maneuvering in both Springfield and Chicago.
Passing the increase would be a capstone on Gov. Pat Quinn’s decades-long political career, and Chicago officials are expediting an attempt to raise the city’s wage in anticipation of action in the capitol. With Quinn’s political capital waning in his final days in office, the statewide bill’s fate rests in the hands of fellow Democratic leaders with big majorities but their own agendas.
The General Assembly, which reconvenes Tuesday, has been quietly winding down for the year on most other substantive issues in the midst of the first inter-party transition between governors in more than a decade.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, said she intends to call the minimum wage bill for a vote in the Senate this week. Earlier this month, she introduced a new proposal that would increase the state’s current minimum wage of $8.25 to $11 for workers 18 and older by 2017 _ a measure that goes beyond what Quinn and many other Democrats were demanding during the election campaign.
While Senate President John Cullerton says he’s confident his chamber can pass the legislation in its current form, its fate in the House is far from certain. There, regional differences have arisen within Speaker Michael Madigan’s slim 71-member supermajority, with downstate and suburban Democrats expressing fears it could hurt local businesses.
”I believe the speaker is holding the cards right now,” Lightford said. ”The speaker can motivate his members to be in support of the minimum wage.”
Madigan, a Chicago Democrat known for his ability to push or stall key pieces of legislation, has said he supports the wage hike and co-sponsored a November referendum in which a solid majority of Illinoisans expressed support as well. His spokesman, Steve Brown, says it’s a matter of gauging the support of the entire House caucus, and that the speaker is determining ”what changes if any go into a minimum wage increase bill.”
Chicago officials have expressed concern that business groups will push for legislation that includes a prohibition on municipalities raising their minimum wage higher than the state’s. In light of that, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called an emergency session of the City Council on Tuesday to vote on raising the city’s minimum wage to $13 by 2018.
In a letter to Madigan and Cullerton, 34 council members called an attempt to pre-empt the city ”unacceptable” and accused statehouse leaders of playing ”games.”
Another consideration is incoming Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s request that lawmakers take no serious action until after his inauguration in January. Rauner says he would support a minimum wage hike but only paired with other economic reforms.
Madigan was not in Springfield for the first week of the legislators’ veto session earlier this month, but he is expected to be there this week, Brown said.
Quinn’s spokesman, Grant Klinzman, said the governor has been meeting and talking regularly with members of the legislature to discuss the proposal and ”will continue to focus on this important mission” for the remainder of his term.
The speaker has other issues for which he might want Quinn’s signature. One is Madigan’s proposal to separate the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum from the state Historic Preservation Agency, after the two organizations have seen frequent clashes between their leaders.
Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat from Marengo, has been chairing hearings on the issue, and suggests that lawmakers wait to vote for a study to be completed in mid-January. But Brown indicated that Madigan ”would like to move ahead as quickly as possible.”
”I can’t imagine any kind of report concluding, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,”’ Brown said.
Also pending is whether to approve funds to supplement the $35.7 billion budget approved by lawmakers in May. The amount didn’t allocate enough money to cover state agency expenses, anticipating that lawmakers would return after the election to debate whether to extend a temporary income tax increase. That looks increasingly unlikely, and the expiration of the tax hike in January, as scheduled, will mean a $2 billion loss in revenue this fiscal year.
Last week, Quinn’s assistant budget director Abdon Pallasch said ”not much had changed on the issue,” noting ”no legislation has been introduced” in regard to a supplemental budget.
Brown said members of the speaker’s office have spoken with Quinn’s administration on the issue, and could know more early this week.
The minimum wage legislation is SB68.
The Lincoln Library bill is SB218.