Illinois Statehouse News

Hike in minimum wage unlikely this year

2014-02-10T00:00:00Z Hike in minimum wage unlikely this yearKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
February 10, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Despite the possible momentum from not only President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech, but from Gov. Pat Quinn's State of the State speech, efforts to raise Illinois' minimum wage went nowhere last week.

State Sen. Kim Lightford, a Maywood Democrat and major champion of raising Illinois' minimum wage, had been poised to move her legislation through the Senate Executive Committee on Wednesday.

The day came and went with no word on why she didn't call the bill for a debate.

Although the dollar figure for where she wants to set the wage has been a moving figure, Lightford was most recently looking to bump the current $8.25 per hour wage to somewhere in the $10.65 range.

Over in the House, another committee had been slated to here testimony about the minimum wage on Wednesday. But, whether it was the cold, snowy weather, or a lack of interest, not enough members showed up to the session in order to make it a legal meeting.

Before any testimony was taken, the chairman closed down the hearing.

The tentative nature of the minimum wage fight — despite the calls from Obama and Quinn — shouldn't come as a surprise.

After Quinn's State of the State speech, more than a few Democrats and all Republicans I spoke with said an increase isn't in the cards this year.

One border state senator, Mike Jacobs, of East Moline, said it would be a lot easier if the federal government took action on the matter so that Illinois' minimum wage wouldn't be so far out of whack with nearby states.

-- DELAYING TACTIC

Democrats in the House and Senate gave the state's minority party an opportunity to cry foul last week when they gave Gov. Quinn a few extra weeks to prepare his annual budget plan.

Key among the complaints was that the delay gives Quinn until after the March 18 primary election to reveal how he's going to handle the loss of an estimated $1.5 billion next year when the temporary state income tax increase begins to roll back.

Democrats correctly pointed out that giving a governor more time for his budget speech is not uncommon. Back in the 1990s, former Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican, was given until April to deliver his budget blueprint.

Republicans correctly pointed out that Quinn has known the date of his budget address for months and should have planned his time accordingly.

Perhaps more importantly, state Rep. John Bradley pointed out that the Legislature has mostly ignored Quinn's budget proposals in recent years.

From a strategic point of view, one Democratic operative suggested that his party should have forced Quinn to stick with the pre-primary date in order to force the Republican candidates for governor into revealing how they'd handle the loss of the temporary income tax revenue.

But, as a top Quinn aide reminded me, in 2010, then-Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady went through the entire election season without ever seriously detailing how he'd handle the state's budget mess.

-- LAME DUCKERY

The spring legislative session is just barely underway and Republicans are already fretting about a lame duck session that won't be unfolding until next January.

In a news conference last week, members of the House Republican caucus stood united in calling for a constitutional amendment that would forever alter the time-worn practice of using soon-to-be-ousted lawmakers to take tough votes on controversial issues.

The focal point of their concern was the 2011 lame duck session when outgoing lawmakers helped provide the requisite number of votes to implement the 67 percent temporary increase in the income tax.

“It is unfair that outgoing legislators are allowed to make decisions on controversial issues like the income tax increase of 2011," said state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro. "This proposal allows the newly elected members to make important decisions with the best interests of their constituents in mind.”

It should be noted that Bost is poised to become a lame duck himself. He's running for a seat in Congress and will leave the General Assembly in January 2015 whether he wins or loses.

The GOP lawmakers acknowledged their hands were dirty too.

The last time Republicans controlled the Legislature — way back in the mid-90s — they controlled a lame-duck session that put an end to, among other things, straight party voting. They had hoped it would give them a leg up against the Democrat machine.

Note: It didn't.

The opinions are the writer's. Kurt Erickson is the Lee Enterprises Springfield bureau chief. He can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or (217) 782-4043.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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