By Jamey Dunn
The House passed legislation that would allow voters to weigh in on the state’s minimum wage.
House Bill 3814 would place a question on the November general election ballot asking voters if the state’s minimum wage for workers over 18 years old should be raised to $10 an hour by 2015. Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Pat Quinn back an increase, but House Speaker Michael Madigan said last month that he did not have the vote to pass one. “It became apparent that there were some significant differences in opinion regarding this issue,” Madigan said on the House floor Tuesday.
The referendum would not be legally binding, making it little more than a poll of voters on the issue. However, Madigan said that the results of a ballot questions could provide supporters with “evidence” that they could use to get an increase passed in the future. “It’s clear that we need to do more to help reduce economic inequality,” he said. “There’s just no way to support a family on a minimum wage of $8.25 an hour.”
Senate President John Cullerton has said that he has the support to pass a wage increase in his chamber, so it is likely that the ballot question would pass in the Senate. Quinn has repeatedly called for an increase, so it seems probable that he would sign the bill. Also, such a ballot question might help with Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts in November— especially considering that the national party and President Barack Obama have been focusing on the issue recently.
Republicans said that a minimum wage increase could hurt job growth in the state. Some argued that lawmakers were shirking their responsibility by putting the question to voters. “Folks, do we really want to become California? The California legislature can’t make a tough decision without saying, ‘Oh, we’ve got to put it on the ballot,’” said Rep. David Harris “We, the legislature, are supposed to decide on these tough public policy issues.”
However, a group of Republicans from both chambers introduced legislation to include an advisory ballot question about a proposed extension of the current income tax rates. “We’re asking the Democrat majority, ‘Before you break your promise and make your job-killing tax hike permanent, why not ask the people how they feel,” said Palatine Republican Sen. Matt Murphy.
When the proposal came up on the floor during the debate over the minimum wage question, Madigan said, “On this side of the aisle, we’re working our way through the question of extending the income tax increase.” Madigan says he is lobbying House Democrats to extend the current tax rates, which are scheduled to begin stepping down next fiscal year. He told reporters yesterday that the plan is “significantly” short of the support needed to pass.