SPRINGFIELD-Unable to muster votes to pass a minimum-wage increase this spring, House Speaker Michael Madigan moved legislation out of committee Friday that would ask voters to weigh in on the question this fall in an advisory referendum.
After some testy debate, the measure passed the House Labor and Commerce Committee on a partisan 12-7 roll call, with one member voting present, and now moves to the House floor for action possibly next week.
The Chicago Democrat’s plan would ask voters whether they support raising the state’s $8.25 an hour minimum wage, which hasn’t gone up in four years, to $10 an hour by Jan. 1, 2015.
“I’m here to try and lift up,” Madigan told the committee as his arms gestured upward.
Republicans on the committee voted nearly uniformly against the plan and were joined in opposing it by key Illinois business groups.
“I’m not here for employers. I’m here for workers, for people…who are up against it, and they want the government to give them a little help in this United States of America,” Madigan said. “The simple question is do you want the government to help the people at the bottom or do you not. That’s it.”
Madigan got into a testy exchange with one Republican on the panel, state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, who opposes his plan and justified her position from observations she collected as a tax preparer for eight years.
“I can assure you that I have done a number…of tax returns for people at the bottom and when it’s all said and done — when you take into account all the public benefits they’re receiving — they receive an inordinate amount, well over their amount in earned income, in benefits back from the government,” Ives told Madigan. “There is a safety net already in place, and I personally think this is…anti-business.”
Madigan appeared to grow angry at Ives’ statement.
“I don’t think you should use the word ‘inordinate’ when you’re talking about people who are on government benefits. They don’t want to be on government benefits. They want a job where they can earn a living, support their family, live a nice life. So please,” Madigan continued, his voice rising, “don’t use the word ‘inordinate’ when people are on government benefits. They don’t want to have the benefits.”
As much as Madigan is seeking input from voters on the question, his push also could help spur turnout in the Democratic Party base and help Quinn in what is a tight re-election bid against Bruce Rauner.
But Madigan said turnout could cut both ways if the question appears on the Nov. 4 ballot.
“I think it’s the type of question that’s going to encourage all voters to come to the polling place, for and against that individual question,” said Madigan, who predicted possible action in the Legislature next January if voters demonstrated a “solid positive vote” in favor of increasing the minimum wage.
The referendum also keeps alive what key Democrats believe is a potent campaign weapon against Rauner, the multimillionaire private equity investor who has waffled on the question of whether to require employers put more in the pockets of Illinois’ lowest wage earners.
Asked after Friday’s committee whether the referendum could be helpful to Quinn, Madigan told reporters, “You may want to talk to the governor about that.”
Pressed on whether he had his own opinion on the question, Madigan answered, “Not today.”