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Minimum wage, maximum headache

Illinois voters have spoken. 

And they overwhelmingly agreed they want the hourly minimum wage in this state increased to $10 an hour by Jan. 1.

ANALYSIS

The ballot question won 67 percent of the vote statewide and 87 percent in the city of Chicago. 

The appetite was similarly strong across the nation, with referenda advancing in five out of five states. 

It then becomes a vexing question for Illinois’ governor-elect, Bruce Rauner, who is building his transition team to help shape his entry into office. 

For Rauner, there was perhaps no issue more politically volatile than the minimum wage. 

His shifting positions were the subject of repeated attacks by Gov. Pat Quinn, who assailed him as a cold multimillionaire who once advocated eliminating the minimum wage. 

It was a minefield for Rauner, who spun in circles on the matter in the early part of his campaign and again in the general election as audio and video revealed one varying stance after another. 

In the last year, Rauner was on record having proposed lowering the wage in Illinois and saying he supported eliminating it all together. 

Video surfaced showing Rauner stating that he was “adamantly, adamantly” against raising the minimum wage. 

Rauner and his campaign were well aware that public opinion strongly supported the opposite.

In the Republican primary, Rauner faced waves of criticism after news exploded that the multimillionaire was on video recommending a $1-an-hour decrease in the state’s minimum wage. It didn’t look good for a man who owns nine homes and who could afford such luxuries as a $100,000 parking space to say he would take money out of the pockets of short-order cooks or fast-food workers, and the comment had some people questioning whether he would drop out of the race. 

Rauner walked back the remarks, calling them “flippant,” and then he put forth a position he stuck with: raising the wage only with a series of tax reforms, tort reform and changes to workers’ compensation laws.  

Now Rauner may be faced with the issue early in his tenure. On Thursday, Rauner called raising the wage a “priority” for him. He maintained other reforms would have to accompany such a move.  

“Raising the minimum wage is a priority for us, as I’ve said, and the critical thing is that we do it an overall context where we drive up Illinois’ competitiveness, as I’ve always said,” Rauner said. “That is the critical priority.” 

In his first news conference as governor-elect, Rauner said Thursday that he didn’t want the Legislature to tackle any weighty issues until he was sworn in as governor.

“I hope that anything of significance to be addressed can wait until mid-January, so we can all deal with it together on a bipartisan basis,” he said.

Still, it may be tackled before then. In conceding Tuesday’s election, Quinn said he planned to push for a raise in the wage, a platform of his campaign.

 “I really look forward to working with the Legislature in the time I have left as governor to get that job done,” Quinn said Wednesday.

Representatives for the leaders of both chambers seemed open to the idea of taking up the matter in the veto session. 

“I think if there’s support for any particular proposal, the Legislature should act,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago. “I think the turnout for the [minimum wage] referendum, for the question, was pretty impressive. We always talk to members; that will be part of the consideration.”

A spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, also said it was among the issues that Cullerton would broach with members before the veto session.

It’s unclear what role Rauner would play in the background.

While aides had told some news outlets on Thursday that Rauner wouldn’t actively lobby against such a move in the veto session, on Friday the camp didn’t clarify beyond what Rauner had already said.

“Regardless of when it is done, Bruce supports raising the minimum wage as part of a comprehensive package,” spokesman Mike Schrimpf said.  

Even if the rate is raised to $10 an hour before Rauner is sworn in, the debate is bound to continue. There’s still a fight in the City of Chicago to raise the wage even higher, to $15 an hour. Dialogue over raising the wage gained momentum nationally in the months leading up to the Nov. 4 election. 

“Voters went five for five to increase it,” President Barack Obama said in an election post-mortem speech last week. “That should give us new reason to get it done for everybody with the national increase in the minimum wage.”