Quinn’s minimum wage push: good policy or election year politics?

CHICAGO — With less than a month before the November election, Gov. Quinn is making one last push for a minimum wage increase, or at least for voters’ support when they find a $10 minimum wage hike advisory referendum on their ballots Nov. 4th.

But Quinn’s efforts have received a fair amount of pushback from various groups and from the other side of the political aisle.

Kim Maisch, state director for the Illinois chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said raising the minimum wage is a poor decision for Illinois voters.

“The money employers have to spend on labor isn’t infinite,” Maisch said. “When labor costs increase, many will be forced to curb their hiring goals. This is why a large majority of small businesses are against an increased minimum wage. It keeps them from growing.”

Maisch also said the increased cost of labor will get passed onto consumers through higher prices on products, causing many customers to look elsewhere.

“If significantly increasing the minimum wage results in higher price on hamburgers, or gasoline or other products, customers will look to buy them other places,” she said. “Not to mention, employers will look to move to other states where the cost of labor isn’t so high.”

At a news conference this weekend with actor Martin Sheen — famous for playing President Jed Bartlett in the television series The West Wing — Quinn again threw his weight behind the minimum wage referendum, noting that if it passes, Democrats will push for legislation that would require an increase statewide.

Sheen, who called Quinn a longtime friend and “one of my heroes,” was there to offer his support for the governor’s initiative.

“We search for something in our lives worth fighting for,” Sheen said. “Because when we find it, we will have found a way to unite the will-of-the-spirit with the work of the flesh. And the world will discover fire for the second time.”

The governor “reminds us that one heart with courage is a majority,” he said.

Quinn argued that raising the minimum wage was the right thing to do, but didn’t deny the fact that it has a political angle as well.

“You got to build majorities in a democracy. You got to get people in both houses to vote ‘yes,’” Quinn said at the press conference. “I think the referendum is a good way to have the voice of the people be heard by legislators. And when they return to Springfield, we’ll get the job done.”

Of the political angle, State Senator and U.S. Senate candidate Jim Oberweis, R – Sugar Grove, who filed a minimum wage increase bill of his own last year, called the referendum effort “clearly political in nature.”

Oberweis agreed that raising the minimum wage was certainly worth discussing, but that a referendum wasn’t the best way to go about it.

“It’s an effort to drive voters to the polls,” he said. “Not an honest attempt at gauging public opinion. It’s an election year stunt.”

Raise Illinois is perhaps the most prominent advocacy group for increasing the minimum wage in the state. The group hopes voters use the referendum as a way of putting pressure on lawmakers.

“This measure is an opportunity to move the conversation about giving low-wage workers better wages while engaging new communities about the need for a fair economy and breathing new life into the democratic process for low-wage workers who have been left behind for too long,” the group said in a press release.

State Sen. Daniel Biss, D – Evanston, said the referendum measure was a smart one and would act as a guiding light for politicians trying to determine what their constituents want.

“When our legislative body is curious about the will of the public, matters like this serve as a mechanism to find out the answer,” the senator said. “Many of us are still trying to decide what to do about this tough issue and so a referendum like this makes sense.”

While the national minimum wage requirement is $7.25 an hour, some states have wage floors much higher. Illinois’ current minimum wage is $8.25 an hour, placing it higher than all but four other states.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, R – Palatine, said the referendum was less of an honest approach to determining where the public stands and more likely a political ploy.

“This really has the look of election year political stuff,” he continued. “They’re trying to drive base turnout because you’re afraid otherwise they might not come out and vote.”

Murphy said a labor cost hike will price many employees out of the market and result in job losses.

“There’s a reason the best states for growth have the lowest minimum wages,” he said.

Voters will have a chance to voice their opinion on raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour when they go to the polls on Election Day this November.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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