Quinn takes minimum wage challenge

Gov. Pat Quinn takes the stage to push for a raise in the minimum wage in Illinois while announcing his participation in the minimum wage challenge - living off $79 for a week - before service Sunday Aug. 31, 2014 at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, 4543 S. Princeton Ave. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune) B583979230Z.1 - ct-quinn-minimum-wage-challenge-met ....OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION... (Michael Tercha / Chicago Tribune / August 31, 2014)

Gov. Pat Quinn said Sunday he had begun a weeklong attempt to spend no more than $79 on food and other expenses, part of an effort to build support for a minimum wage referendum that will be on the ballot in November, when voters will also choose between the incumbent Democrat and his Republican challenger.

The $79 budget, which Quinn announced at a South Side church, is an estimate that reflects what a minimum wage worker in Illinois can spend each week on food and recreation after covering the costs of housing, transportation and taxes, according to Quinn's re-election campaign.

"It's very important, I think, for all of us who are in government to understand what everyday people who earn a living and are working hard on the minimum wage, what they have to contend with," Quinn told reporters outside the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in the Fuller Park neighborhood, where he made the announcement.

Quinn said he had started the challenge Sunday morning and had eaten a banana for breakfast.

Quinn joins a number of other politicians who have taken up similar challenges, including former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, whose money ran out quickly when he tried to live on a minimum wage budget in July.

In Strickland's case, he was allowed $77 per week for food, transportation and recreational spending, an amount based on the $7.25 hourly minimum wage set by federal law. Strickland took the challenge as a private citizen, so he didn't have to contend with the duties of elected office. He wrote afterward that the budgetary constraints forced him to walk places rather than take a taxi, and caused him to eat smaller, less healthy meals. Still, his budget ran out after five days.

Quinn's budget is based on Illinois' minimum wage of $8.25 and was calculated after transportation costs, meaning he can continue to travel the state for official duties and campaign events without counting those costs against his budget.

The move comes as Quinn faces a re-election challenge from businessman Bruce Rauner, an equity investor who stumbled earlier this year on the minimum wage issue, first saying that he would support rolling back the state minimum to $7.25 before then saying he would back a minimum wage increase if it came with other pro-business changes to the law. Rauner's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Quinn did not mention his opponent or his bid for re-election when he made the announcement, casting the challenge instead as an attempt to mobilize support for the non-binding minimum wage referendum, which asks voters whether the state minimum should be increased to $10 an hour. Democrats put the question on the ballot in an attempt to increase turnout for the Nov. 4 election.

Quinn said he expected to be watching "every single penny" and was already feeling the constraints of the budget. His niece had a birthday Sunday and would be getting a birthday note but no card, Quinn said.

"I think that kind of brings it home to you a little bit," Quinn said. "Not only food but things that some of us take for granted — buying a birthday card or something like that — that might be beyond the means of folks who are living on the minimum wage and trying to raise a family."

kgeiger@tribune.com

Twitter @kimgeiger