Illinois' most high-profile Democrats have pushed in recent months to increase the minimum wage—but experts have offered mixed opinions on whether they will actually be successful, considering the looming election season.
“It depends on what you mean by success,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. “If you mean the minimum wage will get raised, no. If you mean Democratic turnout will increase, maybe.”
Statewide elections are in November, and polling indicates that Gov. Quinn faces stiff competition from Republican Bruce Rauner. Mayor Emanuel, who is up for re-election in February, faces flagging support from minority voters, according to a Sun-Times poll from earlier this month.
The wage issue is intended to help both Quinn and Emanuel bolster support on the left, according to UIC professor and former alderman Dick Simpson.
“For Rahm Emanuel, it’s a useful issue in the mayoral campaign, particularly if he faces someone like Karen Lewis or even Bob Fioretti, both of whom have more union support,” he said.
Regardless of the motives behind the minimum wage push, Simpson said he is confident the minimum wage will go up.
“I really expect both the state and the city to pass a minimum wage [bill] that increases it,” he said.
The current statewide minimum wage is $8.25 an hour for non-tipped employees, one dollar more than the national minimum.
On Wednesday, the mayor introduced an ordinance to the City Council that would raise the citywide wage to $13, but the council likely will not vote on it until after the state legislature takes action on a potential statewide minimum wage bill.
The legislature is expected to delay that decision until after the November election, when voters will respond to a referendum on raising the wage to $10. The referendum is nonbinding.
“If they were going to do it, why didn’t they do it now?” Yepsen said, referring to the legislature approving a statewide increase in the minimum wage. “Why did they make [the state referendum] advisory? The Democrats control the House, the Senate, the governorship.”
Earlier this month, Emanuel denied that the wage push is politically motivated. “This is not about ginning up for an election,” he said, according to the Tribune. “We’re doing this to make sure those who work for a living … have what they need, to make sure the minimum wage pays the goal of no child whose parent works is raised in poverty.”
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who worked on the $13 ordinance, said the city’s plan to delay a vote on the minimum wage ordinance is not motivated by campaign season. Rather, he said, if the city were to raise its wage before the state, support for a statewide raise might drop. He is confident that one way or another, the minimum wage will increase.
“We’re going to move. It’s just a matter of waiting to move until after the state,” he said.
According to the city, the gradual increase to $13 would add $800 million to the local economy and affect more than 400,000 workers.
Yepsen said the only way Illinois could actually end up raising the minimum wage is if the referendum passes by a significant margin and Democrats retain power.
“They’ve got to keep faith with the ones who voted for them,” he said.
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