PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday November 5th, 2014, 6:03pm

Illinoisans Overwhelmingly Back Statewide Advisory Ballot Questions — Now What?

Progress Illinois chats with political scientists about the likelihood of Springfield lawmakers taking up the three statewide voter-backed advisory ballot questions.

Illinois voters on Tuesday decisively backed three statewide advisory ballot referendums involving the minimum wage, a tax on millionaires and contraceptive coverage.

The results of these public policy questions, which many political observers say were more about boosting voter turnout among Democrats than gauging voter support for the ideas, are legislatively non-binding.

"Clearly, the political strategy was to drive Democratic turnout, and clearly it failed," said John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner unseated incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in Tuesday's election. At the congressional level, Republicans also picked up two seats held by incumbent Democrats in Illinois' 10th and 12th districts.

Still, the strong voter support on policies normally associated with the Democratic Party show that "Illinois is still a blue state even though the Republicans had some success both at the congressional level and statewide yesterday," said Matthew Streb, chair of the department of political science at Northern Illinois University.

It remains to be seen whether state lawmakers will choose to take action on any of the referendum issues. Of the three voter-backed policies, political scientists said the minimum wage issue is the mostly likely to be considered.

"I think the other issues, while they passed, don't have the political support to be enacted," noted Dick Simpson, political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The minimum wage question, which saw the most publicity of the three referendums, asked voters whether the state's base hourly wage for those over the age of 18 should be raised from the current $8.25 to $10 by January 1, 2015. That question garnered approval from 67 percent of voters.

A major issue in the Illinois gubernatorial race was the minimum wage. Quinn has advocated lifting it to at least $10 an hour. Rauner, who has wavered his stance on the issue, supports a state minimum wage hike if "pro-business reforms" are also implemented.

Political experts have two theories on when Illinois legislators might take up a state-level minimum wage increase.

The Democrat-controlled state legislature could act during the upcoming veto session while Quinn is still in charge. Or the Democrats -- who still hold super majorities in the state House and Senate following Tuesday's election -- could wait to make the minimum wage, and possibly the two other referendum issues, "a political game" in the next legislative session after Rauner is sworn into office on January 12.

"If I were playing politics, I would wait until the next General Assembly, pass it then and force the governor to have to veto it, or force him to have to sign it because you have the public behind him, and break a campaign promise," explained Nick Kachiroubas, visiting assistant professor at DePaul University's School of Public Service. 

Streb agreed that the Democrats are more likely to take that route.

"I do think that Gov. Quinn may have different goals here than the Democrats in the legislature do," he said. "Once Gov. Quinn leaves, Gov. Quinn's gone. The Democrats in the legislature are still obviously governing. And yeah, you want to kind to hold the governor-elect's feet to the fire on some of these issues."

That being said, Quinn will surely try to get as many proposals passed as he can during the lame duck session, Streb explained. Quinn has vowed to keep up his push for a minimum wage hike before his term ends.

"In some ways, this is the opportunity for him to put his final stamp on his administration," he said. "If you were able to get the minimum wage passed, that could be something he could hang his hat on and look back fondly on as governor."

Simpson stands firm that the minimum wage will be considered in the veto session. He doubts the Democrats will make the minimum wage a "political game" once Rauner takes office.

"They'll have bigger fights over the budget and the pensions," Simpson said.

But Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, is not completely convinced a minimum wage hike will be on the veto session's agenda.

Democrats "could have done something about that for six years," Mooney said of the minimum wage. "Will they do it now? I guess it's possible, but there's probably a reason they didn't do it before now."

"But on the other hand, this might give them impetus to do it," he continued. "I just think that there's probably not a consensus in the Democratic caucus that this is something that needs to be done right away, otherwise they would have already done it. Maybe they will ... push it through [the veto session] and they can take credit for it, or maybe they actually want it to happen. We'll just have to wait and see what they do."

Illinois voters, meanwhile, also backed the idea of imposing a 3 percent millionaire tax on incomes over $1 million to fund education. The measure saw support from 63 percent of voters.

The tax would bring in an estimated $1 billion for schools if it were approved. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) abandoned his proposed constitutional amendment for a millionaire tax during the last legislative session after it was apparent that he lacked the necessary votes to pass it.

The chances of a millionaire tax being passed into law anytime soon are slim, political scientists said.

"It was a symbolic thing, and Rauner announced his opposition from the get-go," Jackson said. "It would be very difficult to turn that one into law."

Kachiroubas said it would be unlikely for the millionaire tax plan to garner enough support due to its economic implications.

"A lot of those millionaires are the people that are running companies that provide jobs, so if we jack up the tax on millionaires too high, those millionaires may choose to take their businesses and their jobs to another state," he said. "So that's why I think that's probably the weakest one [of the ballot questions], because even Democratic legislators know that. And they know that they need to have at least some level of business continuing in Illinois to be able to be viable."

The third advisory ballot referendum asked voters whether any health insurance plan in Illinois that provides prescription drug coverage should be required to include prescription birth control as part of those plans. That question, which passed with 66 percent of the vote, came in response to the June 30 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The nation's high court ruled that some employers do not have to provide contraception coverage as part of their employees' health insurance plan if such coverage violates the employer's religious beliefs.

The contraceptive-coverage question has a greater possibility of being addressed by the legislature than the millionaire tax, Jackson said.

"The Democrats, I think, are pretty committed to the whole protection of contraception, and Rauner didn't announce his opposition to that one, so maybe it's likely" such a measure would be enacted, Jackson said. "So in short, minimum wage? Possible. Contraceptive? Possible, depending on what the governor does. Millionaires tax? Not likely."

Stay tuned.


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