PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday November 18th, 2014, 5:04pm

Veto Session Preview: Will The Legislature Take Up A Minimum Wage Hike?

Progress Illinois previews what's ahead for lawmakers in the veto session, which starts this week.

After a statewide advisory referendum showed that Illinoisans overwhelmingly support a minimum wage increase, eyes have turned toward Springfield for legislative action as the general assembly gears up for the post-election veto session that starts Wednesday.

Outgoing Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn who campaigned on raising the state's minimum wage says he will continue his push for an increase to at least $10 an hour during the veto session, which runs this week and three days in early December. But whether the Democrat-controlled legislature actually moves on the minimum wage issue before Republican Governor-elect Bruce Rauner assumes office on January 12 remains a big question mark.

It is more likely, however, that a vote to extend of the state's 2011 temporary income tax hike is off the veto session's agenda, according to political experts and Democratic leaders.

The income tax increase is slated to phase out January 1, resulting in a $4 billion loss in state revenue. Quinn wanted to keep the higher rates in place to avoid "extreme and radical cuts" to education and public services. Rauner -- who has urged lawmakers against taking action on major issues before he is in charge -- favors rolling back the tax hike completely over a four-year period.

There was a possibility that Democrats would attempt to extend the income tax increase shortly after the election if Quinn won. Now, legislators are awaiting specifics from Rauner on how he plans to balance the budget without additional taxes. Rauner's first budget address is expected in February.

"We are not going to vote to extend the income tax in the veto session," Senate President John Cullerton said last week on Chicago Tonight, adding that Rauner is "the one, as the governor, who has to make a budget proposal."

Political observer and former State Rep. Jim Nowlan, who has co-authored several textbooks on Illinois politics, said "the Democrats don't want to do (Rauner) any favors" on the budget.

"He's the one who's been talking so boldly about what he's going to be able to do with taxes and spending for education," Nowlan said. "And so there, they want to put him on the spot, because he's going to have to present a balanced budget that will have $4 billion less in revenue than the $35 billion in the present general funds."

Nick Kachiroubas, visiting assistant professor at DePaul University's School of Public Service, anticipates lawmakers will work during the veto session to "sway public opinion for the income tax in the (governor-elect's) proposals one way or another."

"I think you're going to hear a lot of jockeying and positions, but not necessarily the outcomes in the legislation at this point," he said.

Minimum Wage Increase?

During the spring session, legislation that would gradually increase the state's minimum wage to $10.65 an hour did not garner enough support to advance out of either the House or Senate. The chambers instead passed a measure to place an advisory question on the statewide ballot asking whether Illinois' base hourly wage for those over the age of 18 should be raised from the current level of $8.25 to $10 by January 1, 2015. That non-binding referendum saw support from 67 percent of Illinois voters.

State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) said during an appearance last week on the Chicago Sun-Times' Off Message program that he plans to "counsel action" on a minimum wage increase during the veto session.

"I think it's incumbent upon us to follow up on Pat Quinn's lead and make the will of the people the law of the land," he said.

"I think we can pass it in the Senate. The House is another body," Harmon noted. "I haven't done a vote count there, but I believe that we could do what we told the people we were going to do."

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, who was also a guest on the newspaper's political show, believes a minimum wage vote is unlikely during the veto session.

"I talked to the speaker and I was with the president of the Senate earlier [Thursday], and I don't think we will see a vote on the minimum wage during the veto session," he said. "If the speaker wanted to pass a minimum wage, he had the 71 votes to do it, but they didn't. I think they're nervous about it. I believe it was put on the ballot to drive out the base, and I think that we should wait for a new administration after Bruce Rauner gets sworn in ... to work with him and to try and find the right balance."

Rauner has wavered his stance on the minimum wage, but now supports an increase if "pro-business reforms," such as changes to workers compensation, are also implemented.

Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science and public affairs at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said Democratic leaders might hold off on a minimum wage vote during the veto session and instead use the issue as a bargaining chip in the next regular session in negotiations to pass a budget or other legislation.

Redfield also said it is unclear if the House in particular currently has enough votes to pass a minimum wage hike.

There is talk, meanwhile, that Democratic leaders are considering an effort to stop Chicago from setting its own minimum wage. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to see the city's minimum wage lifted to $13 an hour by 2018.

Action Now and Grassroots Collaborative, which have been pushing for a $15 minimum wage in Chicago, sent out press statements Monday night, blasting any action by state lawmakers to prevent the city from implementing a minimum wage higher than the state's level. 

"By moving to revise state constitutional law to deny Chicago the right to raise its own minimum wage, [House Speaker Michael] Madigan and Cullerton are listening to the interests of low-wage employers and groups like the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, who have given them hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, and new Republican Governor-elect Bruce Rauner, who met privately with the two legislators last week, instead of the Chicago citizens they were elected to represent," Grassroots Collaborative's statement reads.

Action Now's Executive Director Katelyn Johnson added that her organization "wholeheartedly condemns any effort by Speaker of the House Michael Madigan to subvert the will of voters by preempting home rule, which would block Chicago from raising its minimum wage."

"Eliminating home rule is bigger than just the minimum wage," she added. "It is about taking away people's right to democratic participation. Our voices are being silenced ... Action Now will fight against the preemption of home rule because we see it for what it is: a debased political move to keep hardworking people in poverty while big corporations prosper."

Further complicating the minimum wage issue during the veto session is the requirement of a supermajority vote in both chambers to pass legislation with an immediate effective date. Proposals with a July 1 effective date, however, require a simple majority vote to pass.

"It's going to be very difficult for anyone to put together a super majority, even though Pat Quinn's obviously said he's all in favor of [raising the minimum wage], his cloud has waned, and his ability to get things done is going to be very limited," said John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. "So long and short is: I wouldn't expect much out of the veto session, other than to do what it's called to do," which is to consider possible veto overrides.

Overriding a governor's veto requires a three-fifths majority vote in both chambers.

Ride-Sharing Veto Override?

Quinn used his veto pen on 11 bills during the spring session, including legislation to regulate commercial ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. 

An attempt to override Quinn's controversial ride-sharing veto is likely on the upcoming veto session's docket.

"The motion will be filed to override the governor's [ride-sharing] veto, and we may take it up next week," Durkin said last week on the Sun-Times' political show. "I do believe it will be called for a vote."

The Illinois House and Senate both passed the Ridesharing Arrangements and Consumer Protection Act, HB 4075, and its trailer amendment, HB 5331, in the spring with strong bipartisan support. Together, the legislation would have required all ride-sharing drivers to undergo background checks and have at least $350,000 in commercial liability insurance coverage. Drivers who work more than 36 hours in a two-week period would also have to get a chauffeur's license.

Quinn said at the time that he vetoed the ride-sharing legislation because "it would have mandated a one-size-fits-all approach to a service that is best regulated at the local level."

State Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) says he will push for the ride-sharing veto override, arguing that "the regulations were not an overreach, but necessary to ensure customers are protected and unnecessary risks are avoided when stepping into any commercial vehicle offering rides for hire - whether they be provided by Uber and Lyft or taxi companies," according to a news release.

Another high-profile veto by Quinn that might see override action involves legislation that would raise the interstate highway speed limit from 65 to 70 mph.

The veto session, meanwhile, is also expected to feature a subject matter hearing Tuesday on SB 16, a contentious proposal seeking to reform the state's school-funding formula. The measure, spearheaded by State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), passed the full Senate in May but was not considered in the House before the last session ended.

Overall, political experts said they do not expect many big issues to be tackled in the veto session, though there's a possibility the lame-duck session in January, before Rauner is sworn in, could see more movement on major legislation.

"At this point, I think everyone's kind of taking a breath to say, 'OK, where do we go from here? And how do we figure out how to work together and ... which issues are we not going to compromise,'" Kachiroubas said.

Redfield anticipates a "quiet veto session" setting up for an interesting next regular session, during which lawmakers could either "surprise everyone and get stuff done, or there could be just this total blow out."

Stay tuned.


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