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May 25, 2014

Wage issues for Illinois legislators

Illinois lawmakers, who usually fight hard to keep issues off the ballot, badly want voters to have a say on whether Illinois should raise the minimum wage. The House last week passed House Bill 3814 to put the issue on the ballot.

If that makes you suspicious, it should.

House Speaker Michael Madigan wants this because, despite Democrats having supermajorities in the House and Senate, they don't have enough votes to raise the minimum wage. They think a big "yes" vote would push reluctant lawmakers to get on board. And if having this on the ballot turns out more Democratic voters in November, so much the better.

But why waste the public's time and money by putting this on the ballot? It would be an advisory referendum, meaning elected officials would still have to decide the issue. Votes like this only make sense if they are binding and directly involve government: term limits and tax increases and legislative redistricting, for instance.

It's ironic that while lawmakers are trying to be champions to low-wage workers with the minimum wage, another bill that would help those same employees is in jeopardy. House Bill 5622, pushed by Attorney General Lisa Madigan, would regulate the fees on payroll cards used by many fast-food and retail businesses. The fees of some of them -- from checking balances to inactivity -- eat away at the workers' earnings.

Lisa Madigan's office said the bill is getting 11th hour opposition from the banking industry and may not get voted on before the legislative session ends.

Both bills are now in the Senate. Approve HB 5622 and reject HB 3814.

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