Illinois governor faces waning and difficult options on getting minimum wage increase

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SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — A final piece of outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn's legacy is up in the air as lawmakers left Springfield for the year without sending the Chicago Democrat legislation increasing Illinois' minimum wage.

After championing the issue through a grueling re-election bid, Quinn is left with few tough options before Republican Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner takes office. He can call a special session, forcing lawmakers to focus on the issue but at the risk of them refusing to act. Or he can try to persuade House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton to return, a skill Quinn hasn't had much success with before.

The Senate, which approved a proposal raising Illinois' $8.25 rate to $11 over time, adjourned Thursday with Cullerton saying he's open to returning and will leave the legwork to Quinn. But Madigan, who's indicated there weren't votes for the plan, adjourned Wednesday with no plans to return until Rauner is sworn in. Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said there's no indication of a special session in the works.

Quinn wouldn't spell out what he intends do. Spokesman Grant Klinzman said "all options are on the table" as Quinn calls and meets with House lawmakers to urge support of the plan.

"We will keep pushing," Klinzman said.

However, political experts say persuading House lawmakers or Madigan is unlikely. Quinn has long had a frosty relationship with legislators, and has little leverage as a lame-duck governor.

"Quinn's problem now, just like it's been for most of his governorship, is he doesn't have votes in the General Assembly," said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Another issue is the track record for Quinn and his predecessors on special sessions. Quinn twice called lawmakers to Springfield on pensions. Neither produced results.

"The governor starts to look ineffectual and starts annoying the legislators gratuitously," said Chris Mooney, a UIS political studies professor. "It's unlikely that it would have any substantive effect. It would be embarrassing on the way out."

Quinn made raising Illinois' wage a campaign bedrock. He vowed an increase to at least $10 by year's end. But he's been unable to build a majority, even with voters' support for a nonbinding ballot measure on the issue.

Any momentum began to dissipate when Rauner, a Winnetka businessman, asked lawmakers not to take up major issues ahead of his first term in public office. He supports an increase only if it's paired with other reforms. Then, earlier this week, Chicago crammed through its city council a proposal to raise the city's wage to $13 by 2019. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who's seeking re-election, said he initially did so to keep legislators from blocking city efforts. Later, he said he wanted to inspire lawmakers to act.

However, several lawmakers were lukewarm to the idea.

Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat, said the "very nuanced issue" should be dealt with in the spring.

Cullerton told senators Thursday he had few expectations of his chamber returning to address the issue.

"That's the job of the governor's office," said spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon, "to try to see if they can use that momentum that was started in the Senate."


Tareen reported from Chicago.


Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen and Kerry Lester at http://twitter.com/kerrylester.

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