News Local/State

Quinn Campaigns For Raising Minimum Wage While On Low-Wage Challenge


Governor Pat Quinn traveled the state Wednesday, stopping in local diners to make the case for raising the minimum wage in Illinois. Quinn is halfway through a week on the "minimum wage challenge."

A casual-looking Governor Quinn walked into Sam's Cafe in downtown Champaign, his top buttons undone, sleeves rolled up, shaking hands with nearly everyone in the small dining room.

After introductions, the governor sat down and ordered: "Just hot water and then grits."

That $2 meal (plus a 50 cent tip) is part of Quinn's promise to live on $79 dollars this week. It's an attempt to build support for an advisory referendum question on the November ballot, asking voters if the state should raise its minimum wage to $10 an hour.

Earlier this year, plans to raise the wage through legislation failed in the General Assembly, even with Democratic supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate and a Democratic governor.

But Quinn says the referendum could be enough to push lawmakers to a vote.

"If we show on the ballot the people who elect the representatives and senators strongly favor raising the minimum wage, that's the best way to get it done," he said. "Politicians follow the election returns."

But the governor's diner stops were also campaign events. Quinn denies his participation in the minimum wage challenge is a political stunt.

"There are many of our neighbors, people who work hard, who serve us, who aren't doing this for a day or two or a week, but they do it 52 weeks a year," he said. "No one who works hard 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty in America."

A Quinn spokeswoman says Quinn has so far only spent his weekly allowance on food, a $1 birthday gift for his niece and $7 in donations for his church.

Quinn has slammed his opponent, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, for once saying he'd roll back the minimum wage, though Rauner later recanted.

Opponents to raising the minimum wage say it will hurt smaller businesses, and point out that Illinois' minimum wage is already a dollar higher than the federal rate.