Kadner: Flippant solutions for serious issue
By Phil Kadner email@example.com January 9, 2014 8:00PM
Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner announces Wheaton City Councilwoman Evelyn Sanguinetti as his lieutenant governor pick at a news conference Oct. 8, 2013, in Chicago. | M. Spencer Green/AP
Updated: February 11, 2014 6:28AM
Bruce Rauner ought to be congratulated for flip-flopping on the minimum wage.
The multimillionaire Republican candidate for governor now says he really doesn’t want to roll back the minimum wage in Illinois from $8.25 an hour to the national standard of $7.25. He was just being “flippant” when he made that statement during a radio interview, Rauner said.
Now that he’s had time to think about it (and consider the impact on his election chances), Rauner favors a national minimum wage of $10 an hour.
I don’t know what Rauner really thinks, but that’s true of most candidates for public office and a lot of people who have been elected and re-elected.
First off, there’s nothing wrong with a person changing his mind. An intelligent person ought to always be open to new information that can alter his view on an issue.
A smart politician should respond to the concerns of the people who elected him and not stubbornly cling to an idea that’s both unpopular and wrong-headed.
Second, people often say stupid things. That’s true of businessmen, political leaders and the guy next door. Admitting that you’re wrong, when you are, is a good thing.
And this idea that anyone running for or holding public office is weak if he doesn’t stick by what he said yesterday, last month or 20 years ago simply is nonsensical.
The problem is that what Rauner said originally does reflect a view held by many Republican leaders in this country.
Last year, Republicans in the U.S. House unanimously voted down a measure that would have raised the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 by 2015.
When President Barack Obama suggested raising the wage to $9 in a State of the Union speech, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, immediately shot down the idea, arguing that it would drive up unemployment by making it harder for small businesses to hire. That has been the traditional stance of the Republican Party for years.
I’ve always been a little skeptical about all the time spent arguing about the minimum wage in this country. It seems to me the debate ought to be focused on creating a “living wage” for Americans.
What does that mean? I had a figure in mind but decided to see what the Internet had to offer in terms of research. It turns out there’s a “Living Wage Calculator” produced by Poverty in America using a model from the Economic Policy Institute.
According to that website, a living wage in Illinois for a single adult is $10.48 an hour (about $21,000 a year), and for two adults with two children it’s $20.35 an hour ($42,000 a year). The site notes that a “living wage” is not intended to reflect a middle-income wage.
Those figures were smaller than the ones I had in mind, but at least someone is thinking about the subject, although you don’t hear elected officials talking about it very much.
The problem in this country and in Illinois is not the minimum wage but the falling incomes of middle-class Americans.
There’s always a lot of campaign rhetoric about job creation during elections, but not a lot of specifics about what sort of wages those jobs would pay.
Rauner has said that he would not extend the temporary income tax increase (from 3 percent to 5 percent for individuals) that legislators approved in 2011. The tax will decline to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1, 2015, meaning the state’s budget would lose about $3 billion.
Dan Rutherford, the state treasurer who’s also seeking the Republican nomination for governor, has said he would have to take a long look at the state’s financial situation before deciding the income tax hike should be eliminated.
The reason I mention the temporary tax hike and the loss of money is that if the extra revenue it generates goes away, government programs are going to have to be cut. That may mean fewer jobs for state employees and less money for small businesses that contract with the state.
And it almost certainly would mean a cut in state education funding, which would mean an increase in the property tax to support local schools, which could translate into less money for Illinois residents to buy stuff.
Republicans are always talking about cutting government spending, reducing waste and becoming more efficient. Government jobs pay a living wage and usually include benefits such as health insurance and pensions that are quite costly to taxpayers.
However, those government workers are part of the middle class in America. No one has explained to my satisfaction what happens to the economy when the middle class disappears.
As for cutting taxes, well, there certainly is a lot of waste in government.
But there also are billions of dollars spent building roads and public buildings. That translates into a lot of jobs for construction workers.
Are all of those programs run efficiently? No. But they still allow men and women to support their families.
In recent decades, the focus about economic growth always seems to be on small-business development. But who are those small businesses going to sell their products to if government spending is slashed and middle-income wages don’t increase?
Maybe the goal is to have every American working two minimum-wage jobs. If Mom and Dad do that and there’s a teenager in the household bringing home $8 an hour, maybe that’s the middle-class household of the future.
Far too many political leaders give flippant, disingenuous and self-serving answers to problems that are deserving of far more careful thought.
Illinois faces a precarious financial future. So do a lot of municipalities in the state.
Changing the minimum wage isn’t going to change any of that.
But expecting anyone to talk about a living wage for American working stiffs, well, I guess that’s just expecting too much.