SPRINGFIELD — A new plan to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour is expected to be introduced in the Illinois Senate as early as next week.
Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said that while negotiations are continuing with business interests and others with a stake in the minimum wage, she expects to introduce something “early next week.”
“We’re still working on (details),” she said. “We’re very committed to keeping everyone at the table, providing an opportunity to express how a minimum wage increase will work with their entity.”
The last increase in the state’s minimum wage went into effect in 2010 when it was increased to $8.25 an hour. It was the last of a series of increases approved in 2006. The federal minimum wage continues to be $7.25 an hour.
Lightford said the plan would be to get the Illinois minimum wage to $15 an hour and to phase it in over several years. Just how long of a phase-in is still being discussed, she said.
“We all know that to get from $8.25 to $15 an hour it can’t be a significant jump,” she said. “It has to be over a period of time to allow business to adjust.”
In 2017, Illinois lawmakers approved legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. However, then-Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the bill saying it would result in job losses at the low end of the wage scale and hurt the people the minimum wage is supposed to help.
Gov. JB Pritzker supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Pritzker senior adviser Nikki Budzinski testified in favor of the increase at a Senate Labor Committee hearing Wednesday.
Business interests offered different views of the increase. The National Federation of Independent Business, which represents smaller employers, said something less than a $15-an-hour rate and a minimum wage that varied across the state would be preferable.
“As it stands now, it is a job killer and a business killer,” said Mark Grant, NFIB state director.
Lightford, though, said businesses have said the same thing for years about increasing the minimum wage, and there’s been no documentation of ill effects.
“There’s been no data that told me businesses shut down because of the minimum wage,” she said.
Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, also endorsed the idea of different rates for different areas of the state. Both Oregon and New York have adopted that idea where a higher minimum wage is in effect for large urban areas and an lower rate is set for less populated parts of those states.
“The suburbs and downstate simply don’t enjoy the same (economic activity) as the city of Chicago,” Karr said.
Lightford said the idea of a regional minimum wage will be considered, but said there are potentially legal issues that would prevent Illinois from doing that. She also questioned if it is fair to pay workers in some portions of the state a lower minimum wage than in other areas.
Concerns about the effect of a minimum wage increase weren’t limited to the business community. Chris Boyster of the Illinois Collaboration on Youth said more than 12,000 people are employed by the organization’s member agencies. Many of them are working at or near minimum wage, he said.
“These human service organizations will not be able to accommodate an increase in the minimum wage without increased financial support from the state,” he said. “Providers want to pay their workforce better. They just need the means to do so.”
The Illinois Association of Park Districts also said increasing the minimum wage would put pressure on park districts that employ teens as life guards, camp counselors and other jobs that pay the minimum wage. Likewise, the state’s nursing homes that serve large numbers of Medicaid patients would be squeezed between paying higher wages with stagnant Medicaid reimbursements, said Pat Comstock of the Health Care Council of Illinois.
Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have a higher minimum wage than Illinois.
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January 30, 2019 at 08:43PM