Minimum wage increase at top of agenda

Illinois Capitol News

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Democrats are making yet another aggressive push to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15/hour. They say they want it passed and signed by the governor this spring.

Even in Wednesday’s freezing temperatures, the Senate held its first public hearing to discuss the huge pay hike and listen to concerns from small business owners, non-profits and more. The hearing lasted almost two hours.

Bottom line: The discussion is what’s been said before. Business groups say it’s a job killer. What’s different now is the Democratic-dominated environment.

Governor Pritzker is all in for the hike, so the day was about negotiating how it will happen and how it will impact different parts of the state.

“Everyone in the state deserves to be able to afford a roof over their head, lights and every single other utility bill and groceries and the basic expenses, so $9 – $10 isn’t enough.”

Wednesday, in the midst of an historic freeze, dozens piled into the Capitol to hear the first arguments warm up for a plan to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15.

“We have a moral oblication that people who work everyday do not struggle in poverty.”

Democratic Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford has fought for higher pay for decades. She argues current wages don’t match inflation rates and force taxpayers to pick up the tab.

“This bill, as it stands right now, is a job killer and a business killer in Illinois.”

Small business groups, non-profits and the park district each spoke out against the plan, arguing they can’t afford it. Some pushed for tax cuts or grant funding to offset the cost.

The Illinois Retailers Association argued the hike should be based on where you live.

“This is not new. Oregon took a geographic approach in theirs and they’re going to $12. They do a higher rate for Portland and a slightly lower rate for what are essentially their collar counties and a lower rate for the rest of the state.”

Lawmakers were torn on the idea. Lightford called it unfair. The Democratic leader says she’ll continue to bring everyone to the table to find solutions which won’t hurt businesses.

“I’m very confident. I think the governor, in his campaign, expressed an increase in the minimum wage and I’ve been working with his administration and we’re moving right along.”

Lightford wants to get to a $15 wage by 2025, but she says it’s not set in stone. What’s also being considered is how much it will cost the state which still pays contractors. Still, the longest she says she’s willing to stretch things out is seven years.

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