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Minimum wage hike stalls in Illinois Legislature

December 3, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Efforts to raise Illinois’ minimum wage stalled on Tuesday when House Speaker Michael Madigan announced that Democratic leaders did not have the necessary votes to pass a measure that would have set the rate at $11 per hour.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the Chicago Democrat felt “complications” made it unlikely a wage hike could be passed this year.

Earlier in the day, the Chicago City Council voted to raise the city’s minimum wage — currently at the statewide rate of $8.25 — to $13 an hour by 2019. Some lawmakers and business groups opposed the higher rate for Chicago and wanted legislators to stop the city from imposing the increase.

Others said any increase in Illinois would put the state at a disadvantage among its neighbors with lower rates and could lead to job losses.

A Democratic senator was pushing a modified proposal to address some of those concerns. Sen. Kimberly Lightford’s plan would raise the wage incrementally to $11 for workers 18 and older by 2019, beginning at $9 an hour next July. A previous proposal would have raised the wage to $11 an hour by 2017.

The Lightford bill would not have prevented Chicago’s wage hike, but would have prevented the city from increasing the rate any further. Other communities around the state would have had to cap their minimum wage at the state rate once the legislation became effective in July, putting in place a dual state wage.

“We’re trying to find a balance to allow for a wage increase, to support business communities and keep the city of Chicago thriving,” said Lightford of Maywood.

But Madigan informed House Democrats at a caucus meeting late Tuesday that he did not plan to call the measure for a vote.

The House planned to adjourn for the year on Wednesday after canceling its Thursday session. The Senate was scheduled to convene on Thursday before adjourning.

Democratic leaders had been surveying House lawmakers to gauge whether there was support for the wage hike, but a number of lawmakers said they had concerns.

“It’s definitely going to be a problem in my district,” said Democratic State Rep. Patrick Verschoore of Milan, whose western Illinois district has businesses that see competition from Iowa, which already has a lower state rate than Illinois. He said he wasn’t sure how he would vote.

The push to increase the wage was a key focus of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s unsuccessful re-election bid, and a majority of voters supported a nonbinding referendum asking if Illinois should raise its wage to $10 per hour.

Quinn’s spokesman, Grant Klinzman, said the governor would continue to work on the issue during his remaining month in office.

Meanwhile, incoming Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner made a stop at the Capitol Tuesday and said the state’s budget condition is worse than he had been led to believe. He said he is in Springfield for two days speaking with lawmakers and experts about the state’s finances, but didn’t give any hint of how we would address the problems.

“Every time we look under the hood, look at different departments, look at different issues, the problems, the deficits, the overspending is more significant than has been discussed in the past. We want to make sure we understand it,” Rauner said.

Democrats noted that they had supported extending the state’s temporary income tax increase to help fill the budget gap. A $35.7 billion budget approved by lawmakers in the spring didn’t provide enough money to cover agency expenses.

Come January, if lawmakers don’t approve new revenue — such as extending the tax increase that Rauner opposed — the state will face a roughly $5 billion budget hole next year. That could force layoffs, facility closures and massive program cuts. The state has warned that several agencies, including the Department of Corrections and Human Services, are set to run out of money if supplemental funding isn’t approved.

Rauner has said he would support a minimum wage hike, but only if it is accompanied by pro-business reforms. He had asked that lawmakers take no serious action until after his Jan. 12 inauguration.

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Online: www.ilga.gov

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Follow Kerry Lester on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kerrylester

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