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House bill would raise Illinois' minimum wage to $15 per hour

Carbondale Southern Illinoisan

Friday, April 21, 2017  |  Article  |  K. Janis Esch

Minimum Wage (10) Guzzardi, Will--State House, 39

CARBONDALE — A bill to gradually raise the Illinois minimum wage to $15 an hour is headed for a vote in the Illinois House of Representatives.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, spoke at Township Hall in Carbondale Thursday morning as part of a statewide tour to promote the measure, which cleared a House committee 17-6 earlier this month.

Guzzardi, the bill’s lead sponsor, cited analysis from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that found that more than 40 percent of the Illinois workforce earns less than $15 an hour.

Low wages lead to chronic poverty and come at a cost to the taxpayer due to the need for public assistance, the research contends.

In Carbondale, workers must make $14.02 an hour to stay out of poverty, according to the analysis. There are 12,451 Carbondale residents who make below $10 an hour, or 19.5 percent of the workforce; 25,590 people make under $15 an hour, or 40.2 percent of the workforce.

“$15 an hour is basic decency in any part of the state,” Guzzardi said.

Opponents say the bill would hurt businesses and force them to lay off workers. Guzzardi and other supporters say workers who make more will spend more within communities, kickstarting economic growth and generating billions of dollars a year in new state revenues from income tax and sales tax.

The bill offers a leg up to small businesses by giving employers with 50 people or fewer a credit toward their income tax liability that is proportional to the wage hike.

Raises would be phased in over a period of five years, reaching $15 an hour by 2022. The first increase would hike the minimum wage to $9 an hour starting Jan. 1.

Much of the opposition to the bill has centered on the fast-food industry. Opponents say that teenagers working summer jobs don’t need to be paid $15 an hour. But 90 percent of people who make less than $15 an hour are over 20 years old, Guzzardi said.

“The vast majority of people who work low-wage jobs are not teenagers, the overwhelming majority,” Guzzardi said. “Many of them are people raising children, people who have worked 20, 30, 40 years in their field.”

Guzzardi was joined by caregivers with SEIU Healthcare, who spoke in support of the measure.

“After I pay for groceries, rent, gas, electric, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and God forbid, if my car breaks down, there is literally nothing left. … Raising the minimum wage would boost the Carbondale economy, because that money would go back into the local economy to purchase goods and services,” said caregiver Donna Peek.

Caregiver Ashley Baugher said she makes under $17,000 a year and has four children. Her wages are simply not enough to live on, she said.

“I know I’m not the only one, of course, but there are too many of us here who cannot make our bills each month,” Baugher said. “It’s fearful. We are always scared about being kicked out of our house, having our car taken away. I got a girl who’s 15 and going to be in college soon, I’d like to have enough money to start saving up for that.”

Will Attig, executive director of the AFL-CIO Veterans Council, also spoke in support of the bill.

“This is my hometown and this is my state. I’m sick and tired of watching the governor and his cronies treat the poor and the most vulnerable people in this state like a line item on a corporate spreadsheet. … The poorest people in Illinois, they deserve dignity. They are human beings. They cannot be cut,” Attig said.

The bill will likely go to a vote in the House in early or mid-May. Guzzardi said he was “hopeful” that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has previously expressed opposition to minimum wage hikes, would sign off on the increase after hearing from constituents all over the state.

“… I think we’ll have a crucial moment of seeing the governor’s true colors when this bill lands on his desk: does he choose to side with the 2.3 million people in this state who need a raise, or does he choose to side with the interests of the big corporations?” Guzzardi said.

Guzzardi has visited Peoria and Champaign on the tour, with plans to make additional stops in East St. Louis and Springfield Thursday.

“There’s a moral argument that we need to make here, which is that it’s about the decency of work and the dignity of work. … We say, if you want to make it in this country, go out and get a job. Work hard, and you’ll be able to provide for your kids and live a decent life. That fundamental American promise, that working hard will advance you and advance your children and provide for the next generation, that fundamental promise is broken,” Guzzardi said.

Other states have recently enacted a $15 minimum wage, including California, New York and Washington, D.C.