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$15 minimum wage up for first General Assembly test A measure to nearly double the Illinois minimum wage by 2025 is expected to zip out of the Senate but could face tougher sledding in the House amid strong business opposition.

Crain's Chicago Business

Thursday, February 7, 2019  |  Column  |  Greg Hinz

Minimum Wage (10)

What now are fast-moving plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour statewide by 2025 are set for their first legislative test later today despite strong sentiment from many business leaders that the hike is too much, too fast.

The Senate Executive Committee is scheduled to meet this afternoon to consider an amendment filed by Sen. Kim Lightford of Maywood and other Democrats to begin hiking the state’s minimum wage, now $8.25 an hour, next Jan. 1. The bill is expected to easily clear committee and the full Senate with the backing of Senate President John Cullerton and Gov. J.B. Pritzker and then go to the House, where Speaker Michael Madigan told his caucus he will call and vote for the proposal.

That timetable—Pritzker repeatedly has signaled that raising the minimum wage is a top early priority of his—is drawing lot of groans before business groups. But it’s not clear they can do much about it, at least in the Senate, which is considered somewhat more to the political left than the House.

“We’re totally opposed,” Rob Karr, head of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, told me. “With this proposal, there’s nowhere else to go.”

In a statement, the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association warned of “damaging economic impacts of irresponsibly implemented legislation,” with innkeepers unable to raise room rates fast enough to pay higher wages.

But bill proponents are scoffing at that.

“There’s plenty of time to adjust,” said Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, who is chief House sponsor of the wage hike. “In any part of the state, $8.25 is not enough to get by. It’s a poverty wage.”

Raising the wage actually could help attract business to the state by giving talented people with skills employers find useful more reason to stay or move here, Guzzardi added.

Under the plan, the wage would rise $1 to $9.25 an hour on Jan. 1, 2020, and another 75 cents on July 1, 2020. Every Jan. 1 thereafter the wage would rise another $1 an hour until it hit $15 on Jan. 1, 2025.

Teenagers hired for the summer season would make less—their minimum wage would top out at $13 an hour—but there would be no variation by geographic region despite arguments from some that the cost of living is much lower downstate than it is in Chicago. The minimum wage in Chicago is set to rise $1 to  $13 on July 1, and still would run higher than the statewide figure for the next few years.

The pending legislation also offers a partial tax credit to offset the difference between the new and current minimum wage of $8.25. But Karr of the retail merchants group said the break is “almost worthless” because of exclusions and because the break phases out after several years.

Karr said he still hopes to derail the train. “We’re picking up some signals of substantial discomfort from suburban and downstate lawmakers,” Karr said. But Karr noted similar legislation passed two years ago, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, “and now we have seven more Democrats” in the House.

Pritzker reportedly wants the bill on his desk no later than Feb. 20, when he’s scheduled to unveil his first budget. Karr said the House likely would vote next week.

UPDATE: The bill cleared Senate Exec, and now heads to the floor.