Monday, February 14, 2011

Minimum wage would go to $10 under Senate bill (in Illinois)

SPRINGFIELD — Senate Democrats proposed raising the state’s minimum wage Thursday in a bid that eventually would boost pay for the working poor to more than $10 an hour.

Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) introduced legislation that would raise Illinois’ $8.25-an-hour minimum wage by 50 cents plus the rate of inflation annually until it reaches its “historic level.”

The legislation defines that “level” as the equivalent in today’s dollars of what $1.60-an-hour was in 1968 when the inflation-adjusted buying power of the minimum wage peaked. Today, that rate would equal $10.03 per hour.

If the proposal gains traction in the Legislature this spring, it would help offset the impact on low wage earners of the 67-percent increase in the individual income-tax rate that took effect in January.

“There has rightfully been a lot of discussion lately about how to improve the state’s business climate. But as we go forward, I want to make sure that minimum wage workers aren’t ignored and forgotten,” Lightford said in a prepared statement.

But her plan would shift additional costs onto Illinois businesses that just absorbed a 46 percent hike in corporate income taxes and give job-poaching GOP governors from outside Illinois another argument to convince businesses to relocate to their states.

“Such a proposal would be totally out of touch with the economic conditions in the state of Illinois because we already have the highest minimum wage between the Rocky Mountains and Appalachians,” said Doug Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

“The most important thing Illinois politicians ought to start paying attention to is trying to level the playing field among Illinois and other states. To do anything other than that is to simply invite more poaching,” he said.

Lightford was a main legislative architect behind minimum-wage-increase votes in the General Assembly in 2003 and again in 2006. Those moves raised the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to its current $8.25-an-hour rate.

Currently, only two states — Washington ($8.67 an hour) and Oregon ($8.50 an hour) — have higher minimum wages than Illinois. The state’s five neighbors all have minimum wages that mirror the federal rate of $7.25 an hour.

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