What Happened To The Minimum Wage Hike?

May 26, 2015

Despite overwhelming support from voters at last fall’s general election, an increase in the minimum wage appears to be dead in the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly.

Demonstrators were still rallying for it in the Capitol as recently as last week, and Sen. Kimberly Lightford’s Senate Bill 11 passed that chamber 35-18 in February. The Maywood Democrat’s bill would increase the hourly minimum wage from $8.25 to $9 everywhere in the state except Chicago, which is moving toward a wage of at least $13 per hour. But three months later, Lightford’s proposal has yet to move in the House.

SB 11 would take effected July 1, and each year on that date there would be an increase of 50 cents until the state’s minimum wage reached $11 in 2019. Chicago Democratic Rep. Art Turner is chief sponsor of the legislation in the House. With some legislators focused on dodging deep program cuts and eliminations, Turner says the minimum wage bump may end up sidelined — for now.

“We’re hoping to pass it this session. It’s a work in progress. We’re still keeping all interested parties at the table, trying to work across the aisle as well,” Turner says. “A major piece of legislation like that takes time.”

And right now, Turner says the votes are not there to get the bill passed.

This graphic, from the January edition of Illinois Issues magazine, shows that a minimum wage increase was more popular than both Gov. Pat Quinn and then-Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner.
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

Voters indicated in the 2014 general election that they favored an increase in the state’s minimum wage. The advisory referendum garnered 66.7 percent “yes” votes. Demonstrators at the Capitol this week pointed to that as a guidepost for lawmakers.

“We’re hopeful the governor will do what the voters in the state of Illinois asked him to do in November and raise the minimum wage immediately to $10 an hour,” says Jessica Angus, vice president of SEIU Healthcare for Illinois and Indiana. SEIU brought busloads of home- and child-care workers to Springfield Thursday to lobby for a $15 minimum wage, against budget cuts in the programs in which work and for reconsideration of plans to cut their health benefits.

“Our members are some of the lowest paid workers in the state,” Angus says. “They can hardly afford to pay their bills now.” She added that the state’s fiscal crisis can’t be solved “by balancing [the budget] on the back of low-income workers.”

Rauner has indicated support for raising the hourly minimum wage — if it’s paired with his pro-business, anti-union agenda. He has called for a much more gradual increase to $10 per hour over seven years.

“Not really interested in that. But we’re trying to work with the governor’s office, as well, to come up with a proposal that he will support,” Turner says. “We want to give working families a raise, that’s important.”

He says legislators are trying to iron out what minimum wage rate the state wants to get to — and how it will roll out. Also, he explained, lawmakers are trying to weigh the effects of a higher wage on employers.

Sen. Mattie Hunter wants to roll parts of her SB 12 into Lightford’s bill. The Chicago Democrat hopes the move would give her now-stagnant proposal some momentum. SB 12 would have the Department of Human Services ‘ which administers most of the state’s social programs — recalculate reimbursement rates to contract workers like those who care for children, the elderly and people with disabilities. Hunter says her plan, which likely won’t come up for a vote this session, “would have leveled the playing field, in terms of wages.”

“There are different members that don’t want the minimum wage increase — including the governor,” Hunter says. “So all the bills are at a standstill right now.”