Minimum wage bill sponsor says she’ll keep pressing for deal



Gov. Bruce Rauner declares victory at his election night celebration at the Hilton on Nov. 4, 2014 in Chicago. (Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune/MCT)

The principal sponsor of a bill to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour said the votes weren’t there to attempt an override of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the bill.

Instead, Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said she’ll continue to negotiate to find a compromise that will have the support of enough lawmakers to overcome a gubernatorial veto.

The first week of the veto session passed without an attempt to override Rauner’s veto of Senate Bill 81 that would have gradually increased the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by January, 2022. Illinois’ minimum wage currently is $8.25 an hour, a rate that’s been in effect since 2010. The federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 an hour. About 2.3 million Illinois workers make the minimum wage.


“I don’t believe we have the votes to override the governor,” Lightford said of her decision not to call the bill for a vote. “It’s difficult garnering a super majority. I’m hoping we can reintroduce a bill that can garner the votes that we need.”

The bill passed the General Assembly in late May, just before the legislature’s scheduled adjournment. However, it got only 61 votes in the House and the minimum 30 in the Senate to pass. Both totals were far short of what is needed to override a veto.

Rauner vetoed the bill in late August, using arguments raised by some opponents that the bill would actually hurt low-income workers rather than help them.

“The most thorough research to date, published earlier this year by researchers at the University of Washington, found that for every 10 percent increase the hourly earnings of low-wage workers, there was a 30 percent reduction in employers providing those jobs,” Rauner wrote in his veto message. “This research implies that Senate Bill 81 will result in a net reduction of earnings for low-wage Illinoisans of $1,500 per year. This legislation would cost significant sums of money for the very people it purports to help.”

Rauner went on to repeat his belief that the best way to help low-income workers is for the state to grow more and better-paying jobs.

Lightford said she doesn’t buy the arguments that raising the minimum wage will cost jobs.

“I hear the same arguments today that I heard back in 1999 when I first filed a minimum wage bill,” Lightford said. “Those arguments are totally irrelevant because they always say you’re going to drive business out, yet the same companies are still in business in 2017. The 2003 minimum wage (increase) didn’t drive them out, the 2006 didn’t drive them out and they’re still here in 2017. A lot of the arguments I just find not to be valid.”


Instead, she said, an increase in the minimum wage has been shown to spur economic activity as low income earners spend the additional money they are receiving.

Lightford also said the bill included provisions to help businesses cope with the increased costs of a higher minimum wage. For example, businesses with 50 or fewer employees would have received an income tax credit to help offset the costs. Also, restaurant workers and teens were allowed to be paid a lower wage under the bill.

Lightford acknowledged that lawmakers from border areas of the state have concerns about the effects of Illinois raising its minimum wage. Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin all have a $7.25 minimum wage. Missouri’s minimum wage is $7.70 an hour.

The National Conference of State Legislatures listed 22 states and the District of Columbia that started the year with a higher minimum wage than Illinois.

In 2016, the Democratic-controlled legislature put a non-binding referendum on the ballot asking voters if the state should increase its minimum wage to $10 an hour. The issue got 64 percent “yes” votes.

Although she wasn’t certain what changes might generate more support for an increase, Lightford said she’s willing to look at both the size of the increase and the amount of time to phase it in.

“Negotiations are always in order. I love to negotiate,” she said.


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