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$15 Minimum Wage Talks Begin In Springfield

Daisy Contreras
NPR Illinois
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, is the chief sponsor of the minimum wage increase proposal.

Illinois lawmakers are moving quickly to draft a plan for a minimum wage increase. But, there are competing ideas on how to approach it. 

Several state senators met Wednesday to hear from advocates and stakeholders, including those representing retail and restaurant owners.

Advocates say $15 an hour is the bare minimum people need to survive, no matter where they live. But several employers have concerns over what a statewide increase could mean for their bottom line.

Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said lawmakers should instead look at the state’s regions and consider a tiered approach like New York and Oregon. “The City of Chicago or any city core has a much different economic dynamic than perhaps the suburbs or even a downstate area," he said.  "So you might look at a different rate for the City of Chicago versus the six collar counties surrounding it, and yet another rate downstate.”

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat and chief sponsor of the proposal, said this could limit upward mobility in smaller cities. "I think we will be creating more of a divide in economic wealth," she said. Still, Lightford said she is considering the idea in negotiations.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association was opposed to a 2017 proposal to raise the minimum wage, citing difficulties for employers. That measure was vetoed by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, and would have raised Illinois' minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years. 

Lightford said Governor J.B. Pritzker would like to sign the measure into law before his budget address next month. A draft is expected to be ready early next week.

Karr said the association will continue taking part in negotiations.

"Given the standards the governor has set in terms of wanting compromise and bipartisan approaches, this is the perfect example--it might very well set the tone for other issues," he said. 

Daisy reported on statehouse issues for our Illinois Issues project. She's a Public Affairs Reporting program graduate from the University of Illinois Springfield. She also graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and has an associates degrees from Truman College. Daisy is from Chicago where she attended Lane Tech High School.
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