Illinois Senate Democrats push minimum wage hike

January 10, 2014

AP/File
File: Bruce Rauner

Some Democratic state senators are pushing a new increase in the state’s minimum wage—and they like their odds of passing a bill this year.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has made a minimum wage hike a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, favoring a boost to $10 an hour from the current rate of $8.25 an hour.

The topic also has been at the center of a heated debate among the GOP candidates running for governor that has included businessman Bruce Rauner’s since-retracted statement that Illinois should lower its minimum wage.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, has been pushing for years to raise the minimum wage. Her past few attempts did not get much traction in Springfield, and her bill last year calling for an increase to $10 an hour did not even get a vote.

In 2012, Lightford’s bill was approved by a Senate committee, but was not called up for a vote in the full Senate. But Lightford hopes the current minimum wage discussion in the governor’s race will help the bill pass in Springfield.

“I’m hoping that now that there’s much discussion about it, we’re at a point where some members who were perhaps ‘maybes,’ they weren’t quite sure, maybe we can get them to become ‘yes’ votes now,” Lightford said Thursday.

The last two times Illinois raised its minimum wage were in or around election years.

Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a law increasing Illinois’ minimum wage in 2003, shortly after he was elected governor, and again in 2006, just after he was re-elected.

Whether the minimum wage should be raised, lowered or even with the national rate has been attracting dramatic attention from the Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for governor in the March 18 primary. Those candidates include Rauner, a wealthy Chicago venture capitalist; State Senators Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, and Kirk Dillard, R-Westmont; and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.

Rauner’s comments have caused a recent stir by saying last month that he advocates moving the Illinois minimum wage back to the national rate.That would mean reducing Illinois’ current rate of $8.25 an hour to the national rate of $7.25.

Rauner has since taken back those comments, and in a written column published in the Chicago Tribune, said he favors the federal government raising the national minimum wage so it is even with Illinois’ rate.

That is similar to the position taken by Brady, who released a statement Wednesday saying he does not want Illinois to raise its minimum wage until the national rate matched $8.25.

During his 2010 bid for governor, Brady got caught up in a controversy similar to Rauner’s. The Chicago Tribune reported Brady initially suggested that the Illinois rate should be rolled back to the federal level, then later said the rate should be frozen until the federal rate catches up. Brady won the Republican nomination that year but narrowly lost to Quinn in the general election.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.