New plan on Illinois minimum wage hike: $11 an hour by 2017

Senate Democrats on Wednesday began advancing a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2017, though doubts remain about whether lawmakers can muster enough votes to pass an increase before Republican Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner in sworn into office in January.

Under the latest proposal, the state’s $8.25-an-hour wage would jump to $10 on July 1, 2015. It would bump up to $10.50 a year later before reaching $11 an hour on July 1, 2017. Teens and new employees in training would earn 50 cents an hour less, while workers who receive tips would be paid 60 percent of the minimum wage.

The measure received initial approval from a key Senate panel on a 10-3 vote, though sponsoring Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, indicated changes may be in the works. The legislation is unlikely to come to a floor vote in the Senate this week as backers in the House say they’re working to build enough support following push back from business interests.

Democrats made increasing the minimum wage a cornerstone of their fall campaigns, even putting an advisory question on the ballot asking whether the state should hike the wage to $10 an hour by Jan. 1. The referendum received overwhelming support, which supporters are using to buttress their arguments in favor of an increase. Opponents contend such a large jump in the wage would hurt businesses and hamper job growth as employers struggle to cover the additional costs.

The issue presents an opportunity for outgoing Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn to score one more victory or face a final stinging defeat as he pushes lawmakers to raise the wage before Rauner takes over the helm of state government on Jan. 12. Rauner has called on lawmakers to defer major action until then, saying he supports an increase in the minimum wage but only if accompanied by business-friendly measures such as changes to the state’s workers compensation system.

“Raising the wage is about dignity and decency and building an economy that works for everyone,” Quinn said in a statement after the bill passed committee. “Now is the time to get this important legislation passed through the General Assembly for the hundreds of thousands of minimum wage workers across the Land of Lincoln.”

Lightford said she’s confident the measure would pass the Senate, but acknowledged it’ll have a tougher time in the House where Democrats have a large-but-narrower margin and lawmakers tend to be more conservative. Delaying the minimum wage hike until July is aimed at making it easier to pass the bill during the legislature’s fall session, where bills with an immediate effective date have to obtain 3/5ths support instead of a simple majority.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said she’s hopeful but not confident enough votes could be rounded up in her chamber.

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