GOP minimum wage debate could be muted by Democratic action

2014-01-11T00:00:00Z GOP minimum wage debate could be muted by Democratic actionKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau
January 11, 2014 12:00 am  • 

SPRINGFIELD | All of the wrangling among the Republican candidates for governor about raising Illinois' minimum wage could be empty chatter by the time voters choose a chief executive next November.

With Democrats in control of the General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn pushing them to act, it is possible that lawmakers could boost the minimum wage during this spring's legislative session.

Aides to Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan say the two leaders are prepared to take a hard look at the issue when rank-and-file members return to action later this month.

“Cullerton supports efforts to increase the minimum wage and is willing to work with business and labor to find a way to achieve that goal,” noted a statement issued Friday by the Senate leader's office.

Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the House will be working “closely” with the Senate and Quinn on the issue.

“It's always a topic that is of great interest to Democrats because they understand that this isn't anymore an entry level wage,” Brown said Friday. “I'm sure there will be plenty of House Democrats willing to take a look at it.”

Lawmakers last voted to phase in an increase in the minimum wage in 2006. That vote set in motion the state's move from the federal level of $7.25 per hour to the current state minimum wage of $8.25 an hour.

While Quinn supports a plan to raise the wage to $10 an hour, his Republican opponents spent this week trading barbs over the issue after video emerged showing hedge fund manager Bruce Rauner saying he favors resetting Illinois' wage to the federal level.

By Thursday, the political newcomer was calling his stance a “mistake” and said he now believes it should be raised.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, chided Rauner for flip-flopping, but Dillard himself voted in favor of the 2006 increase. He says the economy was in better shape when he pushed his “yes” button at the time.

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sen. Bill Brady, of Bloomington, both say they are against an increase in the current minimum wage.

If action does get underway in the legislature, it could start first in the Senate.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, has championed a minimum wage increase for several years. She has introduced legislation that would phase in an increase resulting in a $10 per hour wage by June 2017. She also has backed a plan to tie the minimum wage to the rate of inflation.

“Lightford has been particularly effective in prioritizing this issue and Cullerton looks forward to working with her and other members of the General Assembly on this issue this session,” the statement from the Senate President's office added.

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