By Jayette Bolinski
Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A plan to raise Illinois’ minimum wage to more than $10 per hour passed a Senate committee May 16, despite protests from business owners who said it would harm their ability to stay afloat in a tough economy.
Proponents of Senate Bill 1565 say a minimum-wage hike will put more money in workers’ pockets, thus enabling them to spend more money at Illinois businesses.
Illinois’ minimum wage now stands at $8.25. The measure would increase the wage by 50 cents a year until it matches the the inflation-adjusted equivalent of minimum wage in 1968, which was $1.60 per hour. The phased-in hikes would bring Illinois’ minimum wage to $10.55 in 2015, after which yearly cost-of-living increases would occur.
The Senate Executive Committee approved the proposal 9-5. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, now goes to the Senate floor for a vote.
If the measure is enacted, Illinois could have the highest minimum wage in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Washington state has the highest minimum wage, at $9.04 per hour.
Illinois last increased its minimum wage in 2010.
Backers of the increase, including minimum-wage workers and a small business owner from Chicago, said they barely can support themselves and their families on the current minimum wage.
Lathan Cole, 29, of Springfield, said he has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked with disabled people at a nonprofit, until he was laid off two years ago during the state’s budget crisis. He now works in a diner for $8.25 an hour.
“I can’t pay my car payment, so my grandfather helps me with that. Sometimes I have to ask my grandmother for gas money,” he said. “I can’t afford to go out to eat. That’s a leisure thing, and that’s not my qualm. It’s that I can’t even meet my bare minimum. It’s really hard.”
Business owners, however, said the hike would cripple their ability to continue operating.
Doug Knight, owner of Knight’s Action Park, a water and recreation park here, hires about 200 teen-agers and young adults to work at his business. He said he was forced to scale back his operating hours following the last minimum wage hike in 2010 because he could not stay profitable and had to cut costs.
“If my expenses go up, I have to raise my prices,” Knight, a third-generation businessman, said, noting that his business is tricky because families shop wisely when it comes to vacations, and he has regional competition in Missouri, Wisconsin and Indiana.
“If I can’t be profitable, I can’t grow my business,” Knight said.
State Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, who said he has supported minimum wage hikes in the past, voted against the measure, saying, “The timing here is terrible,” economically.
Jayette Bolinski can be reached at email@example.com.
Posted May 17, 2012