Editorial: Lawmakers, think carefully before rushing to $15 minimum wage

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted2/7/2019 6:21 PM
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  • Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks Thursday at the Capitol along with Illinois State Sen. Kimberly Lightford and others about the minimum-wage bill she sponsored.

    Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks Thursday at the Capitol along with Illinois State Sen. Kimberly Lightford and others about the minimum-wage bill she sponsored. Associated Press Photo

Illinois Sen. Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, told The Associated Press this week that lawmakers' goal regarding a push to a $15-an-hour minimum wage "is to send a bill that has been completely negotiated and compromised across both chambers."

If that is true, the state House is going to have to create the space for a lot of negotiation and compromise. Lightford's Senate colleagues passed a minimum wage bill on Thursday with a schedule of increases moving today's $8.25-an-hour minimum wage to $15 by Jan. 1, 2025. And they did it on a strictly party-line vote, not exactly an encouraging sign for collaboration as the bill moves to a House also overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats.

Still, leaders must work with whatever room they have available, and we hope they will use it to take time for serious study of its impact and serious consideration of deficiencies in SB 1.

High on that list is the rapid pace at which lawmakers would advance the minimum wage, boosting it more than 21 percent over the first year and an average of 8.5 percent a year thereafter until it reaches the $15 target. But perhaps even more important -- and more realistic considering the political landscape -- is the Senate bill's complete disregard for the sharp differences in cost and wage standards throughout our diverse state.

Just between the suburbs and the city of Chicago, there is a substantial discrepancy in the potential impact of a minimum-wage increase, both for wage earners and the small businesses that would be most directly affected. That disparity grows even wider downstate, and it's significant even between population centers like Aurora, Peoria and Rockford and the rural towns that surround them. Adapting a minimum wage to every regional situation is a complicated task, to be sure, but a well-designed bill would take these differences into consideration.

There are things to be said for SB 1. As fast as its pace of increases is, it's still more deliberate than a similar bill last year that would have reached the $15 target three years earlier. And, it does provide a second-tier minimum wage for workers under 18 years old who work fewer than 650 hours a year, wisely setting a reflexive schedule of raises peaking at $13 an hour in 2025. The bill also provides a schedule of tax credits that can reduce its impact on small businesses, though the savings fall sharply each year until they are completely phased out for most businesses by 2026. And, it is worth noting that Illinois' minimum wage has not been increased since 2010.

All of these factors notwithstanding, the rush to impose a $15-an-hour minimum wage has many small businesses in the suburbs justifiably worried. The governor may want a bill on his desk prior to his Feb. 20 scheduled budget address, but that shouldn't spur lawmakers to a rash and partisan action that needs considered analysis and the testimony of small businesses that stand to bear the greatest impact of the new law.

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