Lester: Suburban caregivers get small boost in pay, but fight wages on

After frequent stories of caregivers earning around $10 an hour even after years of work, suburban aides who care for people with disabilities are getting a pay raise.

The 75-cent-an-hour raise - buried deep within the state budget passed earlier this month by the legislature - will cost the state $53 million next year and go to 34,000 workers. Average pay statewide will increase from its current $9.35 to $10.10 an hour.

Ray Graham Association President and CEO Kim Zoeller tells me the move certainly is appreciated but it's far from enough. The DuPage County nonprofit has more than 90 of its 250 caregiver positions open after many workers left for higher-paying jobs in fast food or retail.

With those gaps, Zoeller says, the agency no longer is able to devote time to take residents into the community for such things as church services or grocery shopping. Ray Graham serves 2,000 disabled children and adults in the suburbs and operates 23 group homes.

New campaign

Zoeller says after the "dust settles" in Springfield over the passage this month of the state's first budget in two years, a coalition of 60 organizations employing caregivers and calling itself "They Deserve More" will begin to lobby lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner anew.

"With Cook County's recent minimum wage hike (to $13 an hour by 2020), it makes it even more critical for providers to have that funding in order to be competitive," Zoeller says.

Nope, not pursuing

Speaking of the budget, there's been some chatter by Republican operatives that conservative members of the state party might try to force out House GOP Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs after a number of members voted to override Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of the spending plan.

While state Rep. Tom Morrison of Palatine has been mentioned as a possible replacement, he tells me he's not involved. "I have not been pursuing Durkin's position," Morrison says.

The anti-Madigan bent

A big part of state Sen. Daniel Biss's Democratic bid for governor involves portraying himself as independent from party leaders, chief among them Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. That message came through when the Evanston Democrat was discussing property tax legislation he has filed that would increase state oversight of local assessors and require them to disclose how they value property and modernize their assessment systems.

"The system right now works for property tax attorneys, and that includes Mike Madigan," Biss tells me.

Biss faces a number of others in a crowded primary election field, including Chicago businessman J.B. Pritzker, Kenilworth businessman Chris Kennedy, Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar and Highwood state Rep. Scott Drury.

Pets are safe

Donna Bailey tells me she's grateful she had her dogs and cats with her at her family's Wisconsin vacation house, where a phone call brought the devastating news Wednesday that her Libertyville home was leveled in an explosion.

Bailey often returns to the suburbs throughout the summer for breast cancer treatments and drops off her pets at the house while she's at medical appointments.

"Thank God I wasn't going to a doctor's appointment and left them in the house. That would have been the end of me," she said.

A tale of two governors

Rauner faced some heat for waiting two days to tour flood-damaged areas of Lake County while across the border in Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker had already deployed the National Guard and declared a state of emergency.

Rauner told reporters in Gurnee Friday that a recent overhaul of his administration didn't distract him from a focus on flooding, and he issued a disaster declaration later that day.

Elgin Symphony hits record

The Elgin Symphony Orchestra has sold its highest number of tickets ever this year in its 66th season, a record it's crediting to its wildly popular music director, Andrew Grams. Grams joined the symphony in June 2013 after an international search. A graduate of the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music, he holds degrees in violin performance and conducting and has appeared with many of the great orchestras of the world.

Named 2015 Conductor of the Year by the Illinois Council of Orchestras, he has extended his contract with the ESO through 2021. Grams opens the ESO's 2017/18 season on Sept. 16 and 17 with Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 3, an ESO premiere, and Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring pianist Dinara Klinton making her ESO debut. For more information,

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Illinois state Rep. Tom Morrison of Palatine
Illinois Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston Associated Press File Photo
Music director Andrew Grams Courtesy of Elgin Symphony Orchestra
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