Written by The Chicago Defender
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Gov. Pat Quinn's waded into contentious waters with business leaders and Republicans Wednesday when he called for a 20 percent increase in the Illinois minimum wage.
During his annual State of the State address to lawmakers, the Chicago Democrat asked them to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 an hour. Although the state already has one of the highest rates in the nation, Quinn argued another boost would help increase the quality of life for residents.
"Nobody in Illinois should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty," Quinn said during his speech. "That's a principle as old as the Bible."
Quinn is seeking to revive a proposal that was floated last year but didn't make it out of committee. Still, lawmakers said that such a proposal would need cooperation from the business community to get any traction.
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce came out against the measure, saying Quinn should focus on the state's massive financial problems. Illinois has the worst pension problem of any state in the country and billions in unpaid bills.
"Another minimum wage hike will only hurt those who are looking for a job and those who employ them in this challenging economy," David Vite, the president of the merchants association, said in a statement. "It's rather disappointing that Governor Quinn is supporting another job-killing proposal instead of focusing on solving our budget crisis and our bankrupt pension system."
Vite's group represents more than 23,000 stores across the state. The chamber characterized the increase as "an untimely, ill-advised and outrageous proposal."
Business leaders also argued that Illinois is already a leader in the minimum wage rate among state nationwide and such an increase would put teenagers out of work because other people would apply for the jobs.
Advocates of the measure disagreed. Democratic state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, who unsuccessfully pushed an increase last year, applauded Quinn's proposal and several from the past.
Illinois last saw a minimum wage increase in 2010 when it jumped to $8.25 through a four-step step increase adopted under imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2006. The Democrat raised the minimum wage twice during his time in office, making it a center piece of his agenda. The federal rate has been $7.25 an hour since 2007.
Washington and Oregon are the only states with a higher rate than Illinois, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor.
"I didn't see any businesses leave the state," said Lightford, a Maywood Democrat. "Our goal is not to put people out of business."
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, another Democrat, said it would need support from businesses to receive the approval of the General Assembly. However, she said she was willing to sponsor the measure if it should reach the House.