By CARL GREEN
Springfield IL – What if you could take a vote and accomplish all of the following?
• Strengthen the economy.
• Reduce job losses and help small businesses.
• Support families.
• Make yourself very popular.
• Bring your state up to date with economic reality.
• Help people hurt by the recession.
• Uphold human dignity.
That vote, supporters say, would be one to raise the state’s minimum wage.
It sounds like a no-brainer, and it could, possibly, happen in the current Illinois legislative session, which ends May 30. If not, Illinois voters could have their say in a referendum this November.
Those seven points are the ones cited by Raise Illinois, a coalition of unions, churches, businesses and community groups who agree that the current $8.25 state minimum is just not enough anymore.
Opponents claim raising the minimum wage might prompt businesses to reduce workers’ hours or eliminate jobs.
But an increasing body of research shows raising the minimum wage helps more than it hurts – by putting more money into the hands of people who need it and will spend it.
“People who work for a living need to be fairly compensated,” said state Rep. Jay Hoffman (D–Collinsville), chairman of the House Labor and Commerce Committee.
Hoffman hopes raising the wage will gain enough support in the Legislature this session to allow a compromise bill to be approved.
The biggest obstacle is convincing lawmakers that it won’t hurt the economy.
The bills that have received the most attention so far would increase the wage gradually over three years to $10.65 an hour.
One of them, Senate Bill 68, would raise the minimum to $9.25 this Oct. 1, to $10 on July 1, 2015 and finally to $10.65 on July 1, 2016. House Bill 3718 has the same schedule.
The Senate bill has 14 co-sponsors. The House version has 30 co-sponsors including Rep. Eddie Jackson (D–East St. Louis). Both bills are supported by the Raise Illinois coalition.
Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton), has voted to increase the minimum wage in past, more prosperous years, but said it’s a harder decision this year because of the shaky recovery.
“It will certainly raise some people’s pay,” he said. “We’re still recovering from the recession, and unemployment is high, especially among young males. I want to see what this thing does to that young, male labor pool.”
The Raise Illinois campaign is supported by the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois AFL-CIO, SEIU Illinois State Council/Local 1, SEIU Heathcare and the Chicago Teachers Union.
One potential roadblock to either measure making it through this session are the ongoing budget negotiations between the Legislature and Gov. Pat Quinn. Most other concerns are stuck on the on-ramp.
If a majority cannot be mustered, one option would be to place an advisory referendum on the November ballot for voters to decide.
“We’re not to that point yet, but I believe it would pass overwhelmingly,” Hoffman said. The bill has already been filed, just in case.