By Jerry Nowicki
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – A bill to raise Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 by 2025 needs only Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature to become law, and his office said he stands ready to act in the coming days.
“Today is a resounding victory for the 1.4 million Illinoisans who will soon get a hard-earned and well-deserved raise,” Pritzker said in a news release Thursday. “After nearly a decade of delay, I applaud the House and Senate for passing a living wage with the fierce urgency this moment requires.”
The House galleries were filled with cheers from advocates – many of them currently making the minimum wage – as the final 69-47-1 favorable vote became official.
Prior to the final vote, Pritzker was on the House floor smiling and shaking the hands of Democratic lawmakers – even as Republican Minority Leader Jim Durkin was lamenting the lack of bipartisanship behind the effort in his floor speech.
“This is not the way to start out the General Assembly,” Durkin said, adding Republicans had “basically been told your interests and your thoughts are not valid and we don’t care.”
All in Durkin’s Republican caucus were joined by four Democrats opposing the bill while one, Stephanie Kifowit of Aurora, voted present after two hours of debate.
In their final efforts to derail the fast-tracked bill, Republicans once again shared stories from business owners, universities, colleges and schools within their districts detailing layoffs, closures and increased property taxes.
Rep. Charlie Meier, an Okawville Republican, said the bill would hurt agriculture and small-town businesses such as groceries.
“The small family farms will suffer the worst with the organic farms, orchards, vineyards, wineries, and the livestock industry being hit the hardest of all,” Meier said. “This is another Illinois law that will yet again put our region at a disadvantage.”
Rep. Tom Bennett, a Gibson City Republican, cited a National Federation of Independent Businesses study which said Illinois would see 93,000 jobs lost because of the increase. Rep. Terri Bryant, a Murphysboro Republican, said the bill would cost Illinois’ public universities $112 million by the time it is implemented.
Republicans also brought up the hundreds of millions of dollars the bill would add to the state’s expenditures as human service providers – especially nursing homes, 25 of which have closed since 2014 because of inadequate Medicaid reimbursements – universities and other departments request more funding to pay for the higher labor costs.
But Rep. Will Guzzardi, Senate Bill 1’s House sponsor, continued to point to data which shows no impact on job losses when communities see an “incremental” minimum wage increase, and spoke to the dignity of the worker.
“The only way to stop being poor is to have more money,” he said. “And that’s what this legislation is going to do. The working poor in our state are going to have more money. We will treat their labor with the dignity and respect it deserves, and we will allow them to provide a better standard of living for themselves and their families.”
While Republicans continued to argue that the studies cited by Guzzardi predict only an incremental increase – not an 82 percent spike in six years – many Democrats were convinced by the moral argument.
Rep. Emmanuel “Chris” Welch of Westchester was among them.
“People should not go to work 40 hours a week and still not be able to put food on the table,” he said. “Dr. King said there is nothing but short-sightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing a livable income for every American. Let’s not be shortsighted today.”
Rep. Celina Villanueva, a Chicago Democrat, said further progress was necessary and the fight for 15 was only the “first step” toward worker dignity.
“What we’re really talking about is the dignity and respect of our workers,” she said. “I don’t think 15 is enough. I’ve never thought 15 was enough.”
Guzzardi said 41 percent of all workers in Illinois make less than $15 per hour, and more of those workers are in their 40s, 50s and 60s than are younger than 25; and 48 percent of African Americans and 61 percent of Latinos make less than $15 per hour.
Those minimum-wage workers will begin seeing their increases in January 2020, when the minimum rate goes from $8.25 to $9.25 before increasing to $10 on July 1, 2020, and $11 on Jan. 1 2021. After that, it would increase by $1 every January until it hits $15 in 2025.
For Iashea Cross, a personal assistant and low-wage worker in the health care field who was in the gallery from Chicago, the bill means a brighter outlook in the future.
“I might be able to let go of that second job in the future that I have just to make ends meet,” she said. “For me, the passage of this bill means that finally we are being recognized as the working people of the state that help it continue to move forward.”
The bill also maintains a tip credit, which allows employers to pay tipped workers 60 percent of the minimum wage if tips make up the other 40 percent. A training wage for teen seasonal workers is also part of the bill, and that wage will top out at $13 per hour.
A tax credit for businesses with less than 50 full-time equivalent employees is also part of the final bill, starting at 25 percent of the difference between the current minimum wage and an employee’s wage in the final quarter of the previous calendar year. It would decrease by 4 percent each year until it hits 5 percent in the final two years.