Sen. Lightford reignites minimum wage debate as city elections loom

The legislator reintroduces the measure just as the mayoral campaign heats up

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By Michael Romain


In one of her first legislative acts in the 99th General Assembly, state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th) reintroduced her plan to raise the state's minimum wage from its current rate of $8.25 an hour to $11 an hour over the next four years.

In last November's elections, nearly 70 percent of Illinois voters approved a non-binding referendum that suggested hiking the statewide minimum wage to $10 an hour.

According to a statement released by state Senate President John Cullerton's office, voter consensus "defied geographic boundaries, winning 83 of Illinois' 102 counties, including Cook, the collar counties, St. Louis Metro East, and the vast majority of the state's border counties."

"If you work 40 hours per week — or more — you should be able to put a safe roof over your head and healthy food on your table without any assistance from the government," said Lightford, whose sponsored measure, Senate Bill 11, would also create a tax credit for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees to offset costs associated with the raise in the minimum wage.

In December, the Illinois Senate passed Lightford's plan, but it didn't come to a vote in the House.

"We need to move forward on the wage this year," Lightford said. "The voters sent a clear message that they believe this state needs a higher minimum wage. I'm confident that we will act in the Senate. I urge my colleagues in the House and our new governor to do the same."

The City of Chicago, which would be exempted from some of the provisions of Lightford's measure if it becomes law, has already adopted a new ordinance that would raise the minimum wage for workers within the city to $13 by 2019.

This July, city workers will experience the first gradual increase when the minimum wage jumps from $8.25 an hour to $10.

"It then will increase by 50 cents in July 2016 and another 50 cents in July 2017," according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.

"After that, the minimum wage would go up $1 in July 2018 and $1 in July 2019 to reach $13 an hour. After 2019, yearly increases would be pegged to the local consumer price index, with a limit of 2.5 percent if the unemployment rate stays below 8.5 percent," the Tribune notes.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel's top progressive challengers, Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (7th) and Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), say the ordinance that passed overwhelmingly last year, is largely a political ploy to satisfy the electorate before this February's mayoral and aldermanic elections.

"For a mayor who is fond of saying he makes tough decisions, I think we have a right to ask why he did not make an easy one," said Garcia at the time. "Why didn't he support a minimum wage hike during his first year in office?"

Both Garcia and Fioretti one-upped the mayor in advocating for pushing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

"Emanuel could've pushed this legislation earlier, and he could've pushed for $15 an hour today," Fioretti told the Tribune at the time.

Aldermen Jason Ervin (28th), Deborah Graham (29th) and Emma Mitts (37th) all supported the $13-an-hour ordinance.

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