What’s the rush?
That’s the question we have after a measure to increase Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next six years zoomed out of the Illinois Senate in less than two days. The distressing answer appears to be that new Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker is putting politics above policy on a serious issue that has huge implications for the state’s economy.
The measure approved Thursday by the Senate calls for gradually raising the minimum wage, which sits at $8.25 an hour, to $15 an hour by 2025. It provides tax credits to small employers to help them cover their increased costs, and would allow lower wages be paid to teenagers and service workers who augment their income with tips.
Given how heavily Pritzker campaigned on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, it was expected that a proposal to provide a bump would be brought up this legislative session. But the speed at which it has flown through the Senate — with the promise to do the same in the House this week — is troublesome. Business leaders say they have concerns about the proposal and ideas they want to be considered, but aren’t being heard. It’s disappointing that Pritzker — who wants this approved by the time he gives his first budget address Feb. 20 — is pushing for his first major legislative win at the cost of breaking his vow that he would seek compromise before decisions with far-reaching implications are made.
The legislative language for the pay increase was introduced Wednesday and the Senate voted on the measure the next day. Key details are always missed when any legislation is rushed. What repercussions are being overlooked here, and how much will those consequences cost taxpayers when it’s discovered?
What is known is worrisome. Pritzker’s office anticipates raising the minimum wage will cost the state more than $1 billion by the time it is fully implemented in 2025. That’s because of the number of school districts, universities, social service agencies, local governments and nonprofits that have minimum wage workers. Their costs — covered by state funding — will go up, or they’d be forced to cut back elsewhere.
The rush to approve also ignores the pain this is likely to cause to the small businesses that are the lifeblood of many communities and which stand to be disproportionately hurt in central and southern Illinois. Business owners and organizations are raising valid questions that deserve respectful consideration. And they are asking for compromise, such as taking longer to phase in the increase so businesses outside of Chicago — where the minimum wage will be raised to $13 this summer — have more time to adjust.
Businesses also have asked to consider a regional approach, with different minimum wage levels throughout the state. The refusal by some proponents of the raise increase to even consider a regionally based minimum wage standard is perplexing. There is no question that $15 goes further in Springfield than Chicago. It’s an idea that at least deserves to be studied — New York and Oregon have already done this — and debated on its merits, not pushed aside to hit an arbitrary political marker like a budget address.
Pritzker has promised his administration will propose a balanced budget that will reflect the higher wage; at the same time, his office released a report Friday that said Illinois could be facing a $3.2 billion budget shortfall for the fiscal year that starts in July. ... In that same report, he vowed to also invest in education and human services. With so many constraints on the state’s budget, why is another going to be added with so little time given to fully understand what its implications will be?
Besides the impact on state finances, it’s impossible to ignore that the state’s economy has been battered in recent years. Businesses are raising legitimate concerns about how they’ll be affected by this plan. The state can’t afford to throw business owners another curve that makes them consider whether they want to remain in Illinois.
Pritzker has the votes in the House and Senate to push an increase through. However, this process should be done in a thoughtful and bipartisan manner, with compromises involving all stakeholders. Some have raised the question of whether a minimum wage and a living wage are the same thing; that brings up the companion issue of businesses saying they can’t find the skilled workers they need for higher-paying jobs. Boosting Illinois’ economy and all workers’ well-being requires a thoughtful, multi-pronged approach.
Policy and politics are always intertwined at the state Capitol. Unfortunately for Illinois, the governor and Democratic leaders are pushing the political in their rush to hastily approve this bill.