News Local/State

Local Legislators Scoff At Rauner’s Minimum Wage Plan


Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner wasn't the only new face in the Capitol for Wednesday's State of the State speech. The Champaign-Urbana area has two freshman legislators and they weren't happy with the governor’s plans for the minimum wage. 

Just before Rauner gave his speech, Democrats in the Illinois Senate passed a minimum wage increase out of committee. The move was meant to send a message to the governor: After several stalls last year, Democrats aren't giving up on the wage hike.

Rauner has his own minimum wage plan: to increase it to 10 dollars an hour over the next seven years.

When he proposed this timeline in his speech, Democrats literally laughed at the governor.

Representative Carol Ammons, an Urbana Democrat, isn't biting.

"I can't go and explain that to people who are trying to live on $8.25 an hour," she said.

The current proposal being floated in the legislature would increase the wage to $10 dollars an hour, but in the next two years. Senator Scott Bennett, a Democrat from Champaign, says that's a more palatable speed.

"People are suffering now, they can't wait 7 years to go up to what is considered a liveable wage," he said. "And frankly, what we learned in November is people are expecting us to address these concerns a lot quicker than a 5 or 7 or 10 year plan."

Bennett is referring to the 63 percent of Illinois voters who approved a non-binding referendum on the November ballot, asking whether they’d support an increase in the wage.

Opponents say raising the wage, especially too quickly, would put a strain on small businesses. Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, says a wage hike could threaten the state's economic recovery.

"I think it's exactly the wrong economic prescription for Illinois. It does nothing to incent hiring. It does nothing to change the economic perception of Illinois. We continue to struggle with unemployment."

The minimum wage debate will likely be a sticking point between Rauner and Democrats this legislative session.