Thursday, March 20, 2014

Senate committee approves minimum wage increase

By Jamey Dunn with Caitlin Rydinsky contributing 

A Senate committee today approved a plan to increase the state’s minimum wage.

The proposal would incrementally raise the minimum wage from the current $8.25 an hour to $10.65 an hour by 2016. Opponents of Senate Bill 68 argued that the increase would hurt small businesses and cause them to lay off employees or hesitate to create new positions. Mike Murphy, owner of Charlie Parker’s Diner in Springfield said if the proposed increase took place he would have to cut back the hours of his minimum wage employees and potentially might have to let some of them go. Murphy said his current payroll is about $285,000, not including his own salary and tips that wait staff bring in. He said the proposal would increase payroll costs by about $78,000. “I have two choices: raise prices, or cut costs,” he told the committee. “I cannot price myself out of business; nor will I, and so what I will have to do is cut costs.” He said that he could not do without his skilled higher-paid employees. “My minimum wage employees would be the first to be cut.” Murphy said that the minimum wage has been increased nine times since he opened his business. When asked if the had to layoff any employees under those increases, he said no. But he said that it made things harder for his business, and he did have to cut back on some hours.

Sponsor Maywood Democratic Sen. Kimberly Lightford said that the proposal would bring the minimum wage in line with the current cost of living and help working families avoid poverty. Proponents argue that it would also boost the economy by giving workers more buying power. “This is economic. This is living outside of poverty. This is working an earning a minimum wage,”  she said. “I don’t even feel that this is a party issue. This is people issue.”

While Lightford may not believe that it is a party issue, the legislation passed on party lines out of the committee. Chicago Democratic Sen. John Mulroe voted in favor of the bill today but said he was not yet ready to approve it on a floor vote. “I just want a little more time before I commit to any vote on the floor.” After the committee hearing, Lightford said that she had more negotiating to do on the bill and did not yet have a timeline for when she might call it for a vote in Senate.

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