Minimum Wage Legislation Sponsored By Sen. Lightford Passes IL General Assembly; Referendum Likely To Be On November Ballot

Senator Lightford in Debate
Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, seen here last May, argued today at the Capitol for a minimum wage increase advisory question to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot. (Photo by E. Jason Wambsgans for the Chicago Tribune || Caption also by The Chicago Tribune).

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 || By Michael Romain

During the general election on November 4, 2014, voters will likely get to choose more than politicians. A piece of legislation, which would allow voters to choose whether or not the minimum wage for adults over the age of 18 in Illinois should be raised to $10 an hour by January 1, 2015, has passed the Illinois General Assembly. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood).

“Giving the people an opportunity to voice their opinions should help inform our debate at the State Capitol,” Lightford said.

Although the referendum would only be advisory, if successful, it may constitute a major advance in the push for establishing a wage level that working families can actually live on.

“The minimum wage should be a living wage,” Lightford said. “If you work full-time, you shouldn’t have to rely on government support to put food on your family’s table or a roof over your head.”

Currently, the Illinois minimum wage is $8.25 an hour. That means that a typical minimum wage-earner who works full-time at 40 hours a week, 52 weeks throughout the year, takes home about $17,000 annually.

There’s substantial evidence to suggest that most professional economists agree that increasing the minimum wage reduces poverty. According to a January 2014, posting on the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, a major 2013 study by University of Massachusetts Amherst economist Arindrajit Dube concludes that, “raising the minimum wage 10 percent (say from $7.25 to near $8) would reduce the number of people living in poverty 2.4 percent.”

However, as the Chicago Tribune recently reported in May, Republicans in the Illinois senate have “questioned whether the move is simply a way to drive up Democratic turnout in the Nov. 4 election.”

The referendum may prove to be a major wedge issue separating Democratic incumbent, Gov. Pat Quinn, from his Republican challenger, the multimillionaire businessman Bruce Rauner. Republican strategists believe that the referendum is a Democratic response to “counter Rauner’s proposal to ask voters to limit the terms of legislators,” according to the Tribune.

Rauner, who was outspoken against the proposal to raise the minimum wage during the GOP primary back in March, seems to have gone back on those statements in an attempt to tack more to the center in the run-up to November’s general election.

According to the Tribune, “Facing a firestorm of criticism from that remark and another in which Rauner suggested the state should roll back its $8.25-an-hour rate by $1 to match the federal rate, Rauner later said he supports an increase in the federal minimum wage. If that doesn’t happen in Washington, Rauner said Illinois should raise its minimum wage as long as pro-business reforms are enacted in tandem.” VFP

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