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DeKalb County elected officials talk $15/hr minimum wage

Legislation passed by state Senate now awaits House vote

As soon as the Illinois minimum wage hike proposal started to gain steam, state Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, started to reach out to as many affected residents, businesses and public bodies as possible, he said.

Keicher, who represents the state’s 70th District, said he’s disappointed that the bill doesn’t take costs of living in different parts of the state into account – $15 an hour in Chicago is a significantly different number than it is in Malta, for example.

He said he recognizes $8.25, the current state minimum hourly wage, is not sufficient as a living wage throughout the state.

“But $15 an hour, an 82 percent increase, is beyond what’s reasonable for businesses and units of government to avoid taking a significant hit to operating costs,” Keicher said.

A memo from Gov. J.B. Pritzker that laid out the proposed minimum wage increase was made public by the Capitol Fax blog Tuesday.

The memo outlined a six-year phase-in of the increase beginning in January 2020.

The rate would go up to $9.25 in January 2020, then to $10 in July of the same year. A third increase would occur in January 2021, raising the rate to $11. After that, the rate would increase by $1 every January until it hits $15 in 2025.

DeKalb County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski Jr., D-Cortland, said he supports a minimum wage increase and thinks a lot of people drum up fear of how it would drive businesses out of the state.

But a one-size-fits-all approach may not be the best option, he said, and lawmakers should take the concerns of small businesses especially into account.

Pietrowski said legislators who are against both raising the minimum wage and having government programs that help people can’t have it both ways.

“People have to be able to live their lives without having to work two to three jobs just to make ends meet,” Pietrowski said.

Keicher said the proposed tax credit that would be available for small businesses with the wage increase is deceptive. He said only businesses that have 50 employees or fewer are eligible for the credit.

“It doesn’t go nearly far enough to offset the significant increase cost,” Keicher said.

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said the way to provide constituents with more financial security and to raise wages is for communities to create more job opportunities and create competition among businesses for job-searching area workers, thus raising wages and strengthening the area economy.

“I don’t think you can get that strength by simply mandating a higher wage,” said Demmer, who represents the state’s 90th District.

Lisa Miner, a spokeswoman for Northern Illinois University, said in an email on Friday that the university is not taking a stance on the bill one way or the other.

“If passed, the estimated cost to the university would be approximately $12 million over the six-year period outlined in the bill,” Miner said in the email.

As an outsider looking in and a former NIU student who also worked while he was in college, Keicher said he is concerned about how this could affect the number of student worker and work-study job opportunities.

Keicher said he has also reached out to other public bodies and it would cost millions of dollars a year for local school districts, for example, to comply with the proposed $15 per hour minimum wage.

“We’ve got a big problem paying our bills today,” Keicher said. “I would’ve felt more comfortable if we addressed the revenue side before we tackled an additional requirement that local government entities spend additional monies.”

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