Illinois lawmakers are exploring a regional approach to raising the state’s minimum wage, meaning employers in urban areas could pay more than those in rural areas.
Senators met Wednesday in Springfield to talk about the state’s $8.25 per hour minimum wage. Some legislators want to know if Illinois can mandate different minimums based on geographic boundaries.
“There’s a huge discrepancy regionally about how much money is needed in order to live a higher quality of life,” said state Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora.
Although no vote was taken, lawmakers reviewed draft of legislation that appeared to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour statewide over several years with exemptions for businesses with fewer employees.
Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, will likely sponsor legislation that would increase the state’s minimum wage. She said she was open to the idea of regional minimum wages, but said there could be constitutional issues with that concept.
“It’s challenging because there are some constitutionalities that go along with a flat minimum wage,” she said. “That’s something that I know our lawyers are checking into.”
Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said he would prefer a regional minimum wage law. He said other states with large cities have done it.
“The suburbs and downstate simply don’t enjoy the same economics – or even close to them – that something like the city core of Chicago does,” Karr said.
The minimum wage should be $15 across the state, said Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, a union that represents 90,000 health care workers.
“Our analysis suggests that $15 is sort of the bare minimum for folks throughout the state regardless of where you live,” he told lawmakers.
Many areas of Illinois have a median wage that’s below $15 an hour. In 2016, the city of Carbondale’s median hourly wage was $13.61 per hour, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. The median entry-level position in Carbondale paid $9.36 an hour.
Illinois’ last minimum wage change was in 2010. Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a $15 an hour bill last November.