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'Up in arms' over minimum wage hike plan

Caption
(Jim Dallke – jdallke@shawmedia.com)
Doug Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, speaks with McHenry County business owners at the Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Chamber of Commerce Business Over Breakfast meeting at Montarra Grill Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013.

ALGONQUIN – Doug Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, criticized Gov. Pat Quinn's call for an increase in the minimum wage.

"It may sound good, but it's not good economics and it's not good for our state," Whitley said.

Whitley spoke to a group of about 40 Tuesday at the Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Chamber of Commerce Business Over Breakfast at the Montarra Grill in Algonquin.

In his State of the State address to lawmakers last week, Gov. Pat Quinn called for a 20 percent increase in the Illinois minimum wage.

Although the state already has one of the highest rates in the nation, Quinn argued for another boost from $8.25 to $10 an hour.

"Nobody in Illinois should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty," Quinn said during his speech. "That's a principle as old as the Bible."

Whitley called the push to increase the minimum wage "pure politics."

"We are all up in arms about it because we know when you raise the minimum wage it ripples through the whole wage structure that you've got in your office," Whitley said. "So there is a high cost to every employer, whether or not you currently have employees affected by minimum wage.

"The ripple through the economy is far greater than the political attractiveness of championing a minimum wage increase," Whitley said.

"One of our biggest objectives is to get public officials to walk in the shoes of a business owner," Whitley said. Elected officials "can change the cost of your doing business overnight by passing that legislation.

"Public officials oftentimes are catering to popularity contests, but don't think about what are the implications for employers."

Whitley added, "I think there's a very good chance the minimum wage increase will pass." He urged the business community to become engaged with legislators so its voice is heard in Springfield.

Quinn is seeking to revive the minimum wage proposal that was floated last year but didn't make it out of committee. Still, lawmakers said that such a proposal would need cooperation from the business community to get any traction.

Illinois last saw a minimum wage increase in 2010 when it jumped to $8.25 through a four-step step increase adopted under imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2006. The Democrat raised the minimum wage twice during his time in office, making it a centerpiece of his agenda. The federal rate has been $7.25 an hour since 2007.

Washington and Oregon are the only states with a higher rate than Illinois, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor.

In his speech Tuesday, Whitley also criticized the Legislature for failing to address the state's $100 billion pension deficit,

"We don't have the political will to deal with it, and the answer's really simple. Because literally hundreds of thousands of employees, retirees and their families are going to be hurt by it," Whitley said. "No one wants to say no. No one wants to admit to thousands of their constituents – people that vote for them, give campaign contributions to them – that things are going to have to change.

"If we don't fix it all those retirees and all those wannabe retirees, those funds are not going to be there for them," Whitley said.

"If we don't fix it, we're not going to give business owners the confidence to invest in Illinois," he added.

"One of the challenges we have is growing jobs at a fast enough pace that we have literally hundreds of thousands of new people paying taxes in our state...making Illinois is a destination state for job growth," Whitley said.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report

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