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Deal to hike state minimum wage in works — but clock is ticking

SPRINGFIELD — On the heels of the Chicago City Council’s vote Tuesday to raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour citywide by 2019, a deal was taking shape in the Legislature that might raise the wage to $11 an hour throughout the rest of Illinois.

Meanwhile, Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner had little to say about the City Council’s 44-5 vote to hike the minimum wage, even though Mayor Rahm Emanuel and aldermen clearly defied Rauner’s wishes by doing so.

At the Capitol, state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said she’s met with House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, to discuss changes to her bill to implement a statewide minimum-wage increase. She was hoping for votes in both chambers on the new proposal before the end of the week.

Lightford’s comments, though, came before House leaders made a surprise announcement that the House would adjourn a day early — on Wednesday — for the week. That could signal the bill is on thin ice, leaving Rauner and the next General Assembly to tackle it when they take office in January.

The changes to Lightford’s proposal include raising the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $9 an hour by July 1, then increasing the rate by 50 cents an hour every year until 2019, when the wage will reach $11 an hour.

The proposal also would pre-empt Chicago’s minimum wage from going past $13 an hour, in an effort to prevent other cities and municipalities from following suit. Other possible changes include giving small businesses a two-year tax credit if the increase takes effect.

Emanuel moved up his plans for the minimum-wage vote out of concern the Legislature might craft a law that would pre-empt local governments’ ability to set the minimum wage within their borders.

In a news conference Tuesday morning before the City Council voted, Rauner urged Emanuel to show restraint.

“My recommendation to the mayor is he keeps in mind competitiveness for the city of Chicago,” Rauner said. “We do not want to increase unemployment in the city of Chicago and end up hurting many of the very families that we all want to help.

“Let’s help reduce the regulatory burden on businesses in Chicago. Let’s do workers’ comp reform, tort reform and a tax reduction on businesses in Chicago and raise the minimum wage as part of that.”

After the City Council vote, Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said that the Republican governor-elect would have no additional comments on the issue.

Also Tuesday, Rauner announced that his transition team has discovered more than $1.4 billion in additional spending in the 2014-15 state budget. Rauner, who is expected to outline his 2015-16 spending plan in February, said “accounting gimmicks” disguised those expenditures.

Outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn “used the budget to keep spending high,” Rauner said. “It will come home to roost in the 2016 budget.”

“Every time we look under the hood,” he said later on, the problems “are more significant.”

A top Quinn aide fired back at Rauner.

“Gov. Quinn proposed a budget in March that all three bond rating agencies praised as a good way for the state to move forward, pay its bills and meet its obligations,” said Abdon Pallasch, the governor’s assistant budget director. “The General Assembly instead passed a budget that the governor said at the time was ‘incomplete.’ He has also made clear that it is important for the new administration to work with the Legislature on the budget for this year and future years.”

Despite his assertion that state government’s finances are out-of-whack, Rauner continued to seem content to let the state’s income tax-rate drop as planned on Jan. 1 from 5 percent to 3.75 percent. “Our problems have not been created by the tax hike expiring,” he said.

Rauner wouldn’t discuss potential solutions to the state’s fiscal mess, saying, “Today, we’re focused on communicating with the voters.”

Besides the minimum wage and budget issues, the House followed the Senate and overturned Gov. Quinn’s veto of a bill that increases the maximum speed limit for trucks on interstate highways. The move means the speed limit for trucks will increase from 55 mph to 60 mph in several counties, including Cook, DuPage, Will, Kane and McHenry.