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Opinion | Rich Miller: Pritzker has his work cut out for him

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Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker was asked last week about the timeline for passage of a new minimum wage law.

“That’s very important to me,” Pritzker said. “It’s probably something we’ll be able to get done in the first six months in office.”

Pritzker campaigned to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, so he was asked whether he was still on board for that goal.

I’m told that Pritzker hopes to shield small businesses from excessive harm to their bottom lines by using some sort of tax relief, including tax credits. The devil is always in the details, including defining what is and isn’t a small business, but that’ll apparently be part of the upcoming negotiations.

Illinois’ current minimum wage is $8.25 per hour. Indiana, which has often made a public spectacle of poaching Illinois businesses, has a $7.25 an hour minimum wage. Chicago’s minimum is $12 per hour and will rise to $13 an hour next year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has claimed an increased minimum wage would attract workers from around the region.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association voted earlier this year to not endorse anyone in the governor’s race, making it the only major business group which didn’t back Gov. Bruce Rauner. It also took a pass on the gubernatorial contest four years ago, but endorsed Republican state Sen. Bill Brady over Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in 2010.

This year’s decision came after two meetings between Pritzker and Rob Karr, IRMA’s president and CEO. Karr came away impressed, believing that, while Pritzker has some very liberal goals, he will negotiate in good faith on ways of reaching those goals.

IRMA has always tried to be an honest and willing negotiator. And its leader, Karr, was reportedly convinced from his two meetings with the then-candidate that once Pritzker made a deal he’d stick with it and pass it, despite any objections from the hard left.

Pritzker will have his work cut out for him in that regard. The head of the legislative Progressive Caucus, Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, recently threw down an online gauntlet about how Illinois “must not” follow the lead of Colorado Democrats, who after taking over their state’s legislature have now signaled that they’ll be more open to negotiations with the business community.

“People elected us because we said we'd make their lives better,” Guzzardi wrote. “Raise their wages, provide decent benefits, make college and healthcare more affordable, etc. We ran on this. We won. And now... we run away? If so, why vote for us at all?”

And Pritzker will also have to deal with more moderate Democrats on this topic. Those I’ve spoken with are not necessarily opposed to a minimum wage increase, but going all the way up to $15 an hour gives them serious pause, even with possible tax credits.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and


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