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BLOOMINGTON — McLean County business leaders are taking a different perspective against the state's proposed minimum wage hike.

"These politicians are saying they care about the people, but the amount of people who are going to be even more impoverished and lost through this ... my gut tells me it'll be astounding," said Marc Largent, owner of six local Jimmy John's sandwich shops with about 150 employees.

"We're the ones taking care of our employees. You don't know their names. I do. I know their families. I know their struggles," he continued. "The amount of people that I'm going to have to look in their eyes and say, 'I don't have it for you,' that's heartbreaking. Springfield doesn't have to do that. We do."

Largent said he'd need to make cuts if the House votes to increase Illinois' minimum wage to a maximum of $15 by 2025, possibly this week. The Senate passed the proposed hike on Thursday.

While Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said a minimum wage hike will help working families, Matt Drat, director of resource development and community engagement at Mid Central Community Action in Bloomington, said it could have unintended consequences.

"There is no process for tiered transition of public benefits. You lose everything as soon as you start making more money," he said. "We're very much in favor of people making a wage that will cause them to be ... a productive member of our community, but I'm not sure this is the best way."

About 25 Twin City leaders, including Largent and Drat, met Tuesday with State Sen. Jason Barickman and State Rep. Dan Brady, both Bloomington Republicans, at the McLean County Chamber of Commerce to discuss the issue.

Chamber representatives plan to go to the state capital on Wednesday to register their opposition and share a survey of local small and medium-sized businesses about the impact of the proposed hikes.

Of 510 respondents, 85 said their businesses would buckle under the strain and close, and others said they'll increases prices or automate operations.

"The stories that are out there are very, very concerning," said Brady. "I can only tell you that my vote will be 'no' in regards to the minimum wage, and 43 of my colleagues (Republicans) will be the same."

Barickman encouraged those concerned about the proposal to pressure the House's Central Illinois Democrats to vote against the bill. He suggested that might push Democratic leadership to compromise on restrictions, including a different minimum wage for downstate and a slower rollout.

"This isn't a debate about whether to increase the minimum wage. It's the question of how," said Barickman. "This is a done deal? I don't accept that."

The proposal already includes a lower wage for workers under 18 years old and tax credits for businesses with 50 employees or fewer — though John Walsh, the chamber's manager of government and public affairs, noted the credits decrease as wage increases ramp up over the next few years.

Barickman said taxes could go up to fund wage increases for public services, including property taxes that power local school districts. He suggested increasing the minimum wage statewide could wipe away the benefits local schools got from a new K-12 funding formula passed in 2017.

Attendees also were shown how to create "witness slips" on the General Assembly website to comment on the bill at https://bit.ly/2DvO9DA.

Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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