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State should wait for federal action on wages

State should wait for federal action on wages

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The minimum wage should be raised. But it should be raised at the federal level - not by the state of Illinois.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich is proposing a one dollar increase in the state minimum wage, taking it to $7.50 per hour as of July 1.

The issue is expected to be taken up in the General Assembly's fall veto session, which begins Tuesday.

The federal minimum wage is $5.15 per hour but that is expected to change soon, with victories by the Democrats in last week's election.

Raising the minimum wage is a priority for Democrats, and President Bush said raising the minimum wage is an area where he thinks he can find "common ground" with Democrats.

An earlier proposal that passed the House and stalled in the Senate called for a phased-in increase of the federal minimum wage to $7.25 by 2009. That amount is reasonable. A quicker phase-in period also might be worth consideration.

But Illinois should watch what happens at the federal level before launching another wage increase. The last state increase took effect in 2003.

The governor argues that the state's higher minimum wage has not hurt job creation and would help an estimated 500,000 people.

However, the current Illinois rate of $6.50 an hour falls roughly in the middle of states with minimum wages higher than the federal standard. That includes six states that approved a state minimum wage in referendums last week.

Thirteen states plus the District of Columbia have or will have minimum-wage rates higher than Illinois. Nearly all are on the East or West coasts.

Ten, including four of the six to be instituted after last week's voter approval, set minimum rates at or below the Illinois level.

If the Legislature approves the jump to $7.50 recommended by Blagojevich, only two states would have a higher minimum wage than Illinois. Washington's minimum wage is $7.63 an hour, and Connecticut is going to $7.65 on Jan. 1.

California's minimum wage is increasing to $7.50 on Jan. 1 - equal to Blagojevich's proposal - and will become $8 an hour Jan. 1, 2008.

Blagojevich is also calling for indexing the minimum wage to inflation, which could further widen the gap with other states.

Let's see what the federal government does first.

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