- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago is set to become the latest U.S. city to raise its minimum wage, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel fast-tracks a politically popular plan to reach $13 per hour amid his bid for a second term and criticism that he is out-of-touch with working people.

A Chicago City Council committee voted late Monday to advance the plan, which is expected to get full council approval Tuesday.

The mayor moved the meeting up from Dec. 10 following concerns that the Illinois Legislature would bow to business groups and pass a measure this week that would prevent cities from setting their wage higher than the state. Chicago currently has the same minimum wage as the state, at $8.25 per hour. The General Assembly is considering raising Illinois’ wage to $11 by 2017.

Emanuel, the hard-charging former White House chief of staff, is facing a challenge from progressive candidates who say he has been too cozy with business interests and hasn’t spent as much time looking out for people struggling to make ends meet in the nation’s third-largest city. His top rivals in the February election, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Alderman Bob Fioretti, favor a $15 wage.

Chicago is the latest city to bypass a state legislature and seek action on the issue. Earlier this year, Seattle officials voted to phase in a $15-per-hour wage. Portland, Maine, and Louisville are considering increases.

Business groups and some Republicans argue that raising the minimum wage will lead to job losses. Leaders of several groups, including the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, say setting Chicago’s wage higher than the rest of the state will put city businesses at a disadvantage, particularly in areas that border suburbs where the wage would be lower. They support a statewide increase to $10 to $11 per hour.

“Chicago is not an island, and we’ve got to quit pretending that we are,” said Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

But the measures remain popular with voters. Oakland and San Francisco voters supported increases on Nov. 4, as did voters in all four states that had binding ballot measures: Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Emanuel settled on $13 per hour after a recommendation from a task force he created earlier this year, when there was still a chance a stronger progressive candidate would take him on.

He said he wanted to wait until after a Nov. 4 referendum on whether Illinois should raise its wage to $10, a measure widely considered a Democratic Party attempt to spur turnout during a tight gubernatorial election. In Chicago, roughly 87.8 percent of voters said yes.

Meanwhile, Emanuel followed President Barack Obama’s example and signed an executive order in September that requires city contractors to pay workers $13 per hour.

“Throughout my life I have believed that if you work no child should be raised in poverty,” Emanuel said then. “Work should pay. People need a pay raise.”

Chicago’s measure would increase the wage to $10 next year, then incrementally to $13 by 2019.

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