It's Groundhog Day For Kentucky's Minimum Wage Debate
Minimum wage increase advocates applauded the passage of House Bill 278 out of committee Thursday morning, but don't expect any party balloons down the hall.
The legislation gradually ratcheting up hourly base pay until it reaches $10.10 an hour in 2018 boasts ample fans in the Democratic caucus, but the election of Gov. Matt Bevin and an ascendant GOP in the statehouse virtually guarantees a tough road ahead. Republican Senate President Robert Stivers won't say the idea is dead on arrival in his chamber, but he's questioning Democrats' priorities in continuing to advance it.
"Why do we want to talk about minimum wage jobs when we should really caring what the governor talked about in his speech of finding out how we create jobs that have way in excess of minimum wage?" he asked.
The GOP leader says he would prefer to see proposals on growing manufacturing employment and replacing high-paying coal jobs, the loss of which he blames on regulatory overreach by the Obama administration.
Similar bills have faltered in the Senate over concerns about overburdened business owners and lost jobs, and the stage appears set for predictable sequel in 2016. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a vocal proponent, maintains that state coffers would benefit should the General Assembly opt for the raise.
"What it really does is save the Kentucky taxpayer $34M, so if you're against the bill what you're really saying is I don't care about your $34M, Kentucky taxpayer. We'll subsidize these people with government subsidies," he said.
Stumbo tells reporters he's not sure when the measure will hit the floor. For now, he and Budget Chair Rick Rand are tinkering with language in the bill to "make it a little more palatable to small business."
Both Lexington and Louisville have passed their own local minimum wage increases.