Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 4, 2014

Stumbo to advocate minimum wage boost

Lana Bellamy
The Independent

FRANKFORT — Shortly after 13 states announced they will be increasing the 2014 minimum wage floor, Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, announced he plans to make boosting the state's own minimum wage limit a top priority in the upcoming session that begins Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported Stumbo calling for minimum wage to be raised from $7.25 to $10.10 over the next three years.

President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats have been pushing Congress to adopt a $10.10 minimum wage over the past year, but have been blocked by opposing Republicans in the fiscally conservative House of Representatives.

As of the beginning of this year, Congress approved minimum wage increases above the federal limit, with Kentucky’s northern neighbor Ohio making yearly adjustments to accommodate fluctuations in the cost of living for their workers.

State Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, said she will be delving into economic studies to see how the Kentucky Congress can realistically give a boost to minimum wage workers as part of her role as vice chairwoman of the Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

“There’s a living wage issue that needs to be addressed, but the challenge you face in a post-recession economy is the impact of that goodness,” she said. “Some businesses could absorb it a lot easier than others. If it was too much, jobs would probably be cut. It’s a pretty complex dynamic from an economic standpoint.”

A top priority for this congressional session is passing the next two-year budget, Webb said, and everybody wants a piece of it. “This is a budget year, and everybody is asking for money,” she said.

Stumbo plans to file his proposal as House Bill 1, making it his primary concern, and further citing his efforts to improve the low wages as a movement to help working-class families in the state where inflation has eroded the value of a $7.25 hourly paycheck since 2009.

Webb agrees of the need to bring life back into the middle class and keep workers from migrating to other states, like Ohio, in order to earn higher pay.

She had recently spoken to a prison guard in Carter County who said, while he loved Kentucky, he could not turn down the opportunity to work in Cincinnati for higher wages.

The minimum wage increase will not see a drastic change, but could possibly experience gains in small increases, Webb said. “I think a proper adjustment of some kind will be feasible as long as it’s reasonable,” she said.

“There’s a balance to be struck. It would cause me to do a lot of economic study on the impact of that as far as job preservation and job growth. The wage is too low now, but we’re still in a post-recessionary economy and we’ve got to provide relief not just in that way, but in our tax structure and less-regressive taxation for individuals.”

“If you are undecided on the issues, I ask you to keep an open mind until the debate is heard,” Stumbo wrote in a letter to fellow members of Congress on Jan. 2, defending his decision to back increased wages. “No one wants to harm business owners or small businesses, but I believe all of us recognize that the Great American Dream cannot be realized unless we have a true ‘living wage’ for those who work in these jobs and a fair equitable wage regardless of gender.”

LANA BELLAMY can be reached at lbellamy@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.