Greg Stumbo: Senate should heed support for a minimum-wage increase

February 12, 2014 

When you look around at the current state of politics, it doesn't take a PhD in political science to understand that Americans and Kentuckians appear more divided than ever on some of the biggest issues we face. Democrats and Republicans, rural and urban, liberal and conservative — if you read the news you'd think that these labels leave us helplessly at odds on every topic.

However, a recent poll conducted by this newspaper shows what many of us in Frankfort have understood for a long time: Kentuckians are in far more agreement than pundits and political ads portray. In fact, Kentuckians of every region, age group and affiliation are overwhelmingly in agreement on one very important issue — raising the minimum wage for working people.

Last week the Kentucky House of Representatives took on this very issue and debated House Bill 1, legislation I proudly sponsored, which would incrementally raise the minimum by just 95 cents a year between now and 2016. The debate was contentious, lasting almost three hours, and was full of the same old tired arguments against giving a raise to Kentucky's lowest paid and hardest-working folks.

But in the end, we passed HB 1 with the charge led by Democrats and joined by a few brave and level-headed Republicans who crossed the aisle to support the bill.

I have to admit, even after years in politics, I am puzzled why more Republicans in the House did not join the small handful of their colleagues to pass this important legislation.

The fact of the matter is that when the House passed an increase in Kentucky's minimum wage increase, we had the backing of the vast majority of Kentuckians. Last weekend's poll released by this paper showed that people across the commonwealth supported our raising of the minimum wage by more than 2-to-1, making an airtight case that Kentuckians want to see this raise become a reality.

The only thing now standing in the way of a raise in the minimum wage and the governor's desk is the Kentucky Senate. From everything they have indicated, it appears the Republican-controlled Senate has little intention of listening to the voices of Kentuckians on this matter.

If it is the intention of Republicans in Frankfort to spend their political capital fighting an increase in our minimum wage, so be it. However, they aren't just working against the will of a large majority of Kentuckians. They are working against the economic realities of people working harder than ever to carve out a piece of the American dream at $7.25 an hour.

So what does that dream look like on the current minimum wage? Our friends in the Senate need to understand that a working person making minimum wage who puts in 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, never takes a day off for sick time or holidays still only makes $15,080. And that's before they pay a dime's worth of taxes.

In other words, our current minimum wage ensures that a person doing everything we expect a responsible citizen to do — get a job, work hard, pay their taxes — will live a life hovering around the poverty line.

And who are these folks we're told don't need a raise? Popular thinking says that minimum-wage workers are mostly teenagers flipping burgers in their spare time, but this is hardly the case.

More than 70 percent of workers making minimum wage in Kentucky are women and the majority of them are adults over the age of 22.

If we believe that there ought to be a minimum wage, and Americans are near unanimous that there should be a minimum wage, then we must agree that from time to time that wage must be adjusted to keep up with the cost of living.

We've read on the pages of this paper that Kentuckians agree that the time is now to give hard-working Kentuckians the raise they deserve.

Let's hope that Kentuckians are speaking loud enough for Republicans in Frankfort to hear them.

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