Further debate on whether to raise the minimum wage in Lexington to $10.10 an hour over the next three years will likely have to wait until summer.
After a nearly two-hour meeting, the Urban County Council's Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee voted 9-1 to continue the debate at the committee's June meeting.
The committee does not meet in April or May while the council considers the city budget.
Council member Jennifer Mossotti, who pushed the increase in the minimum wage, was the sole member to vote against delaying action. Later on Tuesday, Mossotti made a motion during a council work session to hold a special budget committee meeting on April 9. That motion failed on a 9-2 vote.
Council member Kevin Stinnett, who chairs the budget committee, said he was not inclined to have a special meeting before the scheduled June 23 meeting. But Stinnett later said he was open to having an evening meeting or an extended meeting so all testimony could be heard.
During Tuesday's meeting, council members heard testimony from groups backing the increase and business groups that opposed it.
Mossotti said data presented to the committee Tuesday shows that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would benefit 31,000 workers in Fayette County.
"Raising the minimum wage is the responsible and the right thing to do," Mossotti said. Minimum-wage workers who work full-time make about $15,000 a year. That's not enough money to pay rent, buy groceries and pay for child care, she said.
"When workers prosper, so do communities and businesses in which they live," Mossotti said.
The proposed ordinance would increase the minimum wage from the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour to $8.20 an hour on July 1; $9.15 an hour on July 1, 2016; and $10.10 an hour on July 1, 2017. After 2017, the increase would be tied to the consumer price index.
The $10.10 minimum wage is more than Louisville's recently passed minimum-wage increase to $9 an hour over three years.
Another key difference between Louisville's ordinance and Lexington's proposal is that Lexington would raise the minimum wage for workers who get tips, such as waiters and bar staff.
Kentucky is one of 13 states that has not raised the minimum wage for tipped workers since 1991. It has remained at $2.13, according to information provided by the Kentucky Center on Economic Policy.
Under the proposed ordinance, tipped workers' minimum wage would increase to $2.41 an hour July 1; $2.73 an hour on July 1, 2016; and $3.09 per hour on July 1, 2017.
Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, told the council that U.S. Census data shows that of the 31,000 workers who make less than $10.10 an hour, 90 percent are adults over the age of 20. The majority of them — 57 percent — are women. Many of those low-wage workers are in retail — 19 percent — and restaurant and food services, also about 19 percent.
Approximately 21 local governments have passed increases in the minimum wage after efforts to raise the minimum wage at the state and federal level have failed. Bailey said studies of adjoining states where one state raises the minimum wage and the other doesn't have shown that there is little effect on job losses in the state that raises the minimum wage.
But several businesses and business groups told the committee Tuesday that they were concerned about an increase in the minimum wage.
Robert Ramsey, of Ramsey's Diners, said none of his 250 employees makes minimum wage. An average non-tipped kitchen employee makes more than $11 an hour, he said.
But Ramsey said raising tipped employee minimum wages could hurt the restaurant business, which operates on slim margins. Those costs may be passed on to customers.
It's difficult to determine how much tipped employees make, but Ramsey said most of his tipped employees make a reported $12.82 an hour.
Bob Quick, the CEO of Commerce Lexington, urged the council not to vote on the proposal on Tuesday, saying more time is needed to vet the issue. Quick also noted that business groups have challenged Louisville's minimum-wage ordinance in court. It would make more sense if Lexington waited until that lawsuit was resolved, he said.
But others who spoke Tuesday said Lexington families and low-wage workers can't wait.
David Christiansen, speaking for a coalition of groups — the Kentucky Working Families Campaign — said incomes have been declining for decades, except for those at the very top of the pay scale.
Raising the minimum wage would also allow government to stop "subsidizing businesses who encourage their employees to apply for food stamps," Christiansen said.
April Taylor, a social justice coordinator, told the council that she was a college graduate who at one point in her life made only $10 an hour working for an insurance company. As a mother with two kids, she couldn't make ends meet. "I still qualified for food stamps and a welfare check," Taylor said.
Mossotti said after Tuesday's meeting that the council's decision to delay hearing additional testimony until as late as June would delay any increase in minimum wage this year. There wasn't enough time for the council to pass a minimum-wage ordinance by July 1, when the first increase was set to take effect. Mossotti said it was still too early to say how the delay would effect the ordinance moving forward.