Efforts to raise the minimum wage in Lexington to $10.10 an hour over the next three years appear to be stalled.
A committee of the Urban County Council voted Tuesday to table an ordinance that would raise the minimum wage in Lexington until a lawsuit over Louisville's minimum-wage ordinance is resolved.
Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti, who sponsored the ordinance, said shortly after the Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee's vote that she doesn't think Lexington's low-wage workers should have to wait for a Louisville lawsuit to be resolved, which could take years.
"I am not giving up," Mossotti said. "In my opinion, this action sends an unfortunate message to many less well-off individuals in our community who are struggling here and now. The message is, you, the citizens of Lexington, must wait, while the city leaders of Lexington stand by, awaiting the outcome of a legal matter in the city of Louisville."
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Council member Bill Farmer made the motion to table after a more than two-hour meeting. The council has held several public hearings on the minimum wage and heard from economists, Farmer said.
"We haven't had a chance to discuss the legislation," Farmer said. Moreover, he said the council should wait until Louisville's lawsuit has been resolved. Louisville raised the minimum wage to $9 an hour over three years in December.
Business groups filed a lawsuit challenging that ordinance. A Jefferson Circuit Court judge is expected to issue a ruling soon. An appeal of the lower court's decision is likely. That appeal could take between six months and two years. Louisville was the first city in Kentucky to pass an increase in the minimum wage.
The committee voted 6 to 3 to table the ordinance. Those who voted against tabling were Mossotti, Vice Mayor Steve Kay and council member Richard Moloney. Those who voted to table were council members Fred Brown, Amanda Bledsoe, Ed Lane, Jennifer Scutchfield, Susan Lamb and Farmer.
Budget Committee Chairman Kevin Stinnett did not vote. He said later he does not vote unless there is a tie.
The proposed ordinance would increase the minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $8.20 by Jan. 1; from $8.20 to $9.15 on Jan. 1, 2017; and from $9.15 to $10.10 beginning Jan. 1, 2018.
After 2018, the minimum-wage increases would be tied to the Consumer Price Index. The ordinance also would increase minimum hourly wage for tipped employees from $2.13 to $3.09 over three years.
Bledsoe said she was concerned that if Lexington raised its minimum wage, it would be higher than minimum wages in cities in a more than 200-mile radius. Other council members said they were concerned that there was little research to show what happens when local governments raise the minimum wage.
Council member James Brown, who isn't a member of the committee, encouraged members of the committee to move the ordinance out of committee so the entire 15-member council could weigh in.
"My district overwhelmingly supports it," James Brown said.
Ken Troske, a University of Kentucky professor, told the committee that increasing the minimum wage would not help poor workers and that it could cause some people to lose jobs. Troske cited several studies that showed job losses after a state raised the minimum wage.
Troske said he estimates that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over three years would result in about 2,000 people losing their jobs. Instead of raising the minimum wage, Lexington should consider improving education and job training or pass an earned-income tax credit, which would give tax refunds to poor workers, he said.
James Ziliak of UK's Center of Poverty Research said he has supported federal and statewide efforts to increase the minimum wage. But Ziliak said there was not enough data to show what happens when local governments raise the minimum wage.
Some of Troske's information differed from data provided by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, a nonprofit organization based in Berea that supports raising the minimum wage. The center's information was provided to the council at a meeting in March.
Using data provided by the U.S. Census, the Center for Economic Policy estimates that 31,000 of Fayette County's more than 150,000 workers would benefit from raising the minimum wage to $10.10. Although Troske said many minimum-wage workers are typically not well educated and rarely stay in minimum-wage jobs more than a year, census data shows that the 90 percent of people who currently make less than $10.10 an hour are older than 20.
Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, told the council that the minimum-wage increases have been studied exhaustively and that 64 studies have found minimal job losses after minimum-wage increases.
The council's vote came on the heels of the University of Kentucky's decision to raise its minimum wage for most employees and Gov. Steve Beshear's executive order that increased the minimum wage for state employees to $10.10 an hour. Both increases take effect July 1. In its budget, the Urban County Council also increased minimum wage for city employees from $7.25 to $8.20 an hour beginning July 1.
The council's vote took place hours after a rally downtown by a coalition of groups including the National Organization for Women, the Kentucky Democratic Party and the NAACP urging Lexington leaders to raise the minimum wage. At the rally, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said many of the workers who make less than $10.10 an hour are women.
"In the words of Hillary Rodham Clinton, this fight is for all of those who have been knocked down but not knocked out," Grimes said, urging the more than 40 people who attended the rally to attend the 1 p.m. council meeting.
Mayor Jim Gray said earlier this week that he supports an increase in the minimum wage but he thinks the state or federal government should address the issue, not local governments. Gray declined to say whether he would veto a minimum-wage increase if the council passed it.
"I think they're not far enough along yet," Gray said. "I am interested in what everyone in our city who is interested in this issue has to say about it. I think that's the appropriate position for me to take today. I'm on record as saying that I support the increase in the minimum wage, but I think it's more appropriate at the federal level. But I'm willing to listen to and engage in the conversation."