The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council took a historic and important step last week, voting 8-6 to advance legislation to raise the local minimum wage.
The measure will receive a first reading at Thursday's council meeting, with a final vote later in the month.
There should be no more delays in approving this proposal to hike the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years. The first increase, to $8.20 an hour, would go into effect July 1.
Although it is far from a solution to the grinding poverty that plagues too many people in Fayette County, it would be an important lifeline for our lowest-paid workers.
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This proposal is a compromise that doesn't include key elements in an earlier version, including tying future increases to the cost-of-living index. In a bow to restaurateurs, an increase in the wage for tipped workers, now stuck at $2.13 an hour, was abandoned.
Most of the arguments put forward by those still opposed simply don't stand up. Consider:
Seventh District Council member Jennifer Scutchfield complained that the legal cost of defending a wage increase would be wasted public money. But the Kentucky Supreme Court is already considering a challenge to a similar increase passed in Jefferson County last year, and it is likely to issue a decision in late summer or early fall 2016.
Given that the decision will apply to Lexington, it's unlikely a court would hear a separate challenge over Lexington's ordinance, relieving our government of the cost of defending it.
However, waiting will cost the city money. The council staff estimated that local government, which depends largely on payroll taxes, would realize almost $500,000 in additional revenue in the first year from the increased wages.
An even more strained objection was raised by the 10th District's Amanda Bledsoe, who complained that there's no enforcement mechanism in the proposed ordinance. She chose to use this as an excuse to vote nay rather than propose an amendment giving it more teeth.
And Councilman-at-large Kevin Stinnett argued against, saying Lexington needs a more comprehensive program to move people out of poverty. Agreed. But a wage increase will put more money in the hands of people who desperately need it. And it wouldn't stop Stinnett, now in his 10th year on the council, from championing measures that help people find and prepare for higher paying jobs.
Bill Farmer, who represents the 5th District, complained that the proposal treats wages "like they're a social program." The fact is that taxpayer-funded social programs prop up employers who pay low wages. A host of social programs — food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid, child care subsidies, to name a few — help workers and their families patch the gaps between what they earn and meeting their most basic needs.
A perennial argument says that raising wages kills jobs. That hasn't happened in Jefferson County. Unemployment there was 7.3 percent in July 2014 but 5.4 percent this year; 5.8 percent last August but 4.4 percent this year; 5.3 percent in September 2014 but 4.1 percent this year.
There are fewer and fewer legitimate reasons for Lexington not to join the cities, counties and states around this country that have raised minimum wages above the federal level.
The majority should stand firm in the coming votes. Councilman-at-large Richard Maloney, who wasn't present last week, should join them, and Mayor Jim Gray should sign this important, progressive legislation.