A few thoughts on Kentucky issues in the news:
The minimum wage has a big impact on low-wage workers, many of whom must rely on public assistance to make ends meet, as well as the overall economy, which is driven largely by consumer spending.
The $7.25 federal minimum wage hasn't been raised since 2009. Its value adjusted for inflation has lost more than 25 percent since its peak in 1968.
Congressional Republicans have refused to raise the federal minimum wage. But many states and cities have raised theirs, realizing its importance to both low-wage workers and local economies.
The Democrat-led Kentucky House recently approved a state minimum-wage increase that was rejected by the Republican-led Senate. Louisville's Metro Council in December approved a gradual minimum-wage increase to $9 over three years, which is being challenged in court.
Urban County Council member Jennifer Mossotti has proposed gradually raising Lexington's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by July 2017 and tying future increases to the consumer price index. The proposal also would gradually raise the $2.13 minimum wage for tipped workers, who haven't seen an increase since 1991, to $3.09 over three years.
Council members are unlikely to consider the issue before June. But when they do, Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, has put together a good report about the low-wage Lexington workers who would be affected.
Among the highlights: An increase would directly lift wages for about 20 percent of Lexington workers, 90 percent of whom are older than 20 and 30 percent of whom are 35 and older. Fifty-seven percent are women, 54 percent work full-time and 26 percent have children at home. Read the full report at: kypolicy.org.
Businesses usually oppose minimum-wage increases — if not the very idea of a minimum wage — saying that increasing labor costs forces them to put people out of work and raise prices. Studies have generally shown those effects to be negligible, and the economic impact to be positive.
A minimum-wage increase is long overdue. If federal and state officials won't do it, Lexington should join other cities and states that are.
Legislation to rein in payday lenders, who trap some of Kentucky's most vulnerable people in cycles of debt, died last week in the state Senate, but federal regulators are now stepping up to the plate.
Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, a Lexington Republican, sponsored a bill that would limit payday loan interest rates, which can approach 400 percent, to 36 percent, the limit the U.S. Department of Defense sets for loans to military personnel.
The bill was supported by consumer advocates, as well as by both liberal and conservative church groups on moral grounds. But it died in the State and Local Government Committee. Wonder if that had anything to do with the payday lending industry's campaign contributions to some legislators?
Last Thursday, President Barack Obama and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced plans for a federal crackdown on payday lenders.
U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, a Lexington Republican who has received several hundred thousand dollars in contributions from financial services companies, issued a press release March 19 about proposed legislation to curb the CFPB's "reckless regulatory overreaches."
Looks more like an attempt to muzzle a watchdog that protects citizens from Barr's corporate benefactors.