Fayette County

Lexington council to work toward compromise on minimum wage increase

Lexington Fayette Government Center
Lexington Fayette Government Center Herald-Leader

A compromise on raising the minimum wage in Lexington is in the works.

Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti, who proposed raising the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years, will be meeting soon with Councilwoman Susan Lamb and other council members to find out whether there is middle ground between Mossotti's and Lamb's proposals.

During a two-hour council meeting to discuss the ordinance Thursday, Lamb unveiled an alternative ordinance that would increase the minimum wage to $9 over the next three years.

It became clear during the meeting that there were not enough votes to pass either the $10.10 or $9 minimum wage. Some on the council — including Mossotti, Vice Mayor Steve Kay and council members Shevawn Akers and Jake Gibbs — spoke in favor of the $10.10 minimum wage, while Lamb and council members Peggy Henson and Richard Moloney supported the $9 minimum wage.

Additionally, council members James Brown and Angela Evans have said publicly they support raising the minimum wage. If all the supporters can find middle ground, there should be enough votes to pass a minimum wage ordinance, Mossotti said after Thursday's meeting.

"I think there is interest — I wouldn't say unanimous interest — but I would say there is a definite interest in raising the minimum wage," Mossotti said.

Lamb said she talked to several business owners who expressed reservations about moving the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2018. A gradual increase to $9 over three years was much more palatable to Lexington businesspeople, she said.

Lamb said raising the minimum wage to $10.10 could mean some people would make too much money for programs such as food stamps.

"I want us to raise the minimum wage, but I don't want to put people in a situation where you put them in a gray area of losing their assistance," Lamb said. "I'm trying to keep that from happening."

The $9 minimum would also mirror a Louisville ordinance passed in December. Louisville was the first city in Kentucky to raise the minimum wage.

But Mossotti said that passing what Louisville passed does not make sense. The $9 was a compromise after Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer threatened to veto a $10.10 minimum wage hike.

Akers, a former social worker, said income is only one factor in the determination of eligibility for social welfare programs. How many people are in a family also determines eligibility. Trying to figure out how many people would lose a benefit is tricky to calculate, and not all programs use the same income guidelines.

Moreover, the council should not set policy that keeps people on social welfare programs, Akers said.

"To sit here and argue that well, we really don't want to move people out of poverty, just seems crazy," Akers said. "I believe that if you work and you work full-time, you should not also qualify for benefits."

There was some compromise Thursday.

During the discussion, Mossotti said she would be willing to move the start date of the minimum wage increase to July 1, 2016, which is what Lamb proposed. Her current proposal had the first increase taking effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

Both Lamb's and Mossotti's proposals include tying an increase in the minimum wage to the consumer price index after the third year. There are slight variations on the maximum and minimum increases tied to that index. But Mossotti said Thursday that the two proposals are so close, she believed a compromise would be easy to reach.

A date for a future meeting to vet a compromise proposal was not set Thursday. But Mossotti said she hopes a compromise can be reached and brought to the full council for a vote soon.

The council began discussions about the minimum wage ordinance in March. It has held two public hearings where economists, business owners, workers and social justice groups testified. Thursday was the first meeting where council members debated the merits of the minimum wage ordinance.