Katherine Miller works a full-time job making $9.50 an hour. She also has a part-time job as a waitress.
"It's very difficult to make ends meet," she told the Urban County Council at a public hearing Monday. "I work 65 hours a week."
Miller was an honors student in high school. But even with scholarships, she could not afford to stay in college.
"I'm trying to save money to go back to school," she said. 'It's hard with tuition increasing every year."
Miller urged the council to follow the example of more than 20 other local governments and raise the minimum wage in Lexington.
She was one of more than two dozen people who spoke during the public hearing on a proposed ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years.
The meeting, which lasted more than 90 minutes, was the council's second public hearing on the minimum wage. So many people came to a hearing in March that many did not get an opportunity to speak.
It's not clear when the council will take a vote. The minimum-wage ordinance is on the agenda for the June 23 Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee meeting.
The ordinance would increase the minimum wage from the current federal minimum of $7.25 to $8.20 the first year, $9.15 an hour in the second year, and $10.10 an hour the third year. After the third year, the increase would be tied to the consumer price index. Tipped workers' minimum wage would increase annually to $2.41, $2.73 and $3.09.
Monday's public hearing came as Gov. Steve Beshear announced he would raise the minimum wage for state employees to $10.10. His executive order also would increase the minimum wage for tipped employees from $2.19 an hour to $4.90 an hour. Both increases take effect July 1.
The city's largest employer, the University of Kentucky, also appears poised to raise its minimum wage. President Eli Capilouto announced in May he would ask the Board of Trustees at its June meeting to raise the minimum wage for non-student employees to $10 an hour. The Urban County Council also gave tentative approval last week to raise the minimum wage for seasonal, part-time employees from the federal minimum of $7.25 to $8.20 for the fiscal year that begins July 1. That raise has not come up for a final vote.
Louisville became the first city in Kentucky to raise the minimum wage when it passed an ordinance in December. The Louisville ordinance, which would raise the minimum wage to $9 over three years, is being challenged in Jefferson Circuit Court. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
Brent Baughman, a lawyer for the Kentucky Restaurant Association, urged the council to delay making a decision until after the Louisville case was decided. If Lexington did not wait, it, too, could face a similar lawsuit, he said.
McKenzie Cantrell, an employment lawyer with Kentucky Equal Justice, said courts in other states have upheld local governments' right to enact minimum-wage ordinances. The only exception was a case in New York. New York's labor laws expressly prohibit local governments from setting wages, Cantrell said. Kentucky has no such prohibition, Cantrell said.
"The appeal could take more than a year," Cantrell said. "The people here cannot wait that long."
During Monday's public hearing, many business owners urged the Urban County Council to allow the market — not the government — to set wages.
Marty Rothchild, general manager at the downtown Hilton, said the hospitality industry would struggle if the minimum-wage increase was passed.
"The profit margin in the hospitality industry is very, very small," Rothchild said. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 probably would put many tourism-related businesses out of business, he said.
Chauncey Morris, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, said Kentucky horse farms opposed the increase because the industry stretches over several counties. It's not fair for some farms to have to pay higher wages than a those in neighboring counties.
"We feel this would have a negative impact within the region that we operate," Morris said.
But many told the council that failing to raise the minimum raise would mean more people on government programs such as food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing.
Robert Akin, president of the Bluegrass Central Labor Council AFL-CIO, said his organization supported the increase because wages have not kept pace with inflation.
"Working people are struggling," Akin said. "What you are doing is putting more money in the people's hands to spend in Fayette County."
Malcolm Ratchford, executive director of the Community Action Council, said 18 percent of Fayette County's population lives in poverty, including 23 percent of children younger than 18. The number of people living in poverty "could fill up the newly renovated Commonwealth Stadium," he said.
Raising the minimum wage will not solve all of Fayette County's problems, but it would help workers, Ratchford said.
"When we look at justice, should a person who works 40 hours a week or even 65 hours a week, shouldn't they be able to afford the basic necessities and not depend on the government to survive?" Ratchford asked.