Politics & Government

House panel supports increasing Kentucky's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg
Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg HERALD-LEADER

FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo won committee approval Thursday of his bill to boost the wages of 391,000 Kentuckians who make less than $10.10 an hour.

House Bill 1, the top priority of House Democrats in this year's legislative session, would raise the minimum wage in Kentucky from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour over three years and deal with pay equity problems.

The bill would not apply to businesses with annual gross sales of $190,000 or less.

The House Labor and Industry Committee approved HB 1 on a 15-1 vote, with two members not voting. The only "no" vote was cast by Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger. Not voting were two other Republicans: Lynn Bechler of Marion and Regina Bunch of Williamsburg.

The measure now goes to the full House, where Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he expects it to be approved next week.

He did not predict its chances in the Republican-controlled Senate, but he said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, voted for an increase in the minimum wage in Kentucky when it was last considered in the legislature a few years ago.

Stivers said Thursday that he doesn't know how the Senate will respond to HB 1, but he thinks it misses the point of what Kentucky needs.

"I think this is a very small approach, a very narrow approach," Stivers said. "The speaker wants to limit the debate to the minimum wage when we should be focused on creating jobs above the minimum wage."

The minimum wage increased in 13 states beginning this month, including in Ohio ($7.95) and Missouri ($7.50). All other states bordering Kentucky have a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour except Illinois, where the minimum wage is $8.25 an hour.

Kentucky last raised the minimum wage on July 1, 2009, and the $7.25 set by the increase has been eroded by inflation in the cost of living.

The House committee also approved HB 191, which would raise the minimum wage for tipped employees from $2.13 an hour to $3 immediately, and eventually it would rise to 70 percent of the federal minimum wage. Fifteen members voted for it, and three did not vote. Not voting were Koenig, Bechler and Bunch.

That wage applies to service employees — restaurant servers, bartenders and valets — who earn more than $30 a month in tips.

Several business representatives spoke against both bills, saying they would cripple businesses.

Lee Greer, president of the Lexington-based Greer Companies, which owns more than 40 Cheddar's restaurants in Kentucky, said the legislation would bankrupt his company and force 2,000 Kentuckians out of their jobs.

"Please end these bills here today," Greer pleaded.

Stumbo unloaded on Greer, calling his comments "a bit disingenuous" and saying it was a good thing Greer was not "under oath."

"Businesses have to be reasonably regulated," Stumbo said.

Todd Griffin, president of the Kentucky Retail Federation, said small businesses in Kentucky are "adrift" and "still coming off a great recession," and don't need the burden of higher minimum wages.

Rep. Tim Couch, R-Hyden, said the legislation would be "tough" on his grocery business. He said he now has 19 employees but would have to cut his staff to 15 if the measures become law.