By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Friday he will sponsor a bill in the upcoming legislative session to raise Kentucky’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Predictably, Republicans criticized the news as bad economics and liberal politics but Stumbo may have a political agenda, too.
Currently the minimum wage in Kentucky matches the federal level of $7.25 an hour. Stumbo said his bill “mirrors” a proposal by Democrats in the U.S. Senate to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 in increments over three years.
Stumbo made the announcement Friday morning while laying out his legislative agenda for reporters, saying the legislation would help Kentucky families and “deal with the issue of pay equity.”
Those are two things often talked about on the campaign trail by Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes who wants to challenge five-term incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell this fall.
Stumbo just smiled when asked if his bill fits nicely with Grimes’ campaign and said, “I wouldn’t speculate about that. I’d leave that to political pundits.”
They also are issues that Stumbo says House Democrats will campaign on this fall when all 100 House seats are on the ballot. Democrats hold a slim 54-46 majority and Republicans have set their sights on “flipping the House in 2014.” The Kentucky GOP thinks the unpopularity of Democratic President Barack Obama will help them do that while Stumbo says McConnell’s unpopularity with voters will assist Democrats in holding onto the majority.
Republican House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown was quick to try to turn the issue against Stumbo and Democrats.
“Today Speaker Stumbo released his legislative agenda of higher taxes and a redistribution of wealth through an increase in the state minimum wage,” Hoover said in a written statement.
“This agenda is just more of the Obama style liberal leadership the Speaker has long supported,” Hoover continued. “Democrats see government as the answer to rebuilding our economy. Republicans see creating conditions for employers in the private sector to create and add jobs as our top priority. ”
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers had a similar reaction, saying Republicans are more interested in creating jobs.
“Interestingly, he’s talking about increasing the minimum wage,” Stivers said. “But he’s not talking about creating jobs.”
Stumbo said Democrats will talk about helping the middle class and working Kentucky families during the fall campaign while Republicans “can talk about whatever they want to talk about.”
He said the current minimum wage of $7.25 produces an annual income of only about $15,000, insufficient for a family to live on and an increase will “stimulate the economy.”
Stumbo also raised the possibility of “packaging” proposals on local sales tax options and an increase of one cent in the state sales tax to fund an “education excellence fund.” He said that would raise about $500 million and could be used to support public schools and maybe higher education.
Stumbo said the idea is still in “its infancy,” and he offered no details.
Stivers said it sounded like a “typical political ploy” by Democrats who think “throwing money at an issue is the solution.”
The Speaker also said he thinks “there’s a way forward” on the possibility of an amendment to allow expanded gambling but he said such an amendment would have to clear the Republican Senate where gambling measures have previously failed before the Democratic House would take it up.
Stivers said any measure dealing with revenues is constitutionally required to begin in the House. But he was less clear about a simple constitutional amendment on gambling like one proposed by Republican Sen. Dan Seum of Louisville.
The General Assembly convenes Tuesday. The biggest task before lawmakers will be passing a new two-year funding and spending plan.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.