Democratic Councilwoman Attica Scott is seeking a legal opinion on whether city lawmakers can raise the minimum wage for all workers in Louisville Metro.
Scott is hoping to file an ordinance in the coming weeks that would mirror legislation in the Kentucky General Assembly. It would increase the hourly pay for employees to $10.10 per hour over the next three years.
“We are unsure at this point if we have the legislative authority to do that,” she says.
The Jefferson County attorney’s office hasn’t responded to Scott’s inquiry as of yet. But the west Louisville Democrat told WFPL she expects to hear something by the end of this week.
The debate over a minimum wage hike has become a state and national this year.
In the state legislature, House Democrats pushed through their proposal along a party-line vote after a fiery debate. The bill is now in the state Senate, but observers doubt it will make it out of the Republican-controlled chamber.
“I’ve followed the Kentucky legislature for over a decade now, and I know you never know what’s going to happen in the state Senate. So instead of waiting, which we often do, let’s take some proactive steps now for folks who are earning minimum wage,” says Scott. “If the state bill passes there will be no need for us to continue the conversation. If it doesn’t pass then at least we’re moving in that direction locally.”
The Democrats hold a 17-member majority, but it’s unclear if the party or Mayor Greg Fischer would get behind a local proposal. Council GOP members haven’t heard much about Scott’s bill, but they’re skeptical of the idea nonetheless.
“If I were a business owner in Indiana I would think that’s a great idea for Louisville Metro to do that,” says Republican Council Jerry Miller, who is running for state House this year. “Facing two bridges opening up in the next three years and to think that we might lose more economic development to Indiana is a scary prospect.”
While Scott awaits an opinion from the county attorney, the council’s Community Affairs Committee is holding a special discussion on the minimum wage Wednesday afternoon.
Democratic Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin, who chairs the committee, has invited Bill Londrigan, president of Kentucky AFL-CIO, and Joe Wise, business manager of the Greater Louisville Building Construction Trade Council to testify.
Both labor leaders support a minimum wage hike and no other guests are scheduled to appear before the committee, however. Critics argue the lopsided hearing doesn’t speak well for the council’s overall intentions.
“I’ve not heard about this issue coming up in front of the Metro Council, but I certainly would hope they would reach out and let both sides voice their concerns about the issue,” says Tod Griffin, president of the Kentucky Retail Federation, which opposes the proposed hike.
“We’re certainly trying to get our side of the debate out there. I know there’s been a couple of public opinion polls that look like the minimum wage is popular, but that’s certainly not the whole story. We’re trying to get the word out about the detrimental effects that it’ll have on businesses here in Kentucky.”
A recent Bluegrass Poll showed 61 percent of Kentuckians favor increasing the minimum pay of workers to $10.10 an hour. Democrats have been arguing this is a way to help lift Americans out of poverty.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates such a hike would increase the earnings of 16.5 million Americans in a report released Tuesday.
But the same report also bolsters Republican opposition by showing a $10.10 per hour increase would reduce U.S. employment by 500,000 workers. The CBO finds a $9 minimum wage increase would result in the loss 100,000 jobs in 2016.
“It’s a simple economic argument and that is when you increase cost to businesses those business owners have to make decisions about how to handle those costs. In this case, when you increase the cost of jobs you’ll have less jobs,” says Griffin.
The community affairs committee is schedule to meet Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall.