Louisville Metro Councilman Kevin Kramer sparred with Democratic challenger Larry Hujo at a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters on Wednesday evening.
The debate touched on a range of topics, including District 11’s infrastructure needs, ethics reform, and a recent bill filed to raise the minimum wage in Louisville.
And while Kramer and Hujo agreed on opposing the mayor’s LG&E fee hike and creating new bike lanes, the two provided many contrasts for voters in attendance.
Kramer, R-11, a former council president, said the district, which covers most of Jeffersontown, still has basic needs that aren’t being met.
“We have roads that are in desperate need of repair. We have properties that are owned by Metro Louisville that are not very well taken care of,” he said. “It is the product of the deferred maintenance for a number of years.”
The Republican lawmaker pointed out to those in attendance that GOP members cried foul when Mayor Greg Fischer’s initial capital budget proposal lacked any projects in their districts.
“We realized right away this was a problem where our part of the community was being left out,” said Kramer.
Hujo said infrastructure is the district’s greatest need, but that he wants to bring the money earmarked for the district back to the area. Hujo, a former Jefferson County school board member, criticized Kramer for pooling District 11 discretionary funds with fellow Republicans and spending those tax dollars on larger projects as a group.
“I wouldn’t leave it up for some caucus to decide where our money was to be spent,” said Hujo. “We’ve got sidewalks that don’t exist, yet our money is going to Prospect and it’s building sidewalks on Brownsboro Road simply because our council member decides that he wants his money doled out by some caucus he obviously he can’t control.”
Just last week a group of Democratic lawmakers proposed an ordinance that would raise hourly minimum pay rates to $10.10 in Louisville over the next three years.
Unlike many of his GOP colleagues, Kramer said he believes it is time for a discussion on raising the minimum wage. However, Kramer argues this issue needs to be handled at the state or federal level, adding there is a risk for cities that could detour job attraction.
“If you’re the only city east of the Rocky Mountains that’s considered a minimum wage for your city, that doesn’t play well when say you want a company to move into town,” he said. “And that’s not because they’re bringing minimum wage jobs. These are folks who are bringing good paying jobs to Louisville, but no other city is talking about regulating business at the level you’re talking about.”
Washington, D.C., increased its hourly pay rate to $9.50 on July 1 for all workers regardless of employer size. The D.C. council unanimously approved that measure, which will go up to $11.50 per hour in 2017. Just over a dozen states and 10 county and city governments, mostly in California, have moved to raise their minimum wages over the past year.
Hujo, a former union official, said he supports a wage hike for workers, but it needs to be done thoughtfully so it won’t hurt local businesses.
“People can’t make it on minimum wage. I don’t know anybody who can,” said Hujo. “As far as Louisville being the right place at some point someone has to lead the fight that’s going to make a change and help workers succeed.”
Kramer took some of his strongest stances when asked about what changes were needed to the city’s code of ethics.
The councilman said it is essential the Metro Ethics Commission be given subpoena power by the state legislature after what happened during Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin’s removal trial last year.
“There have been several investigations the Ethics Commission has been involved in and they don’t have the power they need to ask the kinds of questions they need to ask people,” said Kramer.
“We watched the last hearing with a council member and she (was) able to just get up and walk out of the meeting without answering any of the questions. We need to change (state law) to give them that power.”
Hujo said ethics is an important function of government he supports, but did not offer any specific changes or amendments.
The two also disagreed on how much time a council member should have to dedicate to their office, which is a part-time position.
Hujo said being retired means he would dedicate his full-time to public policy decisions and constituent services. Kramer, who has served on the council since 2002, said working as a Mercy Academy teacher keeps his decision-making connected to residents.
The next League of Women Voters council candidate debate is for the open District 9 seat being vacated by retiring Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh. That forum is scheduled for Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m. between Democrat Bill Hollander and Republican Laura Rice.