Louisville Metro Council candidates Bill Hollander and Laura Rice jousted in a debate Monday night over a variety of issues, including a proposed wage hike.
The two are seeking to succeed retiring Democratic Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, who will serve out her term through December.
Hollander won a crowded Democratic primary in May against a dozen opponents. At the debate, he called for a more progressive agenda, including raising the minimum wage and adequately funding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Rice ran unopposed in the Republican primary and has put a considerable amount of her own money into the race. She said attracting businesses and encouraging entrepreneurship in the district are top priorities, but that being an independent voice matters to residents most.
Hollander said it’s long overdue for local employees to receive a pay raise, which an ordinance filed this month seeks to do.
“The minimum wage started in 1938, it’s been widely accepted but in recent years it hasn’t kept up with the cost of living,” he said. “The minimum wage paycheck now is worth less now than it was 45 years ago, and frankly that’s a disgrace.”
The proposal raises Louisville’s wage rate to $10.10 over three years, but has been met with skepticism from some Democrats and outright opposition from GOP lawmakers.
Opponents argue raising the minimum wage could hurt job growth and put the city at an economic disadvantage.
A coalition of state business associations and employers said as much when they urged council members to abandon the idea altogether, suggesting the council lacks legal authority to impose a higher wage.
Rice said she is not opposed to increasing the minimum wage, but she has reservations, like many council members.
“We do have to consider whether or not Louisville will be considered a competitive place to bring businesses and to bring jobs to this area,” she said. “We need to send a message that we are open for business. It has been over 10 years since we’ve had a major corporation bring big jobs to the Louisville area and we need to ask ourselves why that is the case.”
Hollander criticized Rice for suggesting in a voter guide questionnaire that the 13 states which have moved to raise the wage have seen the slowest job growth.
Those states added jobs at a faster rate than those that did not, according to a report released by the Department of Labor this summer.
‘Road Diet’ and Bike Lanes
The disagreement over a reconfiguration of Brownsboro Road also made its way into the District 9 debate.
The plan—supported by the mayor’s office two years ago—set out to make more room for pedestrians and cyclists and cut the major thoroughfare to three lanes. The project included a wide sidewalk and green space.
The so-called “road diet” had its critics, but Hollander said it was a good idea to benefit disabled residents in the neighborhoods.
Hollander is also one of the few Metro Council candidates supporting the creation of new bike lanes in the city, which even some Democrats have objected to publicly.
“They are important for health and fitness, and send a message we’re a progressive city that welcomes young people,” he said. “We should look at all modes of alternative transportation, including more TARC service. Biking is an important part of that.”
Rice said she has mixed views on changes to Brownsboro Road and new bike lanes. She noted that many residents are also split on the issue.
Rice acknowledges this race will be a difficult task for any GOP candidate. The district, which encompasses the Crescent Hill, Clifton Heights, and St. Matthews neighborhoods, is a liberal-leaning area.
Rice is stressing her support for legislative oversight and cleaning up City Hall. This includes backing an idea to give the Metro Ethics Commissions subpoena powers and added whistleblower protections for Metro employees who report violations.
Rice said she is a “progressive Republican” on social issues who is pro-choice on abortion and supportive of the Fairness law.
“Certainly I plan to continue to state that I will be an independent voice on Metro Council,” Rice told WFPL after the debate. “I will make decisions based on facts, not based on relationships. All of the Republicans have great respect for Councilwoman Ward-Pugh and believe she has worked in a bipartisan fashion.”
One wedge issue Rice points to is Hollander’s close relationship to the mayor. It was a point of contention after Fischer made the unusual step of endorsing Hollander in the primary.
Among the ideas Hollander backed at the debate were Fischer’s 1-percent local option sales tax, as well as a 2 percent LG&E fee. These are two ideas that constituents oppose overwhelmingly, Rice said.
Asked to note how he and Fischer are different, Hollander pointed to troubling reports about Metro Animal Services. He also said he hopes the mayor does more to lead on a minimum wage hike.
“I will disagree with the mayor when I think he’s wrong,” said Hollander.
The next League of Women Voters council candidate debate is for the open District 7 seat. Councilman Ken Fleming is forgoing another term and leaving the seat vacant. That forum is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 23. It features Republican Angela Leet and Democrat Bruce Maples.