FRANKFORT – Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s efforts to help hundreds of thousands of families – by making college more affordable and by raising the state’s minimum wage – easily cleared the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee with bipartisan support on Tuesday.
“Taken together, these bills would do more to move Kentucky ahead than any others we consider outside of the budget,” said Speaker Stumbo of Prestonsburg. “It’s time we ease the costs families face sending their children to college, and it’s time to raise a minimum wage that has not budged in seven years.”
Under House Bill 626, this year’s graduating high school seniors would ultimately be able to attend a KCTCS school in the fall without paying tuition, after taking into account any federal, state and local aid and scholarships they receive. Those include federal Pell grants and the lottery-based KEES money high school students earn with good grades. Student loans would not count against the incoming college freshmen.
“It is one of the most exciting education ideas I have seen since 1990’s Kentucky Education Reform Act,” Speaker Stumbo told the committee members.
Kentucky Community and Technical College System President Jay K. Box, who also testified, said this bill “is all about the students.” He noted that the proposal would be similar to ones already in place in Tennessee, Oregon and Minnesota. Another 10 states besides Kentucky are considering joining them this year.
During the committee vote, several members cited their strong support. Rep. Joni Jenkins of Louisville called it “a great bill.” Rep. Mike Denham of Maysville said, “It’s been needed for a long time,” while Rep. Tommy Thompson called it one of the most “bold” initiatives he has seen in years.
Following that vote, the Appropriations and Revenue Committee then approved House Bill 278, which would raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.20, starting in August.
Speaker Stumbo said passing this bill would send “a positive message” to those families who have at least one person working for minimum wage. Rep. Linda Belcher of Shepherdsville pointed out that she is seeing many single mothers and older citizens in her area falling in this category.
The last increase in Kentucky occurred in 2009, under legislation that was approved in 2007. “Numerous states have raised their minimum wage since then, and none of them are seeing a negative effect,” Speaker Stumbo said. “On the contrary, the wage increase is boosting economies because those earning it are more likely to spend what they make on products and services they need. Polls show there is also strong support among our citizens, which is no surprise, because they know it is time.”
In addition to raising the minimum wage, House Bill 278 also would raise the exemption that keeps very small businesses from falling under the law. Currently, those whose gross wages are below $95,000 are not covered under the minimum wage law, a figure that has not changed in 40 years. The Speaker’s bill would raise that threshold to $500,000.
A gender-equity provision is also included, to ensure those who perform the same jobs and have the same qualifications earn the same salary.
Both bills now head to the House floor for a vote.