Beshear orders minimum wage for executive branch workers raised to $10.10 hourly

06/08/2015 06:54 PM

About 780 state workers will see an uptick in pay after Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order Monday raising the minimum wage for executive branch employees to $10.10 hourly.

The move, which takes effect July 1, applies to not only low-wage earners, but also tipped employees, who will see their base pay increased from $2.19 per hour to $4.90 hourly, Beshear said at a news conference at the Kentucky School for the Blind. Those at or above the $10.10 per hour rate will also receive a slight salary boost, he said, noting the executive order is expected to cost about $1.58 million more in the upcoming fiscal year, with some $800,000 coming from the General Fund.

Recent efforts to raise the state’s minimum wage – which matches the federal $7.25 per hour – have stalled in the Republican-led state Senate, citing concerns with additional costs to employers in the current economic climate. Beshear said analyses have shown that raising the minimum wage had no significant impact on employment.

The Democratic governor said he might be out of office when the legislature again takes up the minimum wage debate next year, so his influence then will be muted.

“However, I’m still governor now, and I can take steps right now to move Kentucky close to this needed change,” Beshear said, “and that’s exactly what I’m doing today.”

His executive order extends beyond state workers, as contractors will be required in future projects to pay their workers $10.10 per hour if they work on state grounds, Beshear said.

His authority rests in his ability to set state wages, he said, noting the Personnel Cabinet is working to implement the new pay scales by July 1. His authority also extends to ensuring “contractors who do business with the state pay a living wage.”

Beshear said his administration has begun contacting contractors, who have given “very, very positive” feedback to the executive order.

“The private sector is beginning to get it,” he said. “You see more companies every day who on their own are stepping up and doing this. Aetna announced at the first of this year that they were going to be paying a minimum of $16 an hour to all of their employees. Walmart has stepped up recently and is phasing in an increase in their minimum wage.

“Businesses understand, I think, more and more that if their employees are making more, it is good for that company and it’s good for the economy and it’s good for those families.”

Supporters of increasing the minimum wage quickly seized on Beshear’s move. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, whose minimum wage bills have died in the previous two sessions, said he would support following suit in the legislative branch of state government, increasing minimum pay for Legislative Research Commission employees to $10.10 per hour.

“I’m hoping that we finally convince the Senate to pass my bill next year,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in a statement. “If we wait on Congress to act, as the law now calls for, the only thing we know for sure is that whatever they do, it will be too little, too late.”

Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, echoed Stumbo’s thoughts. While he asked the General Assembly to take up the minimum wage issue, Bailey said the legislative and judicial branches and local governments should explore actions similar to Beshear’s in the meantime.

“This is a key step to economic stability for all Kentuckians, and allows state government to join a growing number of private and public sector employers — plus states and cities — who are showing that raising the wage can and should be done,” Bailey said in a statement.

But like all executive orders, Beshear’s latest will live or die at the whim of the next governor.

Beshear said he knows Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway supports increasing the minimum wage, saying his first priority will be ensuring Conway’s victory in the November 3 election.

Regardless of the electoral result, Beshear said he believes popular support will likely keep the updated executive branch pay scales in place.

“When you’ve got Kentuckians by a 2-to-1 majority supporting an increase in the minimum wage, I think that this is going to stand,” he said. “I think it will stand the test of time, and I think it’s only a matter of time until we raise it statewide.”


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