A Wichita Democrat wants the state to raise the minimum wage by $3 over the next three years.
The Kansas Working Families Pay Raise Act, sponsored by Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, would raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.25 an hour, from $7.25 an hour, on July 1. That’s an increase of 13.8 percent.
The minimum wage would increase again by $1 an hour the next two years in July, hitting $10.25 in 2017.
A full-time worker at the state’s current minimum wage earns just over $15,000 a year, slightly above the federal poverty line for a family of two people, according to a news release from House Democrats.
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“The jobs that are coming back (since the recession) are much lower wages than before and that’s why the minimum wage is so important,” Ward said in a phone call. “It is fundamentally wrong for people who go to work full time to live at the poverty level … that defeats the purpose of work.”
Kansas last raised its minimum wage in 2009. Twenty-nine states have a higher minimum wage. Ward said Democrats have offered amendments to raise the wage but those have been voted down.
Ward said he expects opposition from House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and others, but he contends the bill should be allowed to go to the House floor. Merrick sets the debate schedule for the House.
“You don’t have to vote for the damn thing. But we should at least be able to have a debate on it. We should have a debate on the House floor on raising the minimum wage,” Ward said.
“All we’re doing is if you go to work full time is you shouldn’t have to live in poverty,” he added.
Merrick said in a statement that “any lawmaker is free to introduce legislation and have it go through the committee process.”
Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University, said that Democrats – despite their low numbers – can play an outsized role in framing debate this session by introducing bills “to have them voted down.” The party holds less than one quarter of the seats in the House.
“The minimum wage is a great one,” Beatty said. “The minimum wage (increase) actually polls very favorably across the country and in some Republican states has passed. This is not a dead-end issue. It’s a populist issue.”
Ward said the majority of minimum wage workers are adults, many with children, and that raising the wage would help them afford necessities like food and clothing.
“In a state where we’ve shifted tax burden, taken more of their spendable income for government, it’s the right thing to do at this time,” he said, contending more of the tax burden falls on low-income residents after the state cut income taxes and replaced some of the lost revenue with sales tax money.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s office said he would not comment on potential bills. In July, he dismissed President Barack Obama’s call to increase the minimum wage nationally as “big government ideas.”
Ward’s proposal would also increase the base wage for service workers who rely on tips by the same percentage as workers on the minimum wage. Workers who receive tips, such as waitresses, can be paid $2.13 an hour. They’d see that figure increase by 29 cents in July if the bill passes.
The bill is prefiled as House Bill 2012.