Kansas legislators support increase in minimum wage

TOPEKA | Kansas legislators supported the first increase to the state’s minimum wage in 20 years Wednesday.

The House endorsed a bill a few moments ago to raise the state’s $2.65 per hour minimum to the federal level as of next year. The federal minimum is now $6.55, but is set to go to $7.25 in July.

Almost every job in the state is covered by the federal minimum, but the state estimates that about 20,000 Kansans currently make less than the federal minimum.

Kansas has the lowest minimum wage of any state that sets one.

The perennial attempt to raise the state level typically dies in legislative committee. Each year, Democrats portray Republicans as anti-worker. This year, however, it has received widespread bipartisan support. The bill passed the Senate last month 33-7.

What changed? After arguing for years that few if any workers made the minimum wage, many Republicans changed their tune this year. If so few workers would be affected, why not make the change and remove one of the Democrat’s favorite political clubs?

“We just decided it was time to quit dodging,” said Rep. John Grange, an El Dorado Republican who pushed for the wage hike on the House floor.

Wait staff could still make less than the federal minimum so long as tips make up the difference. And workers under age 20 could be paid $4.25 an hour for the first 90 days of their employment.

Some GOP lawmakers, however, still aren’t convinced. They worry about the impact on businesses when the state requires them to raise wages. Rep. Mike Kiegerl, an Olathe Republican, cited studies showing that minimum wage hikes kill low-level jobs by raising labor costs for employers.“It’s lousy economics. It’s no economics at all,” he said of mandated wage levels. “It is inflationary. It is counterproductive. It hurts those it is intended to help.”

A final vote in the House is expected later today or next week. Then, some minor changes made by the House must be agreed upon by both chambers.

Then it's on to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' desk.