LEXINGTON — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes reiterated her support Monday for increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, days before the chamber she hopes to join readies for a symbolic vote on the issue.
Grimes spoke to about 50 during a “Give America a Raise” bus tour stop in Lexington’s Thoroughbred Park, saying increasing the minimum wage will be “the first thing I put my name to” if elected to Congress.
“In contrast to Sen. (Mitch) McConnell, it is my number one priority to make sure that we put hard-working Kentuckians back to work,” said Grimes, who lists increasing the minimum wage in her proposed jobs plan. “I stand before you today as the only candidate in this race who has put forth a vision to do that, and it begins and is balanced and premised on first and foremost raising the wage.”
Many Democrats — both nationally and in Kentucky — have looked to raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 as a way to boost their prospects with voters this November.
A national Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in January showed wide support for the proposal, 55 percent for the increase versus 21 percent against. The margin of support in Kentucky, according to a Bluegrass Poll conducted for various media outlets in February, neared 2-to-1.
Despite public sentiment, the odds are long of incrementally bumping the minimum wage to $10.10, both at the federal and state level. Though the Democrat-led U.S. Senate is expected to consider such legislation Wednesday, it’s unlikely the bill will get the 60 votes necessary to begin debate.
In Kentucky, the House of Representatives passed a similar minimum wage bill largely along party lines, 54-44, during this year’s legislative session, but the bill faltered in the Republican-led Senate.
Supporters and opponents of a minimum wage increase point to various assumptions to supplement their arguments. Proponents say raising the minimum pay would affect a projected 462,000 low-income earners in Kentucky and pour hundreds of millions of dollars, with estimates as high as $665 million, into the state’s economy as workers boost their spending power.
“As we produce the wealth in this nation for all those people who are benefiting so substantially, then we deserve to be making a wage that benefits us, enables us to provide for our families, enables us to provide for our children,” retiring state Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, told the crowd. “And it’s time for the wage to be raised.”
The opposition, however, has pointed to potential job losses and unfunded mandates for local governments in its rationalization against the wage increase to $10.10.
Kentucky’s Legislative Research Commission estimated raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would reduce employment in the state by 13,800 workers and create nearly $10 million in new spending by local governments and school districts once fully implemented. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected 500,000 job losses across the U.S. with such a wage increase.
“Alison Lundergan Grimes and the Obama-liberals promise a world full of prosperity, but the reality of their policies is fewer jobs and less opportunity for our most vulnerable,” Allison Moore, McConnell’s campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement. “While Alison advocates hiking the minimum wage to benefit herself politically, her plan would actually cost Kentucky about 17,000 jobs.”
Grimes dismissed the criticism, focusing on projections offered by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy in January.
“It shows when you increase the wage up to $10.10 an hour, you actually increase our gross domestic product, increase incomes across the commonwealth,” she told reporters. “You actually create over 2,200 good-paying jobs. That’s what we need here in the commonwealth of Kentucky.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.