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Gov. Beshear Raises Minimum Wage For 800 Kentucky State Employees

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced Monday he’s signing an executive order raising the minimum wage for some state workers to $10.10 an hour.

This will affect about 800 workers in the executive branch of state government.

Beshear's decision drew immediate praise from Democrats and others, but a leading state House Republican was critical of the governor's approach to making the change.

Julia Johnson, vice president of the Kentucky Association of State Employees, said the raise is overdue. She said many state workers have experienced stagnant wages, slashed benefits through the years and have been living in poverty.

“I know there are state employees who are eligible for food stamps and KCHIP for getting insurance for their kid,” she said.

Johnson said she hopes other state employees will also eventually see higher pay. In the meantime, she said this is a great step.

“I think anything the governor can do to adequately pay the people who serve this commonwealth is a wonderful thing,” she said.

 The order will have the most effect on employees working in veterans’ nursing homes, behavioral health facilities and state parks,  Beshear said in a statement.

Raising these wages will cost the state about $1.6 million. Tipped workers in state parks will be paid at least $4.90 per hour, which is more than double what it was.

Beshear also ordered that employees who work on state government service contracts for private companies also be paid at least $10.10 an hour. That won't take effect until the current contracts come up for renewal, though.

Soon after Beshear's announcement, Kentucky Republicans spoke out against the executive order. According to Capitol Bureau Chief Ryland Barton, the top state House Republican criticized Beshear for making the change through an executive order:

But Democrats and left-leaning groups claim the move is part of momentum statewide to increase the minimum wage.

“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,"  said Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, in a statement.

Bailey said the center encouraged legislators to consider a statewide minimum and tipped wage increase next year, and also encouraged the other branches of state government to increase employees' wages.

Bailey’s sentiments were echoed by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. Louisville Metro Council passed an ordinance in December that raises the minimum wage in the city to $9 an hour by July 2017. The ordinance gets phased-in starting July 1 of this year.

“This will have a direct and real impact on families, much like it did when Louisville Metro Government increased the minimum wage for its lowest-paid workers," Fischer said in a statement. "There is resounding support in Kentucky for increasing the minimum wage, and I hope the General Assembly takes that up in the next session.”

In the news release, Beshear’s office said: “A single person with no dependents working full time at $10.10 per hour would no longer be eligible for food stamps or for Medicaid.”

“If this policy were instituted statewide or nationwide, the newfound self-sufficiency would save even more taxpayer dollars,” Beshear said in a statement. “The Cabinet for Health and Family Services estimates that a statewide increase in the minimum wage would move 13,000 Kentuckians off Medicaid.”