TOPEKA (AP) — Starting next year, Kansas will no longer have the nation’s lowest minimum wage.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a bill Thursday that will increase the wage from its present $2.65 an hour to $7.25. The change takes effect Jan. 1, after more than two decades of efforts by Sebelius’ fellow Democrats, labor unions and advocates for the poor.
Most of the state’s 1.5 million workers are covered by the federal minimum wage, which is $6.55 an hour and due to rise in July to $7.25.
State officials estimate that 17,000 to 20,000 Kansans fall under the state’s law. But some legislators, particularly Republicans, are skeptical that any workers actually earn as little as $2.65 an hour because of market forces.
Sebelius acknowledged in a statement that the change will affect only “a small sector” of the state’s workers, but said it is critical to them.
“This legislation is long overdue,” Sebelius said. “Our economy must return to its core principle that an honest day’s work brings home an honest day’s pay, and today we’re taking a step in that direction.”
Forty-five states set a minimum wage, according to the U.S. Department of Labor — all but Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Six, including Kansas, set their rates lower than the federal one; in 12, the wage mirrors the federal government’s, and 27 have a higher wage.
Kansas established its wage at $1.60 in 1978, then raised it a decade later to $2.65. For years, business groups and GOP legislators resisted another increase, arguing it would drive up employers’ costs and cause low-wage, entry-level jobs for young people to dry up.
Some of that opposition remained this year, but some Republicans decided to accept an increase. They saw it as largely a symbolic step and acknowledged it had widespread appeal.
The state law applies to only companies that have less than $500,000 a year in annual revenues and don’t engage in interstate commerce, which includes taking credit cards.