Advocates for the working poor today called the state minimum wage of $2.65 per hour, outdated, unjust and an embarrassment.
But business lobbyists and a Kansas University professor said attempts to increase the state minimum wage would worsen conditions for workers on the lowest economic rung.
State Sen. Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, and co-chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said she needed more information on the issue.
"It's important for us to understand the average wage is in the neighborhood of $7 an hour. It begs the question, is the minimum wage even relevant," Brownlee said.
Before the Commerce Committee is Senate Bill 466. It would increase the state minimum wage to track the federal minimum wage when it increases from $5.85 per hour to $6.55 per hour later this year, and to $7.25 per hour in 2009.
Kansas' state minimum wage of $2.65 per hour is the lowest in the nation and hasn't been increased since 1988.
The state minimum wage affects about 19,000 workers, mostly in service or agricultural jobs, who aren't covered by the federal minimum wage law, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
State Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, said the time has come for Kansas to increase its minimum wage.
"It's fair, it's just and something we ought to be doing," Reitz said.
Bishop Scott Jones of the United Methodist Church said, "The fact that we are the only state with a minimum wage lower than the federal standard is an embarrasment."
But Ron Hein, a lobbyist with the Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said increases in the minimum wage cause employers to not hire as many unskilled workers. He suggested getting rid of the state minimum wage altogether.
Arthur Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at KU's School of Business, said in submitted testimony that "there is general agreement that these (minimum wage) laws do more harm than good" by reducing employment opportunities for young people and those with fewer skills.
But Heidi Zeller, of Lawrence, speaking on behalf of Kansas Action Network, said paying a decent wage helps workers, families and the economy.
She said after an increase in the federal minimum wage in 1996 "the economy experienced its strongest growth in over three decades."