Topeka Last week, Democratic legislative leaders unveiled their agenda, which included an increase in the state minimum wage, which is the same as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
The next day, President Barack Obama called for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour and then indexing it to inflation.
But it wasn't too long ago, Kansas had the lowest state minimum wage in the nation at $2.65 per hour.
In 2009, the Legislature approved a bill that raised the state minimum wage to the federal level after it had been stuck at $2.65 since 1988. Labor officials had estimated at the time that about 19,000 Kansans were earning below the federal minimum wage.
Democrats had long fought for the increase in the state minimum wage, but it had been stymied by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Republicans.
In 2009, however, several Republican legislators said they were tired of being criticized for the $2.65 per hour minimum and pushed, along with Democrats and fair-wage advocates, for the increase.
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, was the sponsor of the bill calling for the increase.
Investing in precious metals
Dan Widder, a city councilman in Ulysses, testified in favor of Senate Bill 130, which would allow local government entities to invest in precious metals, such as gold and silver.
Before the Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee, Widder said local governments need a hedge against inflation amid a shaky world economy and deficit spending by the United States government. He noted that Russia and China were buying a lot of gold.
But bankers and former House Speaker Doug Mays, who also served as Kansas securities commissioner, said allowing local governments to invest in precious metals was too risky.
Committee Chairman Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, said the bill needed a lot of work before the committee would consider it.
Keeping options open
House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, raised some eyebrows at his weekly news conference when he said maintaining a 7.5 percent ending balance wasn't a priority for him.
"You have to keep all options open," Merrick said.
State law requires the state have a 7.5 percent balance at the end of the fiscal year. The mark has been sidestepped many times, but recently Republicans have made it a top priority.
But the budget is getting tighter as Gov. Sam Brownback's tax plan takes on more water. His proposals to remove popular homeowner deductions, and keep the sales tax high past its expiration date are not resonating with his fellow Republicans.
That means the ending balance may have to be lowered so those funds can be used to pay for items in the budget.
Merrick said he would like to maintain the 7.5 percent ending balance but added lowering that figure has to be an option.
Quote of the week:
"Target prayer for dark spiritual areas of SE Kansas, Lawrence, KCKS, North Johnson County — ask God to restore the land." From a prayer list compiled by Dave DePue, volunteer pastor for Capitol Commission.
10:30 a.m. — Consideration of budget subcommittee reports on higher education, including Kansas University, before Senate Ways and Means Committee, room 548-South.
3:30 p.m. — Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little testifying to House Education Budget Committee, room 281-North.
3:30 p.m. — Hearing on House Bill 2202, relating to exercise of religion, before House Judiciary, room 112-North
8:30 a.m. — Hearing on Senate Bill 149, drug screening for recipients of cash assistance and unemployment benefits, before Senate Commerce Committee, room 548-South.
9 a.m. — Hearing on House Bill 2253, abortion restrictions, before House Federal and State Affairs Committee, room 346-South.
1:30 p.m. — Hearing on House Bill 226, enacting special needs scholarship program, before House Education Committee, room 112-North
9 a.m. — Hearing on House Bill 2055, expanding concealed carry of guns, before House Federal and State Affairs Committee, room 346-South.