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Kentucky House speaker plans to make renewed push for higher state minimum wage

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FRANKFORT, Kentucky — Proposals to raise the state's minimum wage and give voters the option of imposing a sales tax on themselves to pay for projects will be back next year, Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Wednesday.

Senate President Robert Stivers remained deeply skeptical about a higher minimum wage. As for the local sales-tax option, his Republican Senate colleagues have "mixed emotions," the Manchester Republican said.

"We're not real keen on raising more taxes, but we generally like local control," Stivers said.

Stivers laid out a Republican agenda for the 2015 General Assembly session that includes reining in regulations, creating charter schools and pushing to prohibit mandatory participation in a workplace union. But he acknowledged those issues are unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled House.

Both Stumbo and Stivers spoke up for allowing state and local governments in Kentucky to partner with private sources to develop big-ticket projects. Efforts to crack down on heroin abuse are also a priority.

The legislature's top leaders offered their priorities a day after Kentucky voters kept the power-sharing arrangement at the state Capitol — with Democrats still in charge of the House and the GOP with an expanded majority in the Senate. Next year's 30-day legislative session opens in early January.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear urged both sides to put the election behind them and work together.

"Frankfort is not Washington, D.C., and I trust that the spirit of bipartisanship that has helped us move the state forward over the last seven years will continue," the second-term governor said in a statement.

With shared power intact, both sides started laying out their agenda for next year. For Stumbo, a top priority will be making another push to raise the state's minimum wage.

He said he plans to reintroduce a proposal that would gradually raise the state's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 per hour. The measure passed the House but died in the Senate this year.

Stivers replied that the proposal "is not something we would think would be very business friendly."

Instead, he said, Republican senators will focus on increasing good-paying jobs, especially in the eastern Kentucky coalfields where thousands of miners have lost their jobs.

Stumbo listed efforts to ensure gender equity in the workforce as another top priority.

Stumbo also touted the proposal for the local sales-tax option. The measure died earlier this year.

"That's a very innovative way for our communities to raise revenues, dedicate those funds to things that will help their communities and obviously it's the choice of the voters in that community," Stumbo said.

Stivers said he sees it as "an option for locals to determine their own fate and destiny." He said he won't force a vote, but will let his Republican colleagues decide if the measure reaches the Senate.

"I'm not a micromanager," Stivers aid. "If they don't want to do it, we won't do it. If they do, we do."

Democrats weathered big Republican gains nationally to keep their nearly century-long grip on the House.

"We obviously were able to accomplish something that was almost unforeseen and unparalleled all across the nation by holding this majority," said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

House Democrats may have hung on to their majority this time, Stivers said, but he predicted that Republican momentum will eventually overtake House Democrats.

"The light that they're seeing in that tunnel is not the end of the tunnel, I think it's the train and sooner or later it will catch up with the House Democrats," Stivers said.

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