Editorial: Let local voters decide local tax – Lexington Herald-Leader

Source: Lexington Herald-Leader

Kentucky’s unwieldy, outdated constitution doesn’t allow voters in towns and cities to decide to levy a sales tax on themselves.

House Bill 1 in this legislative session aims to begin the process of fixing that by creating a local option to levy a sales tax, and legislators should give it swift approval.

While “tax” is about as dirty a word as there is politically, this is a process so replete with safeguards that even the most anti-tax lawmakers should be able to support it.

First, the vote is to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. Ultimately, Kentucky voters, not legislators, will decide whether or not to adopt it.

Second, if it is adopted, no mayor or city council would be able to impose the tax on unwilling voters. A sales tax increase can only be approved when a majority of voters in a general election support it.

Third, the proposed amendment clearly limits how much tax can be added for how long and for what purposes. Those limits are that no more than a total of one penny in sales tax can be added for a specified time to support specified capital projects. When the time is up or the project is paid off, the added tax expires.

More important than the limitations are the potential benefits of giving local communities this taxing authority.

Kentucky relies on the economic activity of its urban areas for the lion’s share of state revenues but provides relatively little support for them in terms of large capital projects, and often in dribs and drabs from one budget to the next. This makes it harder and more expensive to plan and carry out large, multi-year projects.

That’s why a broad coalition of business and political leaders across the state support HB 1.

It will allow communities to plan and pay for improvements to enhance civic and economic life without going hat in hand each budget session to Frankfort.

This issue is truly bipartisan, in both support and opposition.

Some conservatives oppose it because it expands taxing authority; others support the concept of local control. Liberals support it as a way to finance important projects for public benefit but others see any increase in the regressive sales tax as unacceptable.

The bill, with strong support from House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, has a good chance of making it out of the lower chamber.

In the Republican-controlled Senate, where President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, acknowledges there are “mixed emotions,” the path is less clear.

Local control should be the final winner in this debate. It is not for theorists in Frankfort to deny local voters the right to tax themselves.

Likewise, while there’s no arguing about the regressive nature of sales taxes, local leaders will have to make the case to voters that the community will get its money’s worth.

What People Are Saying

  • “Putting the local-tax amendment on the November 2014 statewide ballot is a no-brainer. If local people want to levy local taxes on themselves, they should be able to.”

    Al Cross, Courier-Journal columnist
  • Jeff-Bringardner-headshot-only“This is a way to keep dollars in the area, to come up with a diverse slate of projects that sync up with the long-term plans of the community and get voted on by the people”

    Jeff Bringardner, President, Humana Kentucky
  • BillLamb“If Louisville could adopt a 1% Local Option Tax, it would impose a minimal burden, but would raise over 90 million dollars a year.”

    Bill Lamb, President and General Manager for WDRB and WNYO
  • Bill Samuels Bellarmine Portrait“Local option makes all the sense in the world. Offering citizens the opportunity to vote on investing in their community is how our country ought to operate.”

    Bill Samuels, Chairman, Emeritus Makers Mark
  • …a new way for communities to see the projects they want and need go from the drawing board to reality — and to do it for themselves.

    Jim Host, founder of Host Communications and former State Commerce Secretary
  • LIFT is a tried-and-true tool that allows for more voter involvement in the process.  Voters, not politicians, would help determine big picture, visionary projects that could improve quality of life.

    Dave Adkisson, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
  • …an idea whose time has come, and could be a crucial economic development tool which will help our local communities build a better future, and the new jobs and businesses we need.

    Hal Goode, President and CEO of the Kentucky Association of Economic Development
  • In our opinion, Kentucky voters should be allowed to vote on the local option sales tax because it could fund public facilities without increasing property taxes.

    Morehead News
  • It will allow communities to plan and pay for improvements to enhance civic and economic life without going hat in hand each budget session to Frankfort.

    Lexington Herald-Leader
  • The beauty of it is that local voters have the say-so as to its enactment, and they have a sense that they are getting what they pay for.

    Princeton Times-Leader