BY JOHN CHEVES
FRANKFORT — The Kentucky House on Thursday approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would let cities and counties temporarily raise their local sales taxes from 6 percent to 7 percent to pay for specific projects.
The House also voted 98 to 0 to approve a separate measure, House Bill 8, which would expand civil protective orders to dating partners. Both bills proceed to the Senate.
House Bill 1, the local option sales tax proposal, has bipartisan backing from legislative leaders, business groups, the mayors of Lexington and Louisville and others. A similar measure was approved by a House committee last year but never found enough support to win a House floor vote.
It was approved 62 to 35 Thursday. As a proposed constitutional amendment, it needed 60 votes to pass.
The bill’s supporters stressed in their speeches Thursday that they weren’t voting to raise taxes — a vote that can come back to haunt politicians in campaign ads — but they were voting to give communities the choice to raise taxes. If a city or county wants to raise money to build a convention center or expand broadband access, they can bump up their sales tax, the supporters said.
“We’re not imposing a tax. We’re imposing a choice,” said Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro.
“It’s democracy at its best, where local people make local decisions about what they want to do,” said House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, who co-sponsored the bill with House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.
Just as the bill’s supporters were bipartisan, so were the bill’s critics.
Two Louisville Democrats, Larry Clark and Jim Wayne, raised separate objections. Clark said the legislature was forfeiting potential tax revenue to local governments that it could use to pay for some of the state’s critical needs, such as K-12 schools and billions of dollars in public pension liabilities. Wayne said sales taxes are regressive because they hit the poor harder than the wealthy.
“The people who are pushing this legislation, and who are paying for the lobbyists who are pushing this legislation, are from the wealthy areas,” Wayne said.
Republican lawmakers twice tried to amend the bill, but they fell short of the votes needed in the Democratic-led chamber. One amendment would have exempted projects funded through the sales tax from prevailing wage laws and labor agreements that lead to higher wages for workers. The other amendment would have prohibited use of the funds to promote a capital project.
John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com