By Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press
Source: The State Journal

The Kentucky House on Thursday passed a proposed ballot measure aimed at giving communities the option to temporarily impose higher taxes on themselves to pay for construction projects.

The high-profile measure drew bipartisan support in clearing the Democratic-led House on a 62-35 vote. It heads to the Republican-run Senate, where its fate is uncertain amid intense lobbying on the issue.

“There are varying opinions in our caucus,” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said of his GOP colleagues. “My position has been clear that I think it is the purest form of democracy. Others in my caucus don’t like it.”

If it clears the General Assembly, the proposed constitutional amendment would go on the state’s November 2016 ballot. Gov. Steve Beshear applauded the House vote and urged the Senate to pass it.

“Especially in this era of tight revenues, our cities and counties need the option of using this tool to ask voters where appropriate and necessary to invest in the public infrastructure of their communities,” Beshear said in a statement.

In the House, leading the push for the bill were Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown. The two House leaders said the proposal would empower local voters.

“I view this as democracy at its best, where local people make local decisions on what they want to do,” said Hoover.

The measure would let local voters decide whether to temporarily raise sales taxes in the cities and counties where they live to pay for local construction projects deemed priorities.

Projects could include convention centers, sewer lines, parks and parking garages.

Under the proposal, sales taxes would only increase if a majority of local voters approved it.

Local governments would spend the extra money on specific projects approved by voters. The tax hike would go away when the project ends.

“We’re giving people a choice and what’s more fair than doing that?” said Democratic Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro. “How can you argue about letting people determine their own destiny?”

Speaking against the bill, Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne of Louisville called it a regressive tax that would put more of a burden on low-income workers.

“The people pushing this legislation, and who are paying for the many lobbyists pushing this legislation, are from the wealthier areas,” Wayne said.

Another opponent, Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, said the measure would erode the General Assembly’s policymaking role. Those same tax dollars could be used statewide to bolster education funding and help shore up pension funds, the Louisville Democrat said.

Stumbo said that by allowing communities to self-fund more of their projects, it would free up state dollars for education and other statewide priorities.


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