Is Ky. legislature looking for a free lunch? – Lexington Herald-Leader

Source: Lexington Herald-Leader

From bridges and roads to policing Internet crimes, the legislature can’t quite bring itself to pay for what it wants and Kentucky needs.

Lawmakers won’t pay for services and infrastructure the old-fashioned way, through state taxes.

And the Republican-controlled Senate is also balking at new ways to pay, such as public-private partnerships or allowing local voters to invest in their communities by raising local sales taxes.

It’s not wild-eyed liberal income redistribution schemes that Senate Republicans are killing either. Their hit list this session includes what the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce dubs “key pro-business issues.”

The bill to encourage infrastructure development via partnerships between government and the private sector, which also has the support of Gov. Steve Beshear, easily cleared the Democratic-controlled House and last year also cleared the Senate.

This year the bill seemed to falter in the Senate on fears that it would lead to tolls to pay for a much needed Ohio River replacement bridge in Northern Kentucky.

Certainly, saddling Kentuckians commuting to low-wage jobs in Cincinnati with the brunt of paying for a major interstate bridge would be unfair. But if Congress won’t raise the money — the federal gasoline tax that pays for bridges and roads hasn’t increased since 1993 — and the legislature won’t raise the money, what’s the alternative? Flying cars, rocket trucks?

Senate Republicans would rather cater to special interests than meet general needs.

After some business interests complained that their taxes might go up, the Senate denied Kentuckians the right to vote on a local option sales tax. Voters would have to approve twice — once in a statewide referendum and then in a local referendum — before anyone’s taxes could go up.

Senate Republicans couldn’t stand that much democracy, but jumped at the chance to sneak in a tax break — cost undetermined — sought by Yum! Brands for donating food from its fast-food outlets for which it can already claim a tax deduction.

When lawmakers in both chambers wanted to create a State Police unit to protect children from Internet crimes, did they ask all taxpayers to pitch in to pay for this important public protection?

No, they added $10 to criminal court costs. While accused criminals are easy marks, this is one of scores, probably hundreds, of ways the legislature has ducked its responsibility to reform Kentucky’s outdated tax system by creating new fees or draining fee-based funds. The legislature has even robbed the nature license-plate fund which plate buyers thought had been committed to nature preserves.

Without action on one of the Chamber’s “key pro-business issues” — stabilizing the motor fuels tax — the road fund will fall $250 million short of what the legislature budgeted last year.

Tied to the wholesale price of gasoline and diesel fuel, the tax that pays to build and maintain roads ballooned with gasoline prices and more recently sagged as oil prices plunged.

Nearly half of the gas tax goes to local governments. Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, has warned that counties and cities stand to lose 31 percent of their expected funding for routine road maintenance on top of a 9 percent reduction that went into effect Jan. 1.

So, after this winter, the legislature’s road to nowhere will be paved with potholes. At least you’ll know who to thank when you spend your gas-tax savings on realignments.

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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