Local option tax gives communities needed tool to fund local projects – Paducah Sun

By JOHN A. WILLIAMS Special to the Sun
Source: Paducah Sun

It’s a competitive global environment out there, and quality of life and the strength of infrastructure are more important than ever in attracting and retaining the talented workforce local communities need to thrive. In Kentucky, however, we simply

don’t offer our citizens – both urban and rural – all the tools they require to control their own destiny when it comes to less reliance on Frankfort and Washington, D.C.

Yet some states are taking an approach Kentucky needs to strongly consider. As Kentucky struggles with funding the basic needs of our citizens, I believe we can look to Florida as an example of a place that is offering more autonomy, and in turn, creative solutions to funding essential infrastructure and moving local communities forward.

Florida, like most states across the country, is grappling with serious budget issues. And while cuts have been made, services halted, and construction projects put on hold, some communities have taken matters into their own hands using a tool known as a local option sales tax to fund local projects.

Here’s how it would work in Kentucky as proposed by a coalition of Kentucky business and civic leaders called Local Investments for Transformation (LIFT): local citizens express a desire for a new infrastructure project, and they vote on whether or not to impose a temporary sales tax (must contain a built-in sunset provision) of no more than 1 percent on themselves. I personally prefer a 10 year limit.

Communities across Florida, and the 36 other states which allow for local option sales taxes, have more power to shape their futures than we do in Kentucky. The bottom line now is that the federal government and state governments are not making necessary expenditures in important infrastructure and economic development projects in our communities. Infrastructure spending as a percentage of GDP has been cut in half in the U.S. since 1960.

In Walton County, Florida (where my wife and I own property and visit regularly to enjoy some sunshine) for instance, it was a critically important road project that the state and the federal government had not made a priority. For over 40 years, the citizens of the area had grappled with how to get across the Choctawhatchee Bay in a timely manner over U.S. 331. Most concerning, though, were hurricane evacuations. Local leaders selected this project as the top priority and sold the concept to enough local citizens who approved a half cent increase in their local sales tax to fund an expansion of U.S. 331 and a new four-lane bridge over the bay. The state and federal governments then matched some of the funds and the project is now on target to be completed in 2016, making travel faster, and in an emergency, much safer.

In Bay County, Florida (Panama City), the local leaders determined that upgrading technology in the K-12 classrooms was a top priority. I was initially exposed to the campaign at a Rotary meeting presentation. A half-cent increase in the sales

tax (10 year limit) passed, and I have since visited an elementary school to see the powerful results.

If this tool was available here in Kentucky, it would allow local citizens to decide for themselves if they want to implement a temporary tax to pay for specific infrastructure projects, just like they’re doing in Florida.

What I have witnessed in Florida is exceedingly healthy. Local leaders are forced to prioritize and then to campaign to sell the voters on the top priority. The process creates community leadership, or it does not pass.

When lawmakers meet in Frankfort next year, I hope they give Kentuckians a chance to decide for themselves if they would like a local option to fund the projects they need. A broad coalition including the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Paducah Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky League of Cities, the Kentucky Association of County Officials, and the Kentucky Association for Economic Development, among others, are speaking in favor of this tool.

I encourage readers to contact your lawmakers at 1-800-372-7181 and ask them to support a local option. It’s time for Frankfort to allow local communities to have more control over their own future.

John A. Williams is founder and chairman of Computer Services Inc. Williams served as chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Louisville Branch for three years and was a member of the Governor’s Tax Reform Commission. In 2009, he was inducted into the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics Hall of Fame.


Source: http://www.paducahsun.com/opinion/111714_PS_Williams_column_Monday_wpic

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