By: Amelia Holliday
HAZARD—Citizens in Hazard and Perry County may see a new local option tax initiative help bring in funds in the future for needed projects across the area.
The Kentucky Local Investment for Transformation (LIFT) organization has been pushing a new initiative across the state to amend Kentucky’s Constitution to give local governments the ability to implement local option sales taxes. Voters would have to vote the taxes in, said LIFT representative Matt Erwin, and the funds accumulated from those taxes would be used for a specific local project.
“The needs are varied across the state and what we could use this program for is sort of up to the imagination of local folks,” Erwin said during a Hazard-Perry County Chamber of Commerce meeting on Tuesday of last week.
Erwin explained that what makes these taxes and this initiative different from others in the past is that the taxes would have what he calls a “sunset.”
“One of the concerns that we keep hearing from people is, you know, yeah right, a tax goes on there and it’s never going to go away. By statute, these local option sales taxes would have a sunset,” he said. “Once the project that voters approve has been funded, the tax goes away.”
In communities in the 37 other states in which this initiative has taken hold, Erwin said a trend has been seen in which voters will vote to begin another project, and therefore implement another local option tax, once the first is finished.
“Once voters start approving projects and start seeing the improvements made by these things, they do improvements again and again and again, which causes your community to keep growing and you keep sort of becoming the community that you want to be,” he said.
With government funding seeming to wane with each budget cycle, Erwin said this will likely be the new way of the future for communities to get projects funded.
“We want to allow communities like yours to have more control over themselves,” Erwin said to the Chamber. “The days of you going to your local official with a project and it gets in the pipeline and then a couple of years later, maybe one year later, the money comes through—those days aren’t necessarily coming to an end, but they are certainly changing … Communities are looking for new ways to bring the projects that they’d like to see become a reality.”
Erwin explained that the projects the tax funds are used for can range from simple road work to building spec buildings to encourage industries to come in to improving the area for tourism.
“We’re competing not only with other communities, we’re competing with other states, we’re competing with other countries, and we need to do everything in our power to make sure the jobs are coming to our communities,” he added.
Support for the program has been pretty much across the board, Erwin said, adding that both sides of the legislative aisle support the movement.
“When that happens during an election year, you know you’re onto something special,” Erwin laughed.
The chamber will vote at its next meeting on whether or not it will support the initiative. If it does, Erwin said it would do so alongside Gov. Steve Beshear and every other living former Kentucky governor, as well as multiple other state chambers of commerce.
Amelia Holliday can be reached at 606-436-5771, or on Twitter @HazardHerald.