By Gregory A. Hall
Source: The Courier-Journal
The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA, showed 63 percent of Kentuckians in favor of amending the state constitution to give voters the right to approve or reject specific local taxes to pay for projects, 23 percent opposed and 14 percent unsure. It has majority support in every demographic breakdown measured by the pollsters.
That follows earlier Bluegrass Polls that consistently have found large majority support. A 2013 Bluegrass Poll found 72 percent of Kentucky voters favored the amendment, 19 percent opposed and 9 percent were unsure. Last year, the poll showed 60 percent in favor, 24 percent opposed and 16 percent unsure.
“What you see is by almost a three-to-one margin, people want to have the availability of the local options because they understand it’s an option to vote,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, who championed the effort. “They want the right to do that. What we have here is confirmation again about the overwhelming support for this in the state.”
Fischer and Gov. Steve Beshear say the amendment is needed to help pay for projects that state and federal governments no longer fund. Fischer says it’s a necessary tool for economic development that 37 other states have.
Betty Smith, 70, of Shively, supports it.
“I think people should have the option to choose whether they want to increase their tax in order to get a job done,” she said.
Retailer groups have opposed the amendment, arguing that such a tax would put Kentucky businesses at a disadvantage with out-of-state, mail-order firms that wouldn’t be collecting the extra sales tax.
The local option issue — progressing further this year than it has before — still fails to garner the needed legislative support to reach the ballot.
The proposed constitutional amendment contained in House Bill 1 passed the House for the first time this year but died Wednesday when the Senate didn’t give it one of three required readings on separate days needed for approval.
Sponsored by Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, the constitutional amendment would allow local communities to propose an additional sales tax of up to 1 percent — on top of the state’s current 6 percent — for a limited time to pay for projects. The tax could not be imposed unless the local community voted for it in a referendum.
A constitutional change requires three-fifths of the members of both the House and the Senate to approve the measure before the amendment would go to voters for ratification in a statewide referendum.
Fischer said he will continue fighting for it until the final day on March 24, but the legislature only has two days left. Barring a Herculean effort or the calendar being changed — neither of which is likely — that means the measure is dead.
Fischer has said he believes the 23 votes needed to pass the amendment in the Senate are there if the bill is allowed to get to the floor for a vote. But he’s said some members don’t want to vote on what they believe could be portrayed as a tax vote.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said a combination of factors prevented the amendment from advancing in his chamber.
Those included having another chance to consider the amendment in the 2016 session before it would have appeared on the ballot if it had been approved this year, groups like the thoroughbred breeding industry wanting exemptions from the tax increase and general opposition. He also said some of the regional support for the amendment waned as groups sought the exemptions that could reduce the revenue potential for the tax.
“When we started looking at votes, 23 people and trying to pass the constitutional amendment, there wasn’t support in the caucus for it,” Stivers said.
He also criticized supporters simultaneously pushing enabling legislation in a different bill that contained the details of how the tax would work. That enabling bill generated more issues than the amendment itself.
As to the amendment’s future, Stivers didn’t speculate beyond saying a failure one year doesn’t doom a bill in a following year.
“The dynamics change from year to year,” he said.
Stumbo said it possibly could be House Bill 1 — the chamber’s top priority — for 2016 as well.
“It may very well draw the inside post position again next year,” he said.
Reporter Gregory A. Hall can be reached at (502) 582-4087. Follow him on Twitter at @gregoryahall.