By Jim Host
Election season is a special time in Kentucky. Next to basketball season, there doesn’t seem to be a time that gets Kentuckians more excited.
But what happens when it’s over and the last ballots have been cast and counted? Then it’s time for Kentucky to get down to the business of the initiatives that move the commonwealth forward.
In January 2015, when our state’s leaders meet in Frankfort to conduct the people’s business, they will face no shortage of issues. And while there are a number of challenges facing our Commonwealth I hope that – as leaders of both parties have pledged – one of their very top priorities will be passing legislation to place a constitutional question on the 2016 ballot asking Kentucky citizens if they want to allow local communities to decide for themselves whether to fund local projects through a small one-time local sales tax that will end when the project is completed.
The local option sales tax, as it’s commonly known, is a tool that can have enormous transformative effects on the lives of Kentucky families and can change the way our cities and counties direct their own growth.
In the past Kentuckians have sent their hard earned tax dollars to Frankfort and statehouse leaders, through the budget process, have decided which projects get funding. Local communities crossed their fingers in the hopes the project they were counting on got the greenlight.
The local option sales tax is a new way for communities to see the projects they want and need get from the drawing board into the real world – and to do it for themselves.
A local option sales tax would allow local communities to let their citizens decide whether or not to fund infrastructure and construction projects through a local sales tax which would be capped at 1% and have a built in sunset. If the people are willing to fund a local project through levying a small tax on themselves, they vote yes. If they don’t want the tax or the project, they vote no. What could be simpler or more democratic? For the past year, volunteers and representatives from LIFT (Local Investments for Transformation) Kentucky, a coalition of prominent business, civic, and government leaders helping to support this plan, have travelled across the state and heard about the projects local communities would hope to fund through a local option sales tax. These projects are a diverse as the communities who need them: new water lines in Marshall County, an animal shelter in Paducah, an outdoor amphitheater in Somerset, a multi-use convention center and arena to harness the bourbon boom near Lebanon, replacement of a structurally deficient dam in Ohio and Muhlenberg counties. The list goes on and on.
Some projects are meant to attract or retain new businesses and jobs. Some are long overdue infrastructure project that have found themselves off Frankfort’s priority list.
There is, however, one thing these projects do have in common: they are the projects that citizens and local communities need but don’t currently have the means to fund.
Thirty-seven states in America give their local communities the ability to fund their own infrastructure projects through a local option sales tax – its time Kentuckians are given a chance to decide for ourselves if we want to join their ranks.
I urge you to let your elected officials know that its time Kentuckians had a say.
Jim Host is founder of Host Communications, a pioneering company in national collegiate sports marketing. Host is also former Kentucky Secretary of Commerce and is a current member of the SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) Kentucky Executive Committee.