There is an opportunity for bi-partisan accord in this session of the Kentucky General Assembly. One possible initiative offers a great initial step in the road to broader tax reform, and a real avenue to bring control closer to the people.
Kentucky as a rule, offers very little fiscal control to voters and local communities. It ranks as the 7th most centralized state government in the country. That means if local communities want to fund big projects to move their communities forward, or provide for large essential infrastructure projects, they most often have to go on bended knee to the leadership in Frankfort.
Our state lawmakers face enormous fiscal challenges as they work to balance the budget this year. Public pensions have not been funded at suggested levels. New Medicaid liabilities are an added burden on the budget. While Frankfort previously provided partial funding or even full-funding for important local projects in the past, citizens of the Commonwealth should not expect that to be the case going forward. If local citizens want to move their communities forward via a direct ballot, Frankfort should not stand in the way.
That’s why the time has come for Kentucky to move in line with 37 other states. We should empower citizens to make decisions for themselves at the very local level, instead of relying on centralized, top-down management in Frankfort. Local Investments for Transformation or (LIFT) would allow citizens to invest in specific hometown capital projects. It would give voters a say on whether they want to pay for new brick and mortar infrastructure and economic development projects via a local option sales tax of no more than 1%. It would be the right to vote — up or down — on those projects and their costs via direct local referendum.
In order to make LIFT a reality, both bodies of the General Assembly must allow a statewide referendum. The House has already done just that under the outstanding bipartisan leadership of Speaker Stumbo and Leader Hoover. The Senate is next up. A majority of voters would then have to approve of the new right. Finally, cities and counties would have the ability to go to local citizens with time-limited, specific infrastructure projects and their costs for an up-or-down vote of the people.
According to public polling, 60+% of Kentuckians would vote affirmatively for the statewide amendment. More than 80+ business, government, and civic groups from across the Commonwealth have endorsed LIFT. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky League of Cities, the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky Association of Economic Development to name a few. This initiative is one of the most widely-supported pieces of legislation in memory.
Both parties will offer different agendas and visions for the Commonwealth, but one thing they can and should agree on is more direct democracy and commonsense local determination like LIFT.
Frankfort doesn’t always know best, but the voters do. Here’s hoping they allow us all a vote and an opportunity to weigh in directly on tax reform.
John A. Williams of Paducah is founder and chairman of Computer Services Inc., a member of the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics Hall of Fame and the Kentucky Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. He served on Kentucky’s Blue Ribbon Tax Reform Panel.