- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Several Kentucky House leaders started a bipartisan push Friday for a proposal that would give communities the option to temporarily impose higher taxes on themselves to pay for big construction projects.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo designated the proposal as a top priority for the 2015 General Assembly session opening in January. House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover said he will sign on as a co-sponsor.

“I have always thought this was government at its best,” Hoover, a Jamestown Republican, said of the local-option sales tax proposal. “It’s government at the most local level.”

The proposal fizzled in this year’s legislative session. It would allow local governments to impose up to an extra 1 percent sales tax to raise money for projects such as arenas, convention centers and parks.

First, local voters would have to approve the tax. It could only be used for specific projects and the tax would expire once the project is complete.

To give communities that option, Kentucky voters would have to approve an amendment to the state Constitution. If the proposal clears the legislature, it would go on the 2016 ballot.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the proposal is gaining support in the House. The measure faces a potentially tougher test in the GOP-run state Senate.

The proposal drew harsh criticism from one of Stumbo’s Democratic colleagues. State Rep. Jim Wayne of Louisville called it a regressive tax that would hurt “working Kentuckians and all those living on the margins.”

“This is another way for the haves to take money from struggling Kentuckians to build more playgrounds and entertainment centers for the elite,” Wayne said in a statement.

The Kentucky Retail Federation said it remains opposed to the local-option tax proposal.

Tod Griffin, the organization’s president, said many House members supporting the measure come from parts of Kentucky where the economic recovery has been “tepid at best.”

“So raising the price of the goods their constituents buy by adding a new local tax will be an even greater burden on the public,” he said in a statement.

Lawmakers who gathered at the state Capitol on Friday to endorse the local-option proposal were backed by the mayors of Louisville and Lexington and the Daviess County judge-executive.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the proposal would give local leaders more leverage in seeking investments for projects that would create more jobs.

The local leaders stressed the role voters would have in sanctioning the temporary sales tax.

“There’s just nothing more American, there’s nothing more in our DNA than the right to vote, and that’s what this provides our citizens,” said Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.

Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly said any time a local tax was raised or a project was announced in his area, constituents asked why they couldn’t vote on it.

“When you involve people, when you allow them to … make a decision as to whether they’re willing to pay an increase in a particular tax, I think it brings them on board, there’s less distrust,” he said.

For Stumbo, his support for the local-option tax amounts to a change of heart. He opposed the proposal early in the 2014 legislative session but changed his mind near the end.

Stumbo said Friday that some local governments might look less toward state government to help pay for projects if communities could assess their own tax to help fund the work. That could potentially free up some state money for priorities such as education and health and human services, he said.


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