- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The Kentucky House on Thursday passed a proposed ballot measure aimed at giving communities the option to temporarily impose higher taxes on themselves to pay for construction projects.

The high-profile measure drew bipartisan support in clearing the Democratic-led House on a 62-35 vote. It heads to the Republican-run Senate, where its fate is uncertain amid intense lobbying on the issue.

“There are varying opinions in our caucus,” Senate President Robert Stivers said of his GOP colleagues. “My position has been clear that I think it is the purest form of democracy. Others in my caucus don’t like it.”

If it clears the General Assembly, the proposed constitutional amendment would go on the state’s November 2016 ballot. Gov. Steve Beshear applauded the House vote and urged the Senate to pass it.

“Especially in this era of tight revenues, our cities and counties need the option of using this tool to ask voters where appropriate and necessary to invest in the public infrastructure of their communities,” Beshear said in a statement.

In the House, leading the push for the bill were Speaker Greg Stumbo and Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover. The two House leaders said the proposal would empower local voters.

“I view this as democracy at its best, where local people make local decisions on what they want to do,” said Hoover, a Jamestown Republican.

The measure would let local voters decide whether to temporarily raise sales taxes in the cities and counties where they live to pay for local construction projects deemed priorities.

Projects could include convention centers, sewer lines, parks and parking garages.

Under the proposal, sales taxes would only increase if a majority of local voters approved it.

Local governments would spend the extra money on specific projects approved by voters. The tax hike would go away when the project ends.

“We’re giving people a choice and what’s more fair than doing that?” said Democratic Rep. Tommy Thompson of Owensboro. “How can you argue about letting people determine their own destiny?”

Speaking against the bill, Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne of Louisville called it a regressive tax that would put more of a burden on low-income workers.

“The people pushing this legislation, and who are paying for the many lobbyists pushing this legislation, are from the wealthier areas,” Wayne said.

Another opponent, Rep. Larry Clark, said the measure would erode the General Assembly’s policymaking role. Those same tax dollars could be used statewide to bolster education funding and help shore up pension funds, the Louisville Democrat said.

Stumbo said that by allowing communities to self-fund more of their projects, it would free up state dollars for education and other statewide priorities.

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The legislation is House Bill 1.


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