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'Local Investments for Transformation' debate gets real: Curtis Morrison previews 2013 Kentucky General Assembly

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Imagine this baby jetting from Brandenburg to Louisville in 30 minutes.

(Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of 3. Part 1 was on Pensions and Obamacare. Come back for Part 3 on drinking on election days, angel investor tax credits, redefining “dog owner,” casinos, and that bill to deal with the inevitable fraternal order issues that come up with living wills.)

KACo stands for Kentucky Association of Counties, an association created 38 years ago, the same year of the Super Outbreak of 138 tornadoes that swept through our 10-state region.

Much unlike a typical session of the Kentucky General Assembly, KACo is not as destructive as 138 tornadoes.

Outside of Louisville and Lexington, where city and county governments are consolidated, crises even a fraction of the size of the Super Outbreak create ginormous problems for small, local, rural governing.

In 118 Kentucky counties, solutions to these problems are handled by County Judge-Executives, Magistrates, Commissioners, PVA Administrators, County Clerks, Sheriffs, Circuit Court Clerks and it goes on.

Essentially, they ARE county governments, and this is their conference.

Local Investments for Transformation

Wednesday kicked off the KACo Conference and Exposition at the Galt House East, where Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Kentucky Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson both advocated for a local option sales tax.

Fischer joked he decided against calling the proposal the Local Option Sales Tax-proposal, as the acronym would be LOST. Instead of that, Fischer’s calling the proposal the Local Investments for Transformation, or LIFT. Leave it to Fischer to find a way to Thomas Mertonize a sales tax proposal.

Seriously, we’ve all traveled to places like Denver and wondered how they get incredible infrastructure projects benefitting the public good completed.

This is how they do it.

View Fischer’s complete speech here:

Abramson agreed with Fischer on the essential need for local option sales taxes, and he leaked other recommendations that the Blue Ribbon Commission will soon be proposing for adoption by the General Assembly. An exciting one, from my perspective, is taxing services.

View excerpt of Abramson’s speech here:

Three-fifths of the General Assembly needs to approve this thing, and then voters would need to approve it in a statewide referendum, before our constitution is amended to even allow cities or counties to have their own referendums. So it’s a long-range thing. The bill proposing the LIFT has not yet been pre-filed, but expect it to have a strategic sponsor that recognizes the value of this initiative for less urban areas of the state.

House Speaker Rep. Greg Stumbo, in between about a dozen country anecdotes, expressed a reservation Wednesday with the LIFT proposal. His concern was for the retailers of big-ticket items located in areas where people chose to raise the sales tax. He fears they may suffer competition from retailers in counties that choose not to levy additional local sales tax:

…It doesn’t make any sense to me, that Jenny, if you guys can propose a 2 cent sales tax here, then why would I come here and buy a car? When I could go over to Shelbyville and buy the same car and save 2 cents over the purchase price of the car?

 View Stumbo’s rebuttal here:

Here comes the funny.

Stumbo went on in his speech to passionately advocate for light rail in Kentucky, “to help bridge the gap between Have and Have not, Kentucky.” Pretty ambitious, and yeah, I’ll say it: It’s transformative.

A member of the audience asked Stumbo the magic question:“Without meaningful tax reform, how would you fund that?”

A snip of Stumbo’s answer:

…But you’d probably have to have some source, a dedicated source of revenue to do that with that would likely, uh, be some, some way to pay for whatever bonds were required to construct that. You’d have to look at some, it’s kind of like the bridges. People don’t want to talk about it…

In other words, Stumbo doesn’t know how we’d pay for light rail, and he’d rather not talk about that part, but isn’t it a darn good idea?

 View Stumbo’s advocacy for light rail in Kentucky here:

Guys … if you’re reading:

Stumbo: Fischer and Abramson have a way to pay for light rail. (See above)

Fischer/Abramson: Stumbo has a way to sell the LIFT to Western Kentucky, and Eastern Kentucky. Hell, even to Somerset. (See above)

Y’all need to get a room somewhere, with a hot tub, and figure this one out.

Pension crisis/Fairness

A hit tip goes to Louisville’s own Jefferson County Judge-Executive Bryan Mathews for having the courage in his speech to address other important work ahead for Kentucky legislators:

“…the most important component of this conference is discussion about public pensions. Of all the proposals I’ve seen so far, I prefer the KACo plan.”

Unlike the bills pre-filed so far for the General Assembly ‘s next session that only pretend to address the pension crisis (See Part 1), the 8-point KACo plan is comprehensive. Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) and Rep. Mike Cherry (D-Princeton) have both pledged to pre-file bills that include the provisions of the KACo plan, although they haven’t done so just yet.

Mathews also advocated for fairness ordinances for counties across Kentucky, like a rock star. Louisville has had a fairness ordinance, protecting gays, lesbians and transgenders from discrimination in housing, employment and accommodation, for over a decade already.

The ‘one-place-at-a-time’ approach to extending protections across Kentucky could have promise, and ultimately translate into a victory for those protections statewide when, well, when all these old White guys spend more time listening to their grandchildren, and less time listening to each other.

View Mathews complete speech here:

The KACo conference wraps up Friday morning with a round table with political reporters, an update from Attorney General Jack Conway, a motivational talk by Rob Bell and an update from Denny Nunnelley, KACo’s Executive Director.

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