LIFT LogoDemocratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover filed legislation Tuesday that would allow Kentuckians to amend the state constitution in a referendum this fall, giving local communities the ability to implement an extra 1 percent sales tax, with that revenue being directed toward a specific local project.

Legislation advancing a local option sales tax — also know as the Local Investments for Transformation (LIFT) initiative — passed the state House for the first time in 2015 but stalled in the Senate amid concerns it would allow unwelcome tax increases. Supporters of LIFT say that due to the tight state budget, it would give citizens in local communities another way to raise needed revenue for projects they value.

Speaker Stumbo said in a statement that he is once again sponsoring LIFT because “it is truly democracy at its finest.”

“I don’t see how anyone could oppose allowing cities or counties to decide for themselves whether they want to take this step,” said Stumbo. “As we prepare to move this bill forward, I want to thank my fellow legislators on both sides of the aisle who are co-sponsors.”

Stumbo’s spokesman Brian Wilkerson said LIFT — filed as HB 2 — already has 20 co-sponsors, a number that is expected to grow.

LIFT Kentucky — a coalition of supporters that includes business groups, unions, cities and civic organizations around the state — sent out a long list of groups and individuals supporting the bill, including Kentucky’s previous seven governors and 25 different chambers of commerce.

“The coalition favoring a statewide referendum on more direct voter control has doubled in size since this time last year,” said Bill Samuels, the chairman emeritus of Maker’s Mark and co-chairman of LIFT Kentucky. “Public surveys have shown the people want a vote, and that’s why Democrats and Republicans have come together behind LIFT. It’s common sense democracy in action.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has perhaps been LIFT’s biggest cheerleader since the initiative began, and also said the filing of today’s bill “represents democracy at its best.”

“Citizens deserve a right to vote on investing in their communities,” said Fischer in a statement. “This idea has bipartisan agreement, as evidenced by the bill’s primary sponsors and co-sponsors. We look forward to a hearing in the House in the coming weeks.”

LIFT’s prospects appeared to dim in January, when Hoover said on KET that the legislation had “less support now than it did a year ago,” adding that House Republicans were cooling on the idea and suggesting that Fischer needed to improve his relationship with his caucus. A source close to Hoover said members of their Jefferson County delegation were upset with Fischer over his lack of Republican appointments to local boards and commissions.

After his speech at the Rotary Club of Louisville last month, Fischer said he was still optimistic about LIFT’s chances, despite “uncertainty” in the House, and the tough climb to a needed supermajority in the Republican Senate — though adding that “the governor appears like he supports it as well.”

Gov. Matt Bevin voiced strong opposition to LIFT while campaigning in the Republican gubernatorial primary, but after his election he has made several statements appearing to show that he won’t oppose the legislation — which he is not able to veto as a constitutional amendment.

Among the positive quotes released by LIFT Kentucky on Tuesday was that of Brown-Forman executive Mac Brown — the chairman of Bevin’s transition team and the Republican Party of Kentucky — who called it “a very important initiative to allow for greater control to be returned to local communities and citizens.”

While some Republicans have balked at LIFT because it could lead to tax increases, so has liberal state Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, who says that an increase in the sales tax would amount to a regressive tax on low-income Kentuckians.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]