Local Option Sales Tax Proposal Filed in Kentucky Senate as Mayor Greg Fischer Outlines More Details

A Kentucky state senator has filed legislation to let residents vote on raising the local sales tax for special projects, but he is already doubting its passage in the 2014 legislative session.

Republican Paul Hornback of Shelbyville introduced the bill on Tuesday. It would allow local residents vote on temporary tax increases to pay for special projects.

Hornback said in a statement the proposal gives local voters more control over their community’s future, but the GOP lawmaker told WDRB’s Chris Otts he is less than confident it will go anywhere this year.

That in contrast to the enthusiasm by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and his administration.

Fischer has been a chief proponent of citizens having the right to choose whether to raise their sales tax by one percent for new projects.

The mayor’s office points to a recent survey, which found a solid majority favor the concept.

“Anytime you can get 60 percent of the people to agree on something, I think you’re doing pretty well,” says Fischer’s deputy chief of staff Mary Ellen Wiederwohl. “In this country we have very strong opinions about things and we’re very excited that 60 percent of Kentuckians recognize what an incredible idea this is for them and their ability to transform their communities, whether it’s a small town or larger city or a rural part of the state.”

The bill would amend the state constitution, which requires a super majority vote in both chambers of the General Assembly before being put on a statewide ballot in November. Democratic and Republican leaders in the state legislature, however, have expressed concerns about eroding state revenue and raising taxes of any kind on constituents.

There are other outstanding questions which have been raised about the proposal. For instance, how would local referendum operate and what if other taxing districts (i.e. St. Matthews) in Metro Louisville have dueling proposals.

Wiederwohl told WFPL earlier this week the mayor is focused on amending the constitution first and filling in the details later.

“We do believe that in this session we will also be able to file enabling legislation that would be a separate bill that would show how it could work in Jefferson County and that bill would also include the procedures of how it would work in other counties out in the state that don’t have a merged government,” she says.

But as the bill is making its lackluster debut in the state legislature, Fischer is outlining a key component of how it would work in the city.

The mayor’s office announced a 18-member “Community Investment Commission” will be in charge of gathering input for specific projects to be put on the ballot. This groups would hold public meetings and conduct online forums before recommending what projects would be put to voters for approval or denial.

It will include six citizens appointed by the mayor, seven Metro Council members appointed by the council president and four representatives from the Jefferson County League of Cities.

Another caveat is the council would have to approve any potential project by a majority vote before it is sent to voters. And if city lawmakers want to amend, delete or add a project it would require a super majority vote.

“This allows for citizen and suburban input without affecting the autonomy of the elected Metro Council,” says Council President Jim King. “I believe this concept will work, but council members will ultimately decide individually if they agree with this approach.”

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