Mayor Greg Fischer, who is running for re-election this year, painted a picture of a rising Louisville on Thursday at his annual State of the City address, citing economic growth and a drop in crime compared to record highs in 2016. Along with that, he pointed to challenges the city faces, including the potential impact of Kentucky’s pension crisis on Louisville’s budget.
Metro Government’s obligations could shoot up $38 million in 2018 unless state lawmakers figure out a pension fix, Fischer said in the speech to the Rotary Club of Louisville.
“We are always ready for the unexpected, but this will be difficult for the people of Louisville and force Metro Government to reduce existing services,” he said. “We’ve got a great team and we’ll work with Metro Council and citizens to meet this challenge.”
Fischer called for a “sustainable solution” to the problem that would not hurt the economy of Louisville or Kentucky as a whole. That included support for changes that would broaden the tax base.
“We must reform an outdated system that exempts as much as it taxes,” he said. A system that excludes luxury items but hits classrooms, law enforcement and drug treatment doesn’t make sense, he said.
Fischer said Metro’s new revenue in 2018 will be $20 to $25 million, which could help offset the $38 million need. He said resistance from other groups representing Kentucky’s cities and counties regarding the obligation created by the pension shortfall could lead to the increase being lower than projected, or being phased in over time.
Fischer’s Republican challenger, Metro Council member Angela Leet, said the mayor did not adequately address crime and other issues such as blight. Regarding the pension issue, she said it is hard to know how much the budget will be hit since lawmakers in Frankfort have procrastinated on it so long.
Leet said Fischer intended to make a case for re-election in his speech Thursday. But she said some issues in the city, such as crumbling infrastructure and unheated jails, need more attention.
“Certainly that’s what he was here doing today, was trying to generate the positive message, the positive image of what is good about Louisville,” Leet said. “And I believe, obviously, that we have to make more change.”
Successful economic development and plans to extend such efforts were the focus of Fischer’s remarks. He provided a greatest hits list of wins, including rising wages, bourbon tourism, investments in West Louisville and workforce development programs.
He also touted tourism initiatives. This year, Louisville will see the reopening of the downtown convention center along with new and upgraded hotels in the area, he said. Fischer also pointed to the development of a soccer stadium for the Louisville City Football Club and the addition of distilleries that would cement Louisville as the start of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Councilwoman Leet took issue with Fischer’s focus on tourists.
“It sounds like we’ve got a lot of great things coming for tourists for our town, but what are we doing for the average, everyday working citizen?” she asked.