Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 11, 2014

Denied a vote

Legislators distrust wisdom of the voters of Kentucky

The Independent

ASHLAND — What is it about members of the Kentucky General Assembly that makes them so reluctant to allow voters to make the final decision on important public issues? Don’t they trust the ability of the people to have the intelligence and the ability to make the right decision?

Apparently not. Instead they would rather leave the decision solely up to the 100 members of the Kentucky House of Representatives and the 38 members of the Kentucky Senate. After all, our elected leaders know what’s best for the people, right?

It appears that a constitutional amendment to allow casino-style gambling in Kentucky will not be on the November ballot — again. Even though Gov. Steve Beshear made  expanded gambling a major plank of his successful campaign for governor in 2007 and his re-election campaign in 2011, he has never been able to convince legislators to put the issue on the ballot despite two convincing election victories. 

But it is not just the gambling issue that legislators have kept off the ballot. The Republican-controlled Senate has repeatedly blocked a House approved constitutional amendment to automatically restore the voting rights of most convicted felons who have completed their sentences and parole. It may happen again this year, even though both the House and the Senate have approved separate amendments  on the issue. It is just that the Senate added so many restrictions to the House amendment that it negates much of its purpose. We can’t see the House going along with the changes made in the Senate, and this issue likely will not be on November’s ballot.

Neither will a proposed amendment that would have allowed city and county governments to impose  project-based, time-specific sales tax of 1 percent, provided voters approve the tax hike in a referendum. 

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer last week presented a case for the tax to the House State Government Committee. Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne of Louisville called the tax regressive and asked Fischer to explain why low-income households would provide a greater dollar amount than high-income households.

Fischer responded that the tax would create jobs, which would make the financial burden worthwhile. Fischer also said currently untaxed items would remain untaxed.

As we see it, this amendment would give local government another tax option, which they badly need. It also would enable cities and counties to afford capital projects they otherwise could not afford.  Even if this option were available, we’re not sure how many Kentucky cities and counties would take advantage of it. But it is an option that is available in neighboring Ohio. In fact, that is how Cincinnati is paying for the Paul G. Brown Stadium and the Great American Ballpark, the home fields of the Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds.

Why should legislators care if voters in Louisville, Lexington Paducah and Ashland approve temporary increases in the sales tax to pay for local projects they believe are important? Don’t they trust the elected leaders and residents of those counties and cities to decide for themselves what is best?

Of course some constitutional amendments are place on the ballot. Two years ago, voters overwhelmingly approved a “right to hunt” amendment to protect a right that was in no way threatened in this state.. Why the amendment? It was placed on the ballot because the National Rifle Association said it was important, and whatever the NRA wants in the General Assembly, the NRA gets.

A decade or so ago, Kentucky voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment recognizing marriages as between a man and a woman. Of course, recent court decisions have ruled that amendment unconstitutional. If those rulings stand on appeal, then Kentucky’s amendment will be negated.

Meanwhile, amendments that could really make a difference in this state are never place on the ballot. How sad.