Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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March 20, 2014

Stumbo flips on sales tax issue

FRANKFORT — An effort to push a constitutional amendment that would allow local governments to enact a time-limited 1 percent sales tax to finance specific projects seemed dead in this year’s General Assembly.

But that was before House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who has said for weeks he opposed the idea suddenly said he now supports it Thursday.

That doesn’t mean his House colleagues agree or at least 60 of them which is the number required to pass a proposed constitutional amendment out of the House. But Stumbo said he’s trying to find more votes for the measure after he talked with Gov. Steve Beshear, who supports the idea.

“Gov. Beshear and I had a long talk about it this afternoon and I’m going to try to round up enough votes to pass it,” Stumbo told reporters.

Previously, Stumbo said he feared allowing local governments to enact such a tax might make it more difficult for the state to increase the sales tax in the future as part of tax reform or when the state required more revenue.

But Stumbo said Beshear persuaded him that if local governments had the ability to ask their voters to approve a time-limited 1 percent tax to finance a needed project, “they wouldn’t be up here asking for money for the projects.”

Some of Stumbo’s fellow House Democrats oppose the idea – and for a variety of reasons. Some, like Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, see the sales tax as regressive, hitting the lower income hardest while the construction projects more often benefited higher income groups or “the elite.”

Others might be fearful of voting for the measure in an election year when Republicans have set their sights on taking majority control of the House from Democrats. Even though the measure would allow local voters to decide the issue, a vote for the amendment might be cast as a vote for a tax increase during the fall campaign.

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