Monday, April 11, 2016

OP-ED, Brent Cooper: Local Option Sales Tax Opponents Deceiving Voters

Brent Cooper. Provided. 
By Brent Cooper, Fort Thomas resident and President of Covington-based C-Forward.

Whether someone is lying about an issue, or if they are just misinformed, is always tough to judge.  Regardless, when it comes to legislation in Frankfort, it is really difficult to hear people say, or repeat, things you know aren’t true.  At the top of the list for me this week was the line, “Anyone that votes for the KY Local Option Sales Tax is voting to raise your taxes.”   

It isn’t true, and it is just one of many issues we need to start talking about.

Not just about the Local Option Sales Tax issue itself, but also about the deceptive tactics used by some to advance their agenda.

Voting for the Local Option Sales Tax legislation, (aka LIFT – Local Investments for Transformation), would not raise anyone’s taxes.  First, the bill in Frankfort is a constitutional amendment, so it would take a vote of the entire commonwealth to change the constitution.  Then, local communities around the state would have the ability to raise a local sales tax, if and only if, the majority of citizens in that local community vote for it.   So, it would take two additional votes (one statewide and one local) for a tax increase to occur.

Put another way, LIFT gives you the right to vote on a tax increase.  See the difference? To say that it will raise your taxes is simply untrue.

Now, if they would have said, “Anyone voting for LIFT is voting for something that could potentially lead to a tax increase.” that would be accurate.   Personally, I think leaving out “the majority of your fellow citizens have to vote for it”, is an important point, but I understand why they might leave it out.

One person in particular, the primary opponent of Adam Koenig, has a post online that simply says “KY Sales Tax Bill” and shows Koenig voting for it.  I’ve got a real problem with that ad, and so should you.

The uninformed person might conclude that Koenig voted for a tax increase.  He didn’t. That ad didn’t inform people.  Its intent, in my opinion, is to mislead people.

It didn’t mention that the majority of KY representatives in the house recently voted for LIFT on a bipartisan basis.  The ad didn’t say that the minority leader in the house, (a Republican), supported the bill and the Senate President, (also a Republican), publicly stated he would vote for it.  Mayors from all around the state, including Lexington and Louisville, are for it.  Eight former KY Governors, and our current Governor Matt Bevin, have all endorsed it.  And to top it off, business leaders at Chambers of Commerce all around the state are in favor of the legislation.

Why would all these people, many very conservative, be in favor of a “KY Sales Tax Bill”?

I can assure you that small business owners and business executives didn’t go to the KY Chamber of Commerce and say, “Hey, we’re just not taxed enough.  Let’s support a sales tax increase for no good reason!”

The LIFT legislation was debated at length at the KY Chamber, and was eventually supported for the following reasons:

A majority of local citizens have to vote for it.  Don’t want it, don’t vote for it.
It can only be used for specific projects.  So, limited scope.
Once the project is paid for, the tax goes away.

It is a tool that has been successfully used all around the country, particularly in cities we view as competing with ours.

Now, a minority of folks, on both sides of the aisle, are against the idea of LIFT for differing reasons.

One argument is that LIFT would give the state an excuse not to fund projects. I understand the concern, but did I miss some windfall of cash coming our way from Frankfort, ever?  All this does is give us the ability to better control our own destiny, if the majority of citizens vote for it.

Another argument against LIFT is that sales taxes are regressive and disproportionally hurt the working poor.  Believe me, I appreciate that concern.  But the tax is limited to a maximum of 1%, and things like groceries, utilities and medicine (essential items) are exempt.  Again, it’s up to the local community.

Finally, from rural areas I’ve heard opposition to LIFT go something like this, “Voters in rural communities that go to bigger cities to shop won’t have any say; they will only get to pay.”  So, let me get this straight, you’ve got a problem with your tax dollars going to another area of the state that doesn’t directly benefit you?  Many in Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky might respond with, “Hello pot, this is the kettle, you’re black.”

But regardless of the arguments for or against LIFT, the point is this: Let’s have an honest debate about the benefits and potential pitfalls of legislation.  I respect those that disagree, and I might change my mind if an argument is compelling.

But deceiving people, either through honest ignorance or deceptive intent, is not the way to win elections or advance our community.  Help spread the truth so people can honestly decide for themselves.

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