When other legislators and I arrived at the Capitol early April 2 to cast a final vote on the state’s two-year budget and companion revenue bill, only a handful of people knew what they contained.
By the end of the evening, when both bills were on their way to the governor’s desk for his signature, it was clear why House and Senate leaders had kept nearly everyone else in the dark: These bills would never have survived public scrutiny in the light of the day.
As I said when the same rushed and secretive approach was used to approve public-pension reforms just four days earlier, this is not how major legislation should be enacted. Passing bills that haven’t been read by most legislators, much less by those who would be directly affected, is bad policy. We’re elected to serve the people, not the other way around.
There are significant problems with all three bills, but the revenue measure was the one that caught most people by surprise. Its supporters call it the most substantive tax change in more than a decade, but shifting the burden to more working families without even giving them a chance to comment is not something I see as a positive move.
An independent review by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy estimated it would raise taxes on 95 percent of Kentuckians while lowering them for the richest five percent. The most noticeable change is adding the sales tax to several types of common services. That will have us pay more to fix our vehicles, to get our clothes dry-cleaned, to exercise at fitness centers and golf courses and to take care of our pets.
All retirees, meanwhile, will see their income-tax exemption drop by a fourth, a move that – not surprisingly – drew quick opposition from AARP. The House tried to reverse that change just hours after passing it, but the Senate seems unlikely to agree.
For months now, others and I have advocated for responsible, broad-based tax reform. I think we need to take a closer look at exemptions – they exceed what the state takes in – and to see if other incentives we’ve given over the years are still helping us economically. Undertaking this task should be carefully thought out and done with considerable public input. It’s something that will take longer than the 12 hours