Berry backs LIFT initiative

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Mayors, judge-executives hold news conference to push for local sales taxes

By Marty Finley

Hardin County has joined its voice with some of the most populous municipalities in Kentucky, calling on the legislature to consider significant reforms and objectives assisting cities and counties.

Hardin Judge-Executive Harry Berry joined judge-executives and mayors from around the state at a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday, where a challenge was sent for comprehensive pension reform and a constitutional amendment allowing for local option sales taxes in cities and counties for special projects or programs.

The group, Metropolitan Alliance for Growth, pairs mayors from the state’s two largest cities, Lexington and Louisville, with judge-executives from some of Kentucky’s largest counties.

In addition to Lexington and Fayette counties, Boone, Campbell, Daviess, Hardin, Kenton and Warren counties have joined in the alliance to push the legislature to action and educate the public on the benefit of these reforms, Berry said.

Hardin County gained a seat at the table, he said, because of its status as a growing metropolitan area.

Berry was in the state capitol to participate in the push for the Local Investments For Transformation initiative, which is being drafted as legislation. Berry said MAG has worked with legislators on the details of LIFT but was not yet ready to disclose its partners in Frankfort.

LIFT has been designed to push for the option of local option sales taxes. Berry said the amendment would not allow city or county governments to impose sales taxes like they do property and occupational taxes, but it would open up a mechanism for residents to vote on the sales taxes in a referendum, similar to a wet/dry vote. The taxes could only be appropriated toward specified programs or projects outlined as needs and would subside as the programs or projects reach their conclusions.

Berry said governments could do the leg work of proposing the projects and voters could decide if the projects are warranted and the tax is an appropriate outlet to pay for it.]

There are no specific projects defined for Hardin County, he said, but there has been talk in the past of building convention centers. Or, Berry said, the tax may be put toward something for the arts.

“We’re not talking about one baseball field,” he said.\

The concept of enacting taxes to fund projects has been used before in the county. Elizabethtown City Council enacted a 2 percent restaurant tax in 2007 to fund the construction of the Elizabethtown Sports Park, which opened on West Park Road last year at a cost of more than $28 million. The council’s decision to impose the tax has been publically questioned on several occasions through legal challenges and calls for repeal.

The difference here, according to officials, is voters would be in control.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.