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ISSUE: City classification
OUR VIEW: Clarification needed
Among its pitiful list of failings this year, the Kentucky General Assembly left Frankfort last month without clarifying the state’s laissez faire city classification system, which has caused such an uproar the last year in Elizabethtown.
The House, at the urging of Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, unanimously approved a resolution to create a task force of lawmakers, residents and municipal officials to study the controversy. But Senate Republicans weren’t interested in taking up such a taxing issue.
Ironically, it’s the Legislature that caused the whole mess which, in the minds of some, has called into question the legality of the restaurant tax enacted by Elizabethtown City Council. The city’s population exceeds specifications qualifying its fourth-class designation, and under existing state law would push it into second-class status leaving it unqualified to tax diners.
A constitutional amendment adopted 14 years ago authorized the General Assembly to create city classes based on considerations other than population. The state’s finest, though, haven’t gotten around to it, yet. So classification remains determined by seriously outdated population figures, and changes in classification remain at the initiative of the cities.
Sadly, that’s the way it will remain until the lawmakers make a new law consistent with the constitutional amendment.
Lee’s House-approved resolution would require the Legislative Research Commission to create a task force to study what the General Assembly should do. That’s pretty benign. But even that didn’t win support of the Senate.
Lee told The News-Enterprise recently that he will try to form a committee of representatives and senators to conduct hearings during this legislative election summer on the classification mess to help build momentum for next year’s session. Good luck. That would be enlightening.
What needs to be done is pretty clear. If Kentucky is going to have a city classification system it must be serious about it. The population threshold should be updated and other considerations included. Once the threshold is crossed, though, the classification change should be mandated and automatic.
This also would be an ideal time for the state to ease up on the choke hold it has on its local governments, including authorized revenue sources. State officials, who complain constantly about the way they are treated by federal officials in Washington, turn around and treat Kentucky cities and councils the same way.
Whatever happens, even if Elizabethtown ends up in its rightful class, the transition is not likely to affect the city’s restaurant tax.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.