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Frankfort Local News

Westwood Re-files Tax Commission Bill ‘As A Statement’ to Beshear

One Republican senator is making his displeasure with Governor Steve Beshear’s tax commission known.

Senator Jack Westwood has filed a bill for the second year in a row setting up a new commission to completely rewrite Kentucky’s tax code.

Westwood says he filed the bill again because he’s unhappy with the make-up of the governor’s commission, which includes few economists and tax professionals.

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Tax Reform Commission Launches Website Seeking Public Input

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform has launched a website to collect public input as the panel begins its work to overhaul Kentucky’s tax code.

Citizens can offer comments through online forms or request to make presentations at any of the upcoming commission meetings scheduled across the state. The 23-member panel was formed by Gov. Steve Beshear earlier this year and held its first meeting on Tuesday.

“The work of this tax reform commission will impact the future of all Kentuckians,” said Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, who chairs the commission. “That’s why our website and series of meetings are designed for public input and transparency as we move forward with this critical process.”

The commission will hold 11 additional meetings throughout the state over the course of the year. Its next meeting is scheduled for April 10 at the Capitol Annex building in Frankfort.

The panel is expected to forward its recommendations to Beshear by November.

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Tax Reform Commission Discusses Hiring Consultant at First Meeting

The special commission formed by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to overhaul the state’s tax code held its first meeting Tuesday and put out a proposal to hire a consultant.

It is expected the group will makes changes aimed at improving the state’s ability to withstand future economic downturns, produce adequate revenue and make the code equitable for all taxpayers. The consultant is being hired to give the panel an outside perspective on how to improve the tax system and give Kentucky a competitive edge over surrounding states.

From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, chairman of the 23-member panel, said Beshear considered it “imperative that we have someone from the outside who could lead this group through the issues” the governor considers important.

The consultant, Abramson said, will focus initially on how Kentucky’s tax structure measures up with surrounding states and should be in place by the commission’s next meeting on April 10.

Cost for the consultant has not yet been determined, he added.

The recommendations are expected by November 15.

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Frankfort Local News

Williams Blasts Beshear’s Tax Commission for Lacking Experts

Kentucky Senate President David Williams has several criticisms for Governor Steve Beshear’s recently-appointed tax commission.

Williams proposed creating such a commission during his bid for governor last year. But says Beshear’s commission lacks the guidance and experience to change Kentucky’s tax code. The Senate President says the majority of the commission is made up of Beshear’s friends and political allies.

“That there were some people with qualification on there,” he says. “But the vast majority of the people that were appointed to that committee had no expertise in taxation. They weren’t economists, aren’t tax experts, they aren’t CPAs, they aren’t lawyers and what we need is someone to draw up a tax plan and propose a tax plan.”

 

Williams’s proposed panel would have included economists and it would have been charged with completely rewriting the state’s tax code.

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

KCEP Urges Tax Reform Over Expanded Gaming

Leaders with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy are calling on state leaders to tackle tax reform to address the commonwealth’s economic woes.

Governor Steve Beshear plans to close the state’s $742 million spending gap by cutting many state agencies by up to 8.4 percent and using a number of other measures, including taking $100 million of the $122 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Kentucky Center for Economic Policy Director Jason Bailey says that’s a necessary step to prevent deeper cuts.

“Well, Rainy Day Funds are there for days when it rains, that’s the purpose of them and it’s absolutely raining right now. It is a smart policy decision for the governor to use the Rainy Day Funds to plug this budget,” he says.

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Frankfort

Williams Avoids Comment on Beshear’s Change of Heart on Tax Reform

Senate President David Williams is staying out of the mud when it comes to commenting on Governor Steve Beshear’s new tax commission.

Williams proposed his own commission last legislative session. It would have included tax experts, economists and others and charged them with completely re-writing Kentucky’s tax code. The new tax code would then be subjected to an up or down vote in each chamber of the General Assembly.

But Beshear hasn’t wanted any part of tax reform…until recently.

Williams says he doesn’t know what made the governor have a change of heart.

“It serves me no purpose to second guess why he’s doing anything,” Williams says. “You know it serves no purpose to do that. But you know I told him last night, publicly in front of hundreds of people that I hope at the end of this four years I can look back upon this term of his and say he was the most successful governor that we’ve ever had and I hope that he will be.”

Beshear’s new commission is short on details, though Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson will chair the group.

The governor will appoint the other members at a later date.

When asked what advice he would give to Beshear when it comes to his commission, Williams offered a slice of his own plan.

“If he wants some unsolicited advice, I would put tax experts on that commission,” Williams said. “And then let stakeholders and everyone else give them information as to what they think the tax code and policy should be and draft the changes.

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Frankfort

Beshear Proposes Tax Commission, Lt. Gov. Abramson to Chair

After weeks of hinting about tax reform, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has provided some details.

The governor announced the creation of a blue ribbon tax commission tonight in Lexington and the annual Chamber Day dinner put on by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

In a news release, Beshear says Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson will be the chair of the new commission, and the commission’s main focus will be to raise revenue.

Beshear did not name any other members of the commission. They will be appointed at a later date.

The tax commission was a major platform of Republican Senate President David Williams, who ran against Beshear in last year’s gubernatorial race.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo has signaled he is open to tax reform, but he wants a clear purpose for any attempts to change the tax code. For years, various members of the General Assembly have proposed their own tax reform options.

The commission will hold public meetings, but won’t present any legislation until next year’s General Assembly session.

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Local News Politics

In Depth: Tax Code Changes Again Unlikely to Pass in Frankfort

A Kentucky lawmaker determined to update the state’s antiquated tax code has made his annual pitch for reform. But the bill is generating little excitement as time runs out on the 2011 session.

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For 12 years now, Representative Jim Wayne has been sponsoring a comprehensive tax reform package that occasionally gets a House budget committee hearing, but that’s all. It’s never had a committee vote, much less consideration by the full House or Senate.

But the Louisville Democrat refuses to give up. He’s back again with the bill, which ups the cigarette tax by 50-cents per pack, extends sales taxes to services primarily used by the wealthy, reduces income tax rates on low-income families and raises them on people earning over $65,000 per year.

Wayne says the adjustments are necessary because the state’s current tax code doesn’t work. And since 2000, the state has spent $3.5 billion more from the General Fund than it collected.

“We don’t have enough monies to run the government,” said Wayne. “The programs that the people want – including education, social services, public protection – we can’t fund them properly.”

Wayne, once called the “Conscience of the General Assembly’ by former budget chairman Harry Moberly, knows his bill is a tough sell, because lawmakers tend to look for the exits when somebody mentions tax hikes.

“True leadership calls us to stand up and say let’s look at the facts,” said Wayne. “Let’s see what we need to do to be responsible legislators and responsible leaders in this state, to protect our people, to invest in our people and protect those programs that are so essential, including education.”

Wayne is not alone. Among those testifying in favor of his tax reform bill was Sharon Oxendine of the Kentucky Education Association. She thanked lawmakers for not cutting basic school funding in recent years, but says schools are hurting and the state must find new sources of revenue.

“The cost for staff and for faculty always are continuing to go up,” said Oxendine. “And when you don’t increase the SEEK funding, the state support to those schools and the commitment that we’ve made to help those schools, that commitment is not there.”

And Father Pat Delahanty of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky says it’s time for shared sacrifice.

“Contributions to the common good should reflect one’s ability to pay,” said Delahanty. “And from those to whom much has been given, scripture teaches us, much should be expected.”

But Rep. Fred Nesler of Mayfield wishes Rep. Wayne would pick on someone besides smokers. He says farmers in his rural part of the state depend on their tobacco crop and it’s unfair to keep turning to cigarette taxes to raise new revenue for the state.

“It would never happen,” said Nesler, “but if our country and our state voted cigarette smoking absolutely illegal, and you did not get any revenue for coffers regarding the cigarette tax, we would be scrambling for sure, for tax dollars.”

Rep. Wayne isn’t the only one pushing for tax code changes this session. A bill backed by Senate Republicans, calling for creation of a tax reform commission to study the issue and make recommendations for next year, cleared the Senate in January, but continues to languish in the House. House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rick Rand says it’s not because the House is afraid to tackle the tough issue.

“But we have to deal within the political realities as to what we can do with tax reform and what will pass the General Assembly,” said Rand. “And, you know, that’s where we’re at.”

With only a handful of days remaining in the current legislative session, the possibility of tax reform legislation emerging this year appears unlikely. But one thing’s for sure. As long as Rep. Jim Wayne serves in the General Assembly, lawmakers won’t be allowed to ignore the issue.