FRANKFORT – As legislators were debating Friday night whether to give final approval to a major revenue bill, someone brought up the old joke about how most of us would prefer to fund government: Don’t tax you, don’t tax me; tax that fellow behind the tree.
Based on that, those supporting this new law must have a large tree in mind, because that’s where they placed 95 percent of us, according to an analysis by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. This isn’t tax modernization; it’s a tax shift that will cost most working families more while disproportionately benefiting the rich and out-of-state corporations. That is why I could not support it.
Tax changes like this should be debated for weeks if not months, because the public that will pay for it should at least be given a chance to have its views heard. Instead, this measure was kept secret until early this month – and then it was rushed through the General Assembly in about 12 hours, before it could even be read online.
Other than many of my House and Senate colleagues and me, no one was given a chance to oppose it. That’s not how taxes – the most important power granted to government – should be handled.
The new law cleared its final hurdle last Friday, when the General Assembly voted to override Governor Bevin’s veto. Its most noticeable impact will be on the 17 services that will now have a 6 percent sales tax.
That will apply to the labor costs to fix our vehicles and install such equipment as heating and air systems, and it will be added to our vet and grooming bills for non-farm animals. It will increase the cost of our dry cleaning and also apply to fitness centers, bowling alleys and greens fees at golf courses.
This new law flattens the state income tax for corporations and individuals alike, but it also will call on retirees to pay more. Currently, the first $41,100 of their income is exempted, but that will drop to $31,100 when this law goes into effect, costing many hundreds of dollars more each year. Cigarettes will also cost 50 cents more per pack.
Overall, this bill increases taxes about $400 million over the next two years, based on the revised numbers after the General Assembly made some tweaks this past Saturday to the original bill.
Just as the General Assembly overrode the Governor’s veto of the tax legislation, it also overrode his veto of the entire state budget on Friday.
I disagreed with this veto override as well, because I believe we can do better. The upcoming two-year budget does too little for too many people, especially when it comes to education. While it raises per-pupil funding by about $2 a month, that amount is still below 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation. There is also no money for new textbooks or professional development for teachers, and this budget also cuts preschool services.
Many worthwhile programs that have traditionally been supported in the past will receive no state funding at all. Those range from scholarship programs for coal-county college students to dropout-prevention efforts for teen mothers in Jefferson County and arts-based programs like the University Press of Kentucky.
At the other end of the academic spectrum, our postsecondary schools will suffer another major cut, although they will have the chance to recoup some of that through a performance-based funding formula that, unfortunately, puts many of our regional universities on uneven footing.
As many of you may know, the legislative session ended on a troubling note, when Governor Bevin made insulting comments about teachers who were at the Capitol on Friday. His claim that children were sexually assaulted or introduced to illegal drugs because children were not at school drew quick criticism from virtually everyone on both sides of the political spectrum. I was proud to join with my fellow legislators to sponsor a resolution formally condemning these remarks, which were part of a regretful trend by the governor in recent months.
With this year’s legislative session now over, the laws we passed will take effect this summer, unless they were deemed an emergency or have a specific enactment date. I will focus next week on what else we accomplished.
The General Assembly is not scheduled to re-convene in legislative session until January, but that does not mean our work is over for the year. House and Senate committees will begin meeting regularly in June to review the impact of these new laws and other issues affecting the state.
I deeply appreciate those of you who contacted me this legislative session, either in person, on the phone or online. Your contributions helped immensely in making sure I was casting the right votes for our district.
I encourage you to keep that dialog going, because it is never too late to contact me if you have a question or concern. My email isRick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line, which is open year-round, is 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.