Local officials in metro areas call for public pension reform, local-option sales tax

jbrammer@herald-leader.comFebruary 12, 2013 

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, shown giving the 2013 State of the Merged Government address last month, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer were in Frankfort on Tuesday to tout a local-option sales tax and legislative approval of public pension reforms.

CHARLES BERTRAM | STAFF — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

FRANKFORT — Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined several other local government officials Tuesday to push for legislative approval of public pension reforms and a local-option sales tax.

In a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda, Gray said the financial woes of public employee pension programs are the primary concern of a group called The Metropolitan Alliance for Growth. It is made up of mayors and county judges from the state's largest metro areas who lobby the state legislature.

In Lexington, Gray said, skyrocketing pension obligations for police and firefighters are squeezing out other priorities. He said public pension costs have escalated from 7 percent of Lexington's General Fund budget in 2000 to 22 percent in 2012.

Already in this year's legislative session, the Senate has approved and sent to the House a pension reform bill, but questions have arisen about the costs of a provision that shifts future employees to a 401(k)-style program.

Fischer spoke about a proposed constitutional amendment to allow a local-option sales tax. He said 37 states have such a tax.

The plan would allow residents in a local government's jurisdiction to vote on whether to increase the state's 6 percent sales tax by as much as 1 percentage point for specific projects. The money would stay in a dedicated fund.

Fischer said discussion about the proposal, called LIFT (Local Investments for Transformation), is now in "the educational stage."

He said it could be approved this year or by next year's General Assembly and be placed on the ballot for voters to consider in November 2014.

Gray said the tax option could benefit a variety of projects, ranging from a renovated Rupp Arena to new firehouses. He also said details of the proposal — including which cities could use it — are being worked out.

The proposal has been endorsed by the Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Association of Counties.

Besides Gray and Fischer, other members of the Metro Alliance are Boone County Judge-Executive Gary W. Moore, Campbell County Judge-Executive Steve Pendery, Kenton County Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghaus, Hardin County Judge-Executive Harry L. Berry, Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon and Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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