Herald-Leader Editorial

Thayer's wrong thinking on special taxing districts

Choose House bill for effective reform

March 8, 2013 

Damon Thayer

Let's hope Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer sees by now that not even most of his fellow Republicans want the changes he's trying to foist on local governments.

Thayer's insistence on giving local legislative bodies (fiscal courts and councils) veto power over taxes and fees imposed by special districts has obvious flaws:

Thayer's assertion that special districts practice "taxation without representation" is wrong. Special districts are a legitimate form of representative government, created to fill public needs such as water service, fire protection and libraries.

Many special districts were created through popular vote. Their boards serve at the pleasure of local elected officials or are elected by voters.

Tax increases by special districts that exceed four percent are subject to voter recall, the same as school boards, fiscal courts and city councils.

The effects of Thayer's change have not been studied or debated but could be onerous to taxpayers if rating agencies and lenders see the tangled lines of authority as an added risk for repaying bonds.

Also, if all public bonding is lumped under one authority, counties could find themselves paying higher rates to finance essentials such as roads and jails.

Last Sunday, Thayer, R-Georgetown, was posing with a giant check of $1 million from the state to build almost seven miles of water lines in part of southern Kenton County that was hammered by a tornado last year. To complete the project, the water district must raise $2.3 million in user fees.

Cincinnati.com reports that Thayer told his gathered constituents "we're still doing what we can to make sure they've got the resources they need to rebuild. "

Yet, in Frankfort he's trying to limit the ability of communities to build and rebuild infrastructure because of his "deeply held philosophical belief."

Thayer's inflexibility provoked one Republican senator to storm out of a caucus, and his amended version of the special district reforms barely made it out of the Senate.

Fortunately, the original version has strong bipartisan support and should be restored in a conference committee. House Bill 1, sparked by Auditor Adam Edelen's work, will bring more transparency and consistent rules to the 1,200-plus special districts, enabling them to provide better service.

The danger to HB 1 is that lawmakers will run out of time.

The danger to Thayer is that Republicans will run out of patience with a new leader who shows so little regard for their concerns.

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