Herald-Leader Editorial

Find the courage to do tax reform; Beshear stalling on task force ideas

May 21, 2013 

Gov. Steve Beshear

Tax reform will never happen without strong, very strong, executive leadership.

It is the classic short-term versus long-term scenario.

Politically, which is short term, it has little to recommend it: It's about taxes, which are toxic in modern political speak; it's extremely complex, hard to explain to legislators and voters; since only people with money can pay taxes, the very constituencies that have the most influence on legislators are likely to be those complaining.

The long term, though, is compelling.

Without true tax reform that captures growth in our economy to reinvest in the state and its people, Kentucky's status as one of the poorest states in the nation will not change.

The evidence abounds, whether it's the insistent drumbeat of tuition increases at the state's public universities or the constant cutting at local school districts.

Herald-Leader staff writer Jim Warren reported last week that Fayette County Public Schools will cut staff hours at family resource centers, which offer support to the district's neediest children, after about four years of cuts in state funding for them.

Other districts that aren't as financially sound as Fayette are laying off teachers and support staff.

This is a race to the bottom.

Meanwhile in Frankfort, the recommendations of a 23- member task force appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear to study tax reform go largely unchampioned, as The Courier-Journal reported Sunday.

After a year of work, including meetings all over the state, and a 450-page report with 54 recommendations for changing Kentucky's tax code, there is little to show.

At one point, a special session to focus on tax reform seemed like a possibility, but Beshear, the only person who can call a special session and set the agenda, has given no indication that's on his agenda any longer.

That is, as state Sen. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, told the Courier, "really sad."

Beshear's first-term hopes of increasing revenue with more gambling have not come to fruition, and a 2 percent decline in state revenue in the last quarter signaled that hopes of growing out of this trough are misplaced.

When Beshear appointed his task force in February 2012, he recognized the significance of the effort for Kentucky's long term, saying he expected "some proposals that I think can refashion Kentucky's future."

Beshear also talked about the politics of tax reform. "I firmly believe that Kentucky's leaders, in the governor's office and in the legislature, have the political courage and will to tackle this complex issue."

Kentucky's future is being refashioned by cuts to education and other essential services. The question is: Will Beshear muster the courage and will to push through tax reform that can alter that dreadful future?

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