Stumbo reverses course, says he'll support local-option sales tax bill

syoungman@herald-leader.comMarch 20, 2014 

Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo (D) Prestonsburg, listened to debate about the budget bill in the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on March 13, 2014. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

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FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who earlier this month called a proposed local-option sales tax "bad policy," said he will support the measure after meeting Thursday with Gov. Steve Beshear.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow voters in a town or city to raise the state's 6 percent sales tax by as much as 1 percent to pay for certain projects.

"I had a philosophical problem with it, but the governor pointed out, and I believe it is true, that with the current state of our revenues at the state level — and I was concerned about state revenues — that if we give the local municipalities this ability, they might raise some money so they wouldn't have to be up here asking for more state dollars for large projects like Rupp, like Yum," Stumbo said, referring to basketball arenas in Lexington and Louisville. "So we could free up some additional state monies for education and the things that we're responsible for."

Stumbo said he told the governor that it appears the proposal is short of votes to pass the House, but "we're going to try to round up the support to pass it."

"They had me as an undecided, so that's one," he told reporters.

House Democrats were expected to caucus on the issue Thursday afternoon. Earlier in the day, the House Local Government Committee approved legislation that specifies how the proposed constitutional amendment would work if approved by voters in November. Another House committee had previously approved a bill containing the amendment.

The speaker said he isn't concerned that political opponents will try to use the vote to paint House Democrats as having raised taxes.

"All it's doing is just allowing people to vote," Stumbo said. "I don't think that sticks. You can say it, but just because you say it doesn't mean people believe it. I believe people have better sense than that."

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, registered surprise when told that Stumbo was now in favor of the measure.

"Wow," Stivers told reporters on the Senate floor. "I guess after he saw that he didn't want to be a leader without a flock, he decided to get in front of them."

Stivers didn't say whether or not he supports the measure or whether it could pass the Republican-led Senate, saying the proposal is met with "mixed emotions here."

"[It's] being received differently by people because some people take it as a Republican or more conservative idea — to have more local control," Stivers said. "Other people see it as the potential of increasing the tax. I think what I want to do is make sure that the individuals in this room, both Republican and Democrat, can feel comfortable in voting and explaining whatever their vote may be if the House can pass it."

Previously, the five House Democratic leaders, which control the flow of bills to the full House, have been divided on the issue.

Stumbo and House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark of Louisville had expressed concern that the bill would limit the state's ability to increase the sales tax statewide at some point in the future.

But House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson of Owensboro and House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly of Paris have supported the bill, which is backed by Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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