Kentucky’s legislature needs billions of dollars to pay down the state’s unfunded pension liabilities. As it happens, Kentucky essentially gives away billions of dollars every year through what are called “tax expenditures.”
These are the many decades of accumulated tax breaks, tax credits and incentive payments involving tax money. In this fiscal year, the state budget office predicts that those expenditures will cost Kentucky $13 billion. That is $1 billion more than the state is likely to collect in revenue.
In an effort to start a public conversation about tax reform — because everyone seems to agree that such a talk is overdue — the Herald-Leader has examined a few tax expenditures that keep taking their slices from Kentucky’s stressed budgets without ever being asked to justify themselves.
One of them reimburses production companies for up to 35 percent of the cost of making movies and television shows inside the state. Another offsets many of the expenses of real-estate development by successful businessmen. Another shrinks state property taxes on luxury houseboats to almost nothing. Another exempts most services from the sales tax, even those aimed at the upscale crowd, such as landscaping and country club memberships. And another takes the sales tax off gravestones.
These are just five examples out of hundreds, ranging from the small ($626,000 a year for houseboat taxes) to the enormous ($2.5 billion a year for taxing services).
Whether Gov. Matt Bevin and the legislature will scrutinize these tax expenditures anytime soon remains to be seen.
In the words of state Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, a former House budget chairman, “We never do enough to determine if we’re getting as much from them as we’re giving away.”
How to get involved
You can let lawmakers know where you stand on the issue by emailing your representatives here or leaving them a voice message at 800-372-7181.