We've held off modernizing Kentucky's tax code for several years now, not wanting to jeopardize the beginning stages of our recovery from the global economic recession.
With the recovery taking firm hold, however, the time has arrived to move our tax system into the 21st century.
Led by Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, the 23 members of the Governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform have been meeting for several months to familiarize themselves with the strengths and weaknesses of our tax system, to look at other states and to examine the dozen studies and evaluations of Kentucky taxes that have been performed since 1982.
Now it's your turn to weigh in. Beginning this week, the commission will hold meetings around the state to hear what Kentuckians think about our tax code — where it needs to be changed, where it must be improved.
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Meetings will be in Paducah, Bowling Green, Louisville, Highland Heights (on Northern Kentucky University's campus), Prestonsburg and Lexington.
For locations and times, look on the web site ltgovernor.ky.govtaxreform under "public meeting schedule." If you can't make it to a meeting, you can still voice your opinion by clicking on "public comments."
Whether you're a teacher, a small-business owner, a college student, a steelworker or a part-time short-order cook, we want to hear from you. We need to hear from you.
I could easily have put the task of modernizing Kentucky's tax code solely in the hands of economic experts. But this isn't an academic, esoteric exercise set up to posit theoretical arguments about ideal tax structures. It's an exercise that recognizes that the power of taxation is a living, breathing, mechanism with tangible impact on people's lives — both those who are taxed, and those who use services funded by those taxes.
If you earn an income or own property, this will have an impact on you. Likewise, if you drive on roads, live in an area patrolled by state police, have a child or relative in the K-12 school system, a community college or a public university, want the air you breathe to be clean, use electricity, access health care through Medicaid or use any other of hundreds of government services — then you have a vested interest in how our taxes work.
By listening to our citizens, we hope to understand not only their perceptions of how our tax revenue is raised but also whether they think those taxes are adequate to meet the needs of a state facing dynamic shifts in education, workforce training, early childhood development, aging and health care.
Kentucky's tax system served us well during the recession. But to prepare ourselves to compete in the future, we must — in a thoughtful and nonpartisan way — realign our system with the principles of fairness and a 21st-century economy.
This commission has no preset notion of what changes need to be made. It instead has five overarching goals:
A tax burden that is fair for different families and businesses.
A structure that is competitive, ensuring that Kentucky continues to attract and retain jobs and investment.
A system that is easy to understand and comply with.
A system that evolves with the economy.
And a system that provides adequate revenue for services that improve Kentuckians' quality of life.
The best tax structure strikes a balance between tax burden and return. By attending one of these meetings or weighing in online, you can help us find that balance.
We have done much in the last 4½ years to rein in government and cut spending. But we've also fought hard to preserve critical services.
That's because we realize that Kentuckians are not against taxes. They are against unnecessary taxes.
Nor are Kentuckians against spending. They are against wasteful spending.
And they're not against government. They're against poorly run government.
Improving Kentucky's tax structure is yet another way to ensure that government works for the people, not against them.