During his State of the Commonwealth address, Gov. Matt Bevin proclaimed the need to increase tax revenues to pay down the looming pension crisis. Bevin told legislators he would, “take the heat for it, and you can all blame me for it if you’d like.”
That clearly wasn’t enough for Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Jeff Hoover, both Republicans like Bevin, who apparently had not been clued in on Bevin’s plans.
Neither expressed much enthusiasm for raising taxes and Hoover described it as “problematic” for most of his members. Those members know full well that passing the blame off onto a governor of their own party will do little to gain voters’ trust and support.
Bevin deserves credit for his willingness to speak plainly about the unpopular topic of tax increases, but he would serve his own cause and lawmakers much better if he built support by traveling the state to explain why they’re necessary.
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Last month’s news that the growing pension crisis could mean a downgrade in Kentucky’s credit rating is reason enough to get serious about raising revenue. Like consumer credit ratings, the lower a state’s bond rating the higher the cost of borrowing. A lower rating means interest charges would squeeze out services for citizens.
Also, a state hungry to recruit business investment and jobs doesn’t want prospects wondering whether there will be enough money in the treasury to maintain roads, educate future workers, or provide other essential government services.
As Bevin noted, any plan to increase revenue must include ending some of the tax breaks that have grown so large over the years that Kentucky now gives away more money than it collects.
But some group benefits from every tax exemption, so each one that’s cut will mean offending a constituency.
Bevin’s challenge is to convince legislators and voters that we are in this together and must all take a share of the pain to put Kentucky back on the path to fiscal soundness.
He can only do that if he develops a fair, broad-based tax plan rooted in sound policy not wishful rhetoric.