Sacred cows and Bevin’s secret deals

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin gave his State of the Commonwealth address Feb. 8, 2017, pledging tax reform.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin gave his State of the Commonwealth address Feb. 8, 2017, pledging tax reform. AP

In his state of the commonwealth address in early February, Gov. Matt Bevin said we need to overhaul Kentucky’s tax code and raise more money.

He promised there would be no sacred cows among Kentucky’s hundreds of tax breaks. Some, he said, could wind up turned into hamburger.

It was a good line, but recent reporting about the governor’s own obscure special deals — at least one of which has benefited from a very generous Kentucky tax break — makes one wonder how sharp the governor’s pencil can be when Kentucky’s financial interests and his own collide.

Faith in the governor’s commitment to put Kentucky’s interest ahead of his own is further undercut by his continued refusal to honor a campaign promise to release his tax returns combined with his surly attitude toward legitimate questions from reporters.

Simply put: When Bevin won’t release personal financial information, as governors have for decades, how can anyone know whether he’s tipping the scales in favor of himself, his friends and investors rather than Kentucky taxpayers?

The tangled relationship between Bevin and Neil Ramsey illustrates this problem.

Ramsey, who founded an investment firm and other businesses, contributed thousands to Bevin’s campaigns, the Republican Party and the Bevin inauguration.

Bevin appointed Ramsey, who owns an investment firm, to the board that oversees the billions in investments of the Kentucky Retirement Systems.

As Tom Loftus of the Louisville Courier-Journal has reported, Ramsey also sold a house plus 10 acres, where Bevin and his family now live, for about a half-million dollars less than its appraised value.

Bevin has never confirmed the deal but the state began spending on security improvements at the mansion that adjoins’ Ramsey’s own, last fall, well before the deal closed.

It also turns out that Ramsey, taking advantage of a very generous state tax break, has given $300,000 to a company Bevin’s poured money into that has yet to break even, according to another investor.

Ramsey’s Angel Investor tax credit of 40 percent, or $120,000, for his investment in Bevin’s Neutronetrix Solutions was approved in January.

An analysis by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy calls the Angel Investor credit “an overly generous subsidy for wealthy investors.”

A tax break sacred cow sure to become hamburger?

Maybe not.

One way to look at this is to say that Kentucky taxpayers are giving Ramsey $120,000 to invest in a venture largely owned by a guy to whom Ramsey just gave a really good deal on a house.

That guy is the governor of Kentucky. And Ramsey wrote big checks to help him get there.

See the problem?