Local citizens deserve the right to tax themselves for projects

Jim Host
is founder of Host Communications and a former state commerce secretary.
Jim Host is founder of Host Communications and a former state commerce secretary.

By Jim Host

Election season is special in Kentucky. Next to basketball season, there doesn't seem to be a time that gets Kentuckians more excited.

But when it's over it's time for Kentucky to get down to the business of the initiatives that move the commonwealth forward.

In January 2015, when our state's leaders meet in Frankfort to conduct the people's business, they will face no shortage of issues. While there are a number of challenges facing our commonwealth, I hope that — as leaders of both parties have pledged — one of their very top priorities will be passing legislation to place a constitutional question on the 2016 ballot asking Kentucky citizens if they want to allow local communities to decide for themselves whether to fund local projects through a small one-time local sales tax that will end when the project is completed.

The local option sales tax, as it's commonly known, is a tool that can have enormous transformative effects on the lives of Kentucky families, and can change the way our cities and counties direct their own growth.

In the past Kentuckians have sent their hard-earned tax dollars to Frankfort and statehouse leaders have decided which projects get funding. Local communities crossed their fingers in hope the project they were counting on got the green light.

The local option sales tax is a new way for communities to see the projects they want and need go from the drawing board to reality — and to do it for themselves.

A local option sales tax would allow local communities to let their citizens decide whether to fund infrastructure and construction projects through a local sales tax, which would be capped at 1 percent and have a built-in sunset. If the people are willing to fund a local project through levying a small tax on themselves, they vote yes. If they don't want the tax or the project, they vote no. What could be simpler or more democratic?

For the past year, volunteers and representatives from Local Investments for Transformation Kentucky, or LIFT, a coalition of prominent business, civic, and government leaders helping support this plan, have travelled across the state and heard about the projects communities would hope to fund through a local option sales tax.

These projects are as diverse as the communities that need them: new water lines in Marshall County, an animal shelter in Paducah, an outdoor amphitheater in Somerset, a multi-use convention center and arena to harness the bourbon boom near Lebanon, replacement of a structurally deficient dam in Ohio and Muhlenberg counties. The list goes on and on.

Some projects are meant to attract or retain new businesses and jobs. Some are long overdue infrastructure projects that are not on Frankfort's priority list.

There is, however, one thing these projects have in common: they are the projects that citizens and local communities need but don't currently have the means to fund.

Thirty-seven states give their local communities the ability to fund their own infrastructure projects through a local option sales tax — it's time Kentuckians are given a chance to decide for ourselves if we want to join their ranks.

I urge you to let your elected officials know it's time Kentuckians had a say.