FRANKFORT—Kentucky cities and counties need more revenue, their representatives told state lawmakers today. They also want to protect pensions earned by their workers, they say.
Being able to fund pensions and “safe, clean and economically healthy communities” requires more flexibility than cities now have, said Jonathan Steiner, the executive director of the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) who told the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government that cities want more autonomy.
“Local elected officials need a way to mitigate these changes to ensure they can continue to meet their obligation,” said Steiner. “They’re seeking more control over their local pensions, and they’re looking to the legislature to create a culture in the state that helps grow our local workforce.”
“(We) reiterate our pledge to work with the legislature … to further address the pension crisis while also protecting the investment to public service made by our members,” Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) President and Jefferson County Circuit Clerk David L. Nicholson told the panel.
Cities asked the committee to fully support “home rule”— broad self-governance granted to cities by the Kentucky General Assembly under state law. County organizations that are members of KACo who also presented today asked for more funding options for roads, jails, and a number of other services.
“Jails will always be on our priority list,” said Larue County Judge Executive and Kentucky County Judge Executive Association legislative chairman Tommy Turner. The longtime county official was one of a few local leaders today who hinted at tax reform, with KLC President and Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes advocating expansion of the restaurant tax and Turner mentioning the possibility of a local option sales tax. Local option sales tax legislation has been proposed but failed to pass the Kentucky legislature in previous years.
Acknowledging the complex needs of local governments was Interim Joint Committee on Local Government Co-Chair Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, who said he heard local officials call for both more revenue and pension reform in today’s meeting. Bowen explained that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
“The reform that many of us have been wrestling with over the past six months or so has met opposition from many of you,” Bowen told the officials. And, while he said he understands their position, “without pension reform, we can’t identify those additional funds,” he said.
Calls for tax reform have also been greeted cautiously by Bowen who said tax reform is a long-term fix that will not meet immediate revenue needs at the local level.
“In order for us to be able to address these critical budgetary needs … we have to get pension reform done,” said Bowen.