As promised, here is the fourth part of the Q&A LEO Weekly conducted with all four candidates in the Senate 19th Democratic primary race (first three parts here, here and here). We’ll have more questions and answers up through Monday.
In this edition, we talk about Louisville’s tax burden and bridge tolls.
Does Louisville bear too much of the tax burden for the rest of the state, and if so, how would that be remedied?
Amy Shoemaker: Yes, and I think one of the ways we could address that is by revamping our tax structure. And also seeing a more equitable use of our transportation fund.
Sarah Lynn Cunningham: There’s no question that we are sending a lot more money back to Frankfort than we get back. But if we didn’t, I don’t know why we would bother to do that at all. If everything were done at local government level and there was no redistribution at the state level it just wouldn’t make sense to bother. The way we do that is that we boost economic development around the state so that more needs can be met, not on the backs of Louisvillians and other urban dwellers, so that we just have economic vitality throughout the state. To me, the way that the coal industry ravages the property tax base in coalfield counties, so that they can’t support their schools and they need more support from the state as a whole, is a good example of the externalized cost of coal that is hidden from the public on a routine basis. And if you merely enforced the law, you could have a little bit less of that kind of permanent damage and improve the tax base there.
Morgan McGarvey: Louisville does not get its fair share back from the taxes that it gives to the rest of the state. I recognize that Louisville is the economic engine of Kentucky, and we will probably never get 100 percent back of what we give to Frankfort. But the 50 cents on the dollar sheering that we receive right now is not fair or equitable. To continue to grow the city and get the infrastructure that we need here that will grow the tax base and send more revenue back to the state of Kentucky, if we can get a little bit more back here in the city.
Gary Demling: Absolutely. Once again, there’s a disconnect with legislators, and we have some great representatives, don’t get me wrong. But we can’t send $4 out and get $2 back in return. I mean, we’re almost going to be the 51st state if this continues to happen. For some reason, I think we look back and the only governor from Jefferson County was Lawrence Weatherby. That’s the reason other counties have some kind of dislike for Jefferson. Personally, I love it here. I think that we need to stand up and say enough is enough. Gaming is one thing that would impact Louisville immensely, and that’s something that David Williams and a few others are blocking. Now are they doing that to penalize Jefferson County? Quite possibly. But also, we can’t sit there and send $4 out and get $2 in return. We need more leadership to stand up for Jefferson County, because that’s who you represent, first off.
Are two bridges worth it if we have to toll existing bridges?
Shoemaker: This is a hard one, because there’s such a benefit of having two bridges. But tolling seems so regressive, and the East End bridge could accomplish so much of what the downtown bridge would. I can be idealistic about reducing our energy consumption, but at the same time I feel like we need to be pragmatic about the bridge situation, because we’ve been waiting so long, and we saw what a debacle the shutdown of the Sherman Minton Bridge was. Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that. I hate the idea of those bridges being tolled.
Cunningham: It is not so simple as one, two or no bridges. I think that if we continue to put all of our eggs in one basket of private automotive transportation and maintain the myth of the 20-minute commute as being a constitutional right of Americans who can afford a car, we just don’t have the money for that. And if we toll, it’s going to be an even more expensive proposition because we’ll have to do it through private money and all the profit that will be entailed. So part of me thinks it’s bogus to even talk in terms of paying for two bridges. I think that when we do the math and show the public, they won’t think it’s worth it. The public still thinks that somehow this is magically going to happen without any pain to themselves. Meanwhile at the ranch, I find it to be a very significant problem that we’re not putting enough money into transit, bicycling and walking. We do have a very significant obesity crisis that is not sustainable. We do not have the oil to sustain our addiction to private transportation. And I really don’t think that acting like this is a simple matter of whether we’re willing to pay the tolls is going to solve all of these problems, because it’s not. And no, I don’t think it’s right to toll existing bridges to pay for new ones.
McGarvey: The bridges problem in Kentucky has been a pressing civic issue for as long as I can possibly remember. Just this past year, both houses and the governor approved a plan to fund the bridges so that there will be two bridges in Jefferson County. That plan is going forward and as far as I understand it there will be tolls on those bridges, and I hope that there is a sunset provision on those tolls so that once the bridges are paid for, we no longer toll and make sure that this is not a regressive way of paying for the bridges.
Demling: I believe in tolling the new bridges. I would not want to toll the existing bridges, no. But if we went back to, I think the early 60s, just to get onto I-65 we had tolls. Once those roads were paid for, the tolls were taken off, just like they’re doing with the new bridges. I would not support putting tolls on existing bridges, unless we’re trying to find a way to offset the costs, but I don’t think we can, currently. But two bridges? Let’s do one first, and if it’s productive – and I’m definitely a pro-East End bridge person – then we can move on to the next step. And if we were to institute a gaming bill to be voted on by the voters, then we could apply some of that money as well. We could earmark a few dollars until the bridges are paid for.