In Surprise Revolt, Kentucky House Democrats Kill Local Tax Bill

Mar 7, 2020

Credit Kentucky LRC

Democrats in the Kentucky House of Representatives derailed a measure that would have given cash-strapped local governments more flexibility in how they raise taxes.

The proposed constitutional amendment initially had support from both parties, but in a surprise move, several Democrats decided to pass over their votes—a rare moment in which the minority party determined the outcome of a vote.

Republicans cried foul on the maneuver. Rep. Jerry Miller of Louisville noted that several of the abstaining Democrats were co-sponsors of the bill.

“Not only do we have our word, there’s one thing more than our word. If we’re willing to cosponsor something, that’s even more than your word, that’s a matter of honor,” Miller said.

Under House Bill 475, Kentucky voters would decide in the fall whether to give the legislature the authority to let local governments raise new taxes.

The Kentucky Constitution currently restricts how local governments levy taxes, but supporters of the measure say cities need new revenue options to address booming pension obligations and other needs.

Many Democrats voiced support for the measure, but said they were making a point that their votes count, even if Republicans have a super majority in the chamber.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Democrat from Louisville, is the House Minority Floor Leader.

All session long what we’ve heard is you’re in the super minority and you don’t count, we don’t need you,” Jenkins said.

“And you’ve given us some crumbs, you’ve let us be part of the process from time to time. But you know what, we do count. We may just be 38, but we do count,” Jenkins said.

Democrats have 38 out of 100 seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans have 62.

It takes 60 votes to pass a constitutional amendment in the chamber, and with some Republicans already opposing the measure, it needed bipartisan support in order to pass.

Rep. Randy Bridges, a Republican from Paducah, said Democrats should be ashamed of themselves.

“You’ve made a point, the point is you’re weak, you’re an embarrassment,” Bridges said.

It is rare for a bill to be called for a vote and then to fail on the House Floor, underscoring the legislative drama of Friday’s events.

Rep. Angie Hatton, a Democrat from Whitesburg, said that Democrats didn’t owe Republicans anything.

“You’re mad that the Democrats wouldn’t pass this bill for you?,” Hatton said. “You never need our votes, you don’t care what we think, you don’t pass our amendments and now you’re mad that we won’t pass your tax reform?”

Supporters of the bill said it would likely come up again during this year’s legislative session, which ends on April 15.