Thursday, March 07, 2002

Patton pushes tax overhaul


State code is outdated, governor says

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Kentucky's antiquated and inadequate tax system is a time bomb waiting to explode in the faces of his successors, Gov. Paul Patton said Wednesday.

        Mr. Patton renewed his plea for the General Assembly to take up the task of overhauling the revenue structure while it is now in session, or perhaps during a later special session.

        Mr. Patton emphasized during a speech to the Frankfort Rotary Club and in remarks to journalists later that such an undertaking would mean no new money for his administration, which will leave office in December 2003.

        “I am worried about the next administration and the next administration and the next administration,” Mr. Patton said.

        A study of the state's tax code undertaken by a legislative panel concluded that the system is not keeping up with ordinary growth in the economy. If unchanged, the report concluded that the state will fall more than $2 billion short of the money needed just to keep up with routine needs for services by 2010.

        The issue, though, involves far more than simple fiscal policy; it is fraught with political overtones and undercurrents.

        Since 1998, Mr. Patton has asked the General Assembly to undertake tax reform. He proposed a dramatic plan in 2000, but it was immediately tagged as a tax increase by the majority Republicans in the Senate and discarded.

        House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, who was in attendance for Mr. Patton's remarks, noted the House embraced many of Mr. Patton's proposals in 2000 and was ready to take up the matter again.

        “We certainly are for that and want to work on tax reform,” Mr. Richards said of his fellow Democrat.

        Mr. Patton made a similar plea during his State of the Commonwealth address to open the legislative session in January.

        Senate President David Williams has said he will not take up the subject of tax reform while Mr. Patton is governor because he does not trust him. Mr. Williams accused Mr. Patton and Democrats of reneging on earlier promises by referring to 2000 tax changes as tax increases.

        Mr. Patton pledged to take the politics out of the topic if Republicans would do likewise.

        “I can speak on behalf of the Democratic Party and make it stick for the next two years,” Mr. Patton said.

        Mr. Patton said he would seek a similar pledge from someone in the Republican Party, “Whoever can speak on behalf of the Republican Party and make it stick.”

        Republican Chairwoman Ellen Williams said the GOP favors tax reform, but is leery of Mr. Patton and the Democrats.

        “I don't think we have any confidence they'll keep their word,” Ms. Williams said. “So far, they have not shown themselves to be people who do what they say and say what they do.”

        Ms. Williams said Wednesday he would talk with Mr. Patton about tax reform and if a consensus could be reached, it would be difficult for either party to try to take political advantage.

        Otherwise, Ms. Williams raised the specter of taxes and politics in this year's legislative elections. “They don't want to talk about taxes,” Ms. Williams said.

        Ms. Williams also said a special session might be worthwhile, but then added that Patton refused Republican calls for a special session last year on legislative redistricting. Ms. Williams also said it might be difficult for him to take part in a special session before May while he faces his own re-election campaign, but added he was sure Mr. Patton would have never have thought about such an implication.

       



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