Northern Kentuckians want tax system to spur education spending, allow for business growth

07/25/2012 01:53 PM

Echoing themes from eariler public meetings of the governor’s tax reform commission, Northern Kentuckians on Tuesday night called for more tax money for education and tax credits to spur business growth.

The commission, formed this year by Gov. Steve Beshear and led by Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, listened as 44 educators, business leaders, and common citizens voiced their concerns and made suggestions at the meeting on Northern Kentucky University’s campus. This was the fourth such public meeting following sessions in Paducah, Bowling Green, and Louisville.

The 23-member commission, made up of education and health advocates and business leaders, will make recommendations for reforming the states tax structure by end of 2012.

Retiring NKU President James Votruba was first to address the commission. He said that “the new tax policy must contribute to the states capacity to attract investment capital, knowledge based companies and the talent needed to drive them.”

The case for higher ed

Votruba went on to say that he is proud of the strides that the state had made in improving education since he arrived at NKU in 1997 and added that the last thing that the state needs to do reduce its investment in education.

“Investing in the full education continuum with clearly defined goals and accountability is an essential economic strategy,” Votruba said. “Across the education continuum, we are showing remarkable progress compared to other states against whom we compete.”

NKU student government president Erik Pederson told the commission about the burden of yearly tuition hikes for students. He also stressed that the state should invest more in education because it will keep the brightest students at home and attract more businesses because of a growing educated workforce.

Pederson said “we’re (the students) here to help you help us. We understand the obligation that we have by going to school here. We understand that our obligation is back to the commonwealth and if you invest in us then we can invest back in you.”

Money for the classroom

Educators from several Northern Kentucky public school districts called for more tax revenue to increase funding for education.

Ken Cook, chairman of the Boone County Board of Education expressed frustration that the number of students in his district continues to increase while the funding from the state decreases.

Cook said “the time for significant change in how public education is funded in Kentucky is now, not after the ice breaks and the bottom falls out.”

Mary Birkenhauer, a special education teacher in the Boone County school system and president of the teacher’s union in Northern Kentucky, said schools need more personnel to do their jobs.

“I’m not going to say let’s build buildings, or lets get a vocational school,” she said. “We can start small. We’re classroom teachers. We don’t have a lot of money anymore. Those days are gone. What we do need are resources like people.”

Wanting a halo

Business owners expressed concerns over the current tax structure that keeps businesses from locating in the state.

Brent Cooper, owner of a small tech company in Covington and chairman of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said he had concerns about the lack of tax credit for angel investors in start up businesses. The General Assembly failed to enact legislation this year to allow such tax credits other states have.

Cooper told the commission, “imagine you are a new startup and someone comes to you and says I’ll give you $200,000 for your idea, but you’ve got to move four miles north, because I get a 25 percent tax credit in Ohio and we don’t get that in Kentucky. That is not just made up. That is happening. Tax policy in Kentucky is costing us jobs.”

Frank Julian, vice president of Macy’s Inc. tax council and member of the Kentucky Retail Federation, recommended a sales tax holiday for several days on items such as school supplies and clothing around the start of the school year. Julian said that would increase business for the retailers, which in turn would benefit the state.

Read my lips …

But many speakers also argued against increasing taxes. Members of the Northern Kentucky Tea Party said the state government should focus on reducing taxes and regulations on businesses so they can prosper.

“Everybody should be paying the same percentage. I don’t think because someone is successful, they should be paying a larger percentage,” said Larry Robinson, president of the Campbell County Tea Party. “I do think if someone is having a tough time they should have a break but that break should go across the board.”

Currently, those individuals earning $8,000 or more pay 5.8 percent and those whose annual income is above $75,000 pay a 6 percent rate.

Joan Gregory of Fort Thomas requested that the committee raise taxes to pay for improving infrastructure, schools, transportation and public safety which she said, in turn, would attract more businesses to the commonwealth.

Gregory said: “I’m a history teacher, and, historically, I’ve known Americans have always opposed taxes. It caused the American Revolution. It’s in our DNA. But I’m here to ask you to take one for the team, because I want you to raise taxes.”

The commission’s next public meeting will be on Tuesday, August 7 at Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Prestonsburg. It will take place from 6-8pm
at Gearheart Auditorium.


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