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Bluegrass Beacon: Tax-raising politicians should choose transparency over comfort

Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

What led to Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate’s ruling supporting the Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government’s claim that the Kentucky House of Representatives held an illegal closed-door meeting last summer is indicative of how too many politicians would, if given a choice, handle contentious issues.

It’s why we have one of the nation’s strongest open meetings laws and don’t give lawmakers the choice of conducting the public’s business – including policy debates – privately.

Then-Speaker Jeff Hoover announced the Aug. 29 meeting to purportedly discuss a consultant’s report on Kentucky’s retirement systems.

Hoover, R-Jamestown, said he held the meeting behind closed doors to allow legislators “a more comfortable setting” for discussing controversial recommendations regarding Kentucky’s pension crisis.

After the attorney general’s office said the meeting violated the law, the House sued the institute, hoping to obtain a favorable court ruling.

House leaders claim the gathering had simply been a Republican caucus meeting to which Democratic caucus members were “invited.”

Wingate rightly rejected this absurd claim, knowing if it were allowed to stand the House could use it in the future to shut out the press and public when considering contentious issues.

Not many lawmakers practice the kind the political courage demonstrated by Louisville Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne, the only legislator willing to walk out of that August meeting after his request to open its doors was denied.

Plan to witness some of that avoid-contentious-issues-in-public approach on the campaign trail leading to November’s election, particularly in the form of most incumbent Republicans spinning a thrown-together tax increase that includes a half-billion dollars in new taxes as “the first step toward comprehensive reform,” or some such nonsense.

Surely, it’s not “comfortable” explaining to small-business owners who provide bowling, landscaping, lawn care, tree trimming, small-animal veterinary, pet care, laundry, dry cleaning, uniform supply, indoor tanning, weight loss, limousine, campsites, personal property installation and extended warranty services why they’re now forced to carry the cost of Frankfort’s failures on their backs.

I would advise big-spending incumbents to avoid answering uncomfortable questions posed by Dr. Doug Peterson in Frankfort, a small-animal veterinarian with many of his 31 years in business spent in Bowling Green.

Peterson told WKYT-TV he’s hearing from fellow veterinarians wondering: “Why were we singled out? If this is a professionals’ tax, why weren’t all the professions taxed also? Why weren’t the lawyers, the accountants, the architects, the professional engineers, why weren’t all of them taxed?”

It would, of course, be too uncomfortable to admit you picked winners and losers based on who’s best at greasing government’s skids.

Campaign advice for incumbent, big-spending, government-knows-best establishment Republicans on the campaign trail: Any discussion about how you refused to support Gov. Bevin’s attempts to eliminate wasteful spending programs – especially those labeled “education” – should be avoided at all cost. It’s too uncomfortable.

Finally, try to survive this fall’s election unscathed by the failed Kentucky Wired boondoggle, which Americans for Tax Reform labeled a “taxpayer’s nightmare.”

Instead, hold fluffy discussions about how it’s helping poor Kentuckians connect to opportunity while refusing to note the project is more than two years behind with less than a third of the cable installed, despite already blowing through hundreds of millions of dollars financed by revenue bonds, which are supposed to be repaid using profit from the project receiving financing.

Bypass any mention about how this year’s legislature approved nearly $180 million worth of new expenditures and debt for this disastrous network to nowhere.

If you’re forced to mention such new spending, by all means don’t remind voters that the General Assembly you represent them in failed to at least restrict additional revenues from all those new taxes toward paying down the commonwealth’s $60 billion pension liability.

After all, what fun is it being a politician if you don’t have gobs of other peoples’ money to generously spend and you’re forced to deal with uncomfortable issues publicly?

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

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