While Mayor Greg Fischer is barnstorming the city selling his tax increase proposal — warning of a dystopian future if he must resort to budget cuts — some Republicans on the Metro Council are cheating off each others’ talking points… some of them word for word.
But, more about that later…
For those keeping score, Fischer, the majority council Democrats and minority Republicans are staking out their respective negotiation positions: cuts in services and amenities or an increase in insurance taxes.
If the answer was easy, it would have been done already.
But the issues facing Louisville, Kentucky and the country are complex, so complex, in fact, that there really are no solutions — only progress. The solutions are not binary, yes or no, more or less, right or wrong. In turn, the debates can’t be this or that, they must be this and that.
Relying on taxes only — or cuts only — will unfairly burden one constituency or another. The best path forward is raising taxes and finding safe, responsible areas to cut.
The $65-million budget shortfall is caused by a new state mandate that increases our contribution to the state public pension system. Fischer’s plan to hike insurance taxes would increase, for example, the average Louisvillian’s home insurance tax (not vehicle insurance) by $12 to $13 per month, according to the Mayor’s Office.
He is insisting that no more can be cut.
But there he was, in a letter to the Courier Journal, detailing the possible cuts, including: hundreds of police officers, ambulances, fire stations, a health clinic, free public libraries, community centers and Neighborhood Places, swimming pools, The Belle of Louisville, Brightside cleaning funds and all funding to third-party nonprofits that support community services, ministries and the arts.
He has been holding press events with firefighters and others in the city to illustrate why their budgets should not be cut and why an increase in taxes is the better choice.
He is pushing the tax.
So, what are Republicans proposing?
The Republican council members appear to be following their party’s ideological position — opposing all taxes hikes.
In some cases, they just copied each other’s homework, as is clear from their press releases.
At least three Republican Metro Council members issued eerily similar statements of “concern.” Council members Stuart Benson, Kevin Kramer and Marilyn Parker issued separate statements that said (verbatim): “Reviewing the Mayor’s proposals for cuts and tax increases has most definitely caused great concern.”
And, they each echoed: “Let me be clear, there is a gap that must be addressed. This will be an ongoing problem — but these problems aren’t unique to Louisville Metro.” …And: “I also ask those seeking to raise taxes by hundreds of dollars per household through increasing the insurance tax to please remember that there are also other proposals to increase your taxes also under consideration.”
These Republicans owe it to their constituents and all of us to take an independent approach.
Beyond that, their monolithic resistance and Fischer’s campaign for new taxes underscore the increasingly powerful dark force that is driving politicians to the either/or approach. Outside groups and base-party politics push elected officials to their ideological corners, leaving little or no room for compromise, nuance and… “and” solutions.
What can be done?
It is impossible to cut our way to a balanced budget, or to prosperity.
As Fischer warns, getting rid of services and pulling back would leave Louisville a dirtier, more dangerous place to live — most likely driving those with the means to move elsewhere and thereby exacerbating the budget problems.
Likewise, only raising taxes would ultimately burden those who already struggle to earn a living wage and can’t afford to take less money home.
The best step forward must be both — a combination of raising revenues and finding areas to cut.
Everyone shares a unified goal: the best possible future for the smallest sacrifice possible. Let’s see if we can’t do both.
And Republicans… stay after class and write on the chalkboard: “I will not copy and paste my talking points ever again.”