WATERS: Berea mom an inspiration to taxpayers statewide

Jim Waters

Berea’s Mary Turley-Renfro is a gift to her community, its taxpayers and citizens statewide who can stop tax-increase attempts coming soon by a government near you.

After the Madison County Fiscal Court in September passed a huge increase in property tax rates, Renfro, a busy mom and realtor, and five other opponents of the decision went to work.

They researched the law and discovered citizens can petition for a recall of property tax hikes and put the issue on the next ballot, which, in this case, would have been November 2020.

Then they created Stop Madison County Tax Increases, a grassroots group which used social media to gather 6,479 signatures – more than 10% of the county’s registered voters – on a recall petition.

While Madison County Clerk Kenny Barger stopped counting somewhere beyond the required threshold of 3,780, the court hasn’t ceased trying to raise taxes.

Magistrates are now trying to levy a 5% insurance premium tax, claiming the county needs millions for a new jail and rising pension costs before November.

I doubt it’s coincidental that insurance premium tax increases aren’t subject to recall by petition.

Still, the people who pay the bills aren’t convinced, especially since those pushing for higher taxes don’t even have an estimate on how much revenue they would produce.

According to the Richmond Register, the only additional tax revenue would come from unincorporated areas since Madison County cities already impose insurance premium taxes at higher rates than the court’s 5% proposal.

The county is attempting to bring in through the back door what it couldn’t previously force on taxpayers without even knowing whether it will produce enough revenue to make a dent in funding a new jail or rising pension costs.

The court has failed to make the case for this tax hike – at least to taxpayers, the ones who matter.

Perhaps it will answer these questions at its Dec. 17 meeting, at which a second – and final – reading of the tax increase is planned.

Plenty of taxpayers should show up and bring black rocks for stockings of politicians with the gall to raise taxes at Christmastime.

Who among state legislators are willing to carry the spirit of Mary Furley-Renfro to the statehouse for the next General Assembly session when taxpayers will likely face an onslaught of proposed tax-and-spending increases?

Many politicians at all levels of government can’t seem to understand citizens don’t trust them with our hard-earned dollars.

“Trust, but verify,” quipped Ronald Reagan.

While Reagan made that comment in relationship to confirming that the Soviet Union and its chameleon leader Mikhail Gorbachev were complying with a treaty to eliminate nuclear missiles, it should also be applied to all politicians’ attempts to raise taxes, increase spending and grow government’s girth.

Transparent government is knowing how much taxpayers are actually forced to fork over as well as how the money gets spent.

Not enough is known about either by Madison County taxpayers who remain unconvinced enough has been done to cut wasteful spending or more efficiently conduct operations like the jail before raising taxes.

Most politicians will always claim it’s do-or-die without more money.

But I’m siding with the nonpolitician-taxpayers, who must be convinced the money’s needed and will generally acquiesce – even if unhappily – when an adequate case is made.

But the fact they haven’t agreed means Madison County's local politicians failed to remove reasonable doubt – at least in this case – for one Berea mom and her merry band of 6,479 fellow jurors.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

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