Saturday, February 16, 2008

Another Trip to Frankfort, and a tale about The Standing Ovation

I was in Frankfort this past Thursday for some legislative business. As most of my five faithful readers know, Frankfort is one of my favorite little cities. Louisville, of course, is my favorite really-big-town, but that is fodder for a different feeding. Thursday while there I made two stops off my schedule of historic interest, but probably to no one but me, just to take a look around our Capital and our Commonwealth.

First, I parked for a moment in the Riverview Park, established in 1997, along Wilkinson Boulevard and looked westward across the Kentucky River to the eddy formed by the mouth of Benson Creek. It was at this point, this juncture of land and water, that the Virginia legislature and governor, Thomas Jefferson, chose to divide Kentucky County, Virginia into its three original divisions, Fayette, Jefferson, and Lincoln counties. From my vantage point, I could look out to the northwest, up the Bald Knob Pike past Bellepoint, and let my eyes wander out into what was originally a part of Jefferson County, Virginia. Looking westward and southwestward, the view is blocked by Buttimer's Hill, the rock of a mountain just west of the city above the old Taylor Avenue and divided from what is now called Louisville Hill by the foot of Devil's Hollow Road, which itself formed the original path out of the capital city to what would become in time Kentucky largest really-big-twon, Louisville. That vista made up a part of Lincoln County, Virginia. If I were to look back over my shoulder toward South Frankfort and the New Capital, that too was a part of the original Lincoln County. The point where I was standing, on the Right Bank of the Kentucky River near Milepost 66, was a part of Fayette County, Virginia, which at that point in time was the most populous county of the three, with a census of about 2500 people in all of the area from Frankfort southeast to Pineville, east to Ashland, and north to Carrollton and Covington. That was one of my stops, viewing the origins of our state, which over in what was once a part of Lincoln County, was currently hosting our House and Senate in General Assembly.

My second view was made from on top of the Capitol Parking Garage, the one with the loops on either end, where the floors are numbered from bottom to top in ascending order so that the highest numbered floor is the lowest in elevation. Don't ever drive the loops within 30 minutes of having dinner in the Annex Cafeteria. You will not make it out of the City Limits. But, I digress.

Looking eastward from this point, the vista is of a broad plain below and then up the side of the hill toward Georgetown - "out East Main" as they would say in Frankfort. A look to the northeast is Frankfort Cemetery, the subject of one of the first entries of this blog. Looking below, of course, is the Kentucky River, which on Thursaday was a murky thick brown color, like coffee with cream, which is not the way I like my coffee, or my rivers. The river was up too, though not in any flooding territories as I have seen it now and then over time, most extraordinarily in 1978 when I was a freshman at the University of Kentucky. Much of the view of the old city to the north is obstructed from here by the Governor's Mansion and Grounds. Turning around one could look between the Capital and the Annex and up Lafayette Drive toward Louisville.

I always enjoy my trips to Frankfort, whether they are for business or pleasure. In the past, I am sure many legislators would have made this same comment. I have heard so many over time, though, comment that it is not what it used to be. I first became acquainted with the Capital through my grandmother, who had reason to be there from time to time. Later on, in Junior High School, which today is called Middle School, I made trips to the KYA conventions sponsored by the State YMCA, which was then headed by a Mr. Journey, who is long-since gone. In those Jr-KYA and later in High School in Sr-KYA conventions, I learned the legislative process and became enamored with the entire community around it. Having lots and lots of family in the Capital city was certainly a plus. Still later, as a freshman in college, I served as an advisor for some Jr-KYA students from what was then called Morton Junior High, on Tates Creek Pike in Lexington. The now-Morton Middle School is one of the prettiest buildings in Lexington in my opinion. I served in that role under a math teacher there, Sheila Becker (later Sheila Vice). I had a great time.

But, as I said, the environment is different now, the habits are different now, and of course, the fiscal underpinning of state government, as well as all other levels of government, is not there. We are at the bottom of the barrel with no real help in sight, only band-aids. While I was visiting at the Capital Annex Cafeteria, I called State Representative Jim Wayne, a Democrat of Jefferwon County's 35th District, over to my lunch table, which I was sharing with Assistant Jefferson County Attorneys E. Patrick Mulvihill (who is a candidate for Distict Judge in the upcoming elections) and John (J. P.) Ward, a part-time prosecutor who is learning the legislative ropes. Jim told us of his latest adventure in Taxing Matters, a proposal he is pushing to establish an Alternative Minimum Tax structure for the state along the lines of that established by the IRS for the Republic as a whole. His plan would remove many lower-income tax payers from the system while simultaneously shifting the burden to those in higher tax brackets, especially those making $250,000.00 or more. It is a noble goal. And even though adoption of Representative Wayne's plan would be a step in the right direction, it is not nearly enough. Proposals like Representative Wayne's must be introduced and passed at all levels of government, bringing needed resources for the country as a whole out of the pockets of multi-national corporations and their respective CEOs and CFOs and into the General Funds in Washington, Frankfort, and really-big-towns like Louisville.

At a different level, last Wednesday night the Mayor of Louisville-Jefferson County Metro gave a speech at the Metro Democratic Club, an update of his previously-given State of the City address, an annual event at the Downtown Rotary Club. In his update, he talked about the financial crises the City is in as being attributable to the general downturn of the economy as a whole. I have had discussions with others who laid part of the blame at the feet of a City financial planner whose numbers were skewed by a one-time payment into the City's coffers which was accounted as recurring income. Another person has informed me it is her opinion, based on some reputable knowledge she has (and she is in a position to have such knowledge) that the City's budget shortfall isn't nearly as big as is being reported. What the Mayor never alluded to in his speech were any new costs of running the merged City and County governments as one, without any equalisation of the propety tax structure for those people outside the old City who receive only one tax bill a year, unlike those in the old City who still receive two. As more and more services are being extended outside the Louisville Urban Service District without a like increase in taxes outside the Louisville Urban Service District, it becomes obvious that more revenue should be coming in from those receiving these new services, receiving them without paying for them. Since the adoption of Merger, there has never been an External or Internal Auditting presented to the Metro Council which would show these discrepancies. Nor is there any current plan of the Mayor or of the Council to correct this flagrant oversight in the merged government. At the end of his speech, the Mayor received a standing ovation from many (61) of the 64 people in the room. Based on his failure to communicate anything on the tax-fairness question, I was one of the three who did not rise in the ovation. I didn't make a scene; I didn't do anything other than some appropriate applause given the stature of the office.

While at the Capital on Thursday, the threesome of Mulvihill, Ward, and myself, happened around a corner in the Annex and encountered the Mayor and a few of his aides-de-camp, one of whom pointed out to the Mayor that out of the 64 people present in the room, at least one did not make the Standing-O. The Mayor asked me to affirm this which I did, offering that I was busy doing something else. What I was busy doing was trying to figure out why this tax-fairness question is not being addressed given the fiscal shortcomings the Mayor and the City are facing.

The problem isn't original with the Mayor. It is endemic to politicians who are unwilling to say to a populace which wants services that someone has to pay for them. If a politician says they want to raise taxes, many of the folks whose taxes are not likely to be affected, as they are at the lower end of the economic spectrum, are usually those who shout the loudest. They are only hurting themselves and the politicans who give in to them should be held accountable for the dismal state of economics affairs in all levels of the government.

Will this ever happen? Yes, I believe it will. Maybe not this year or next year, but soon. And it will take a fifteen to thirty year cycle to get us back where we were, but it will be worth the wait for the generations to follow beyond that thirty year mark. And we should all be working in that direction.


Deborah said...

If I had been there, I would have been sitting down too!!!!!
Deborah (I think I am one of the five)

Bruce Maples said...

Jeff, Good post. Always enjoy the knowledge you bring, whether it be historical or geographical, or political (which can often be both historical and geographical!).

Thanks, too, for the comments on the need for audits and transparency in metro government (and in government generally). I agree -- there seems to be some "we know better, leave us alone" aspect to much of the financial details. From the Arena, to the bridges, to the libraries, to the government as a whole, we get the big numbers all right -- but when we ask for the details, all we get is a pat on the back and "we're taking care of it. Don't worry your little brain about it." I think condescending might be the right word.

Enjoyed it -- I'll be back. By the way, check out the home page on my new site -- you're the featured blog! :)

Anonymous said...

Jeff-I like your Tax Equity position as it relates to the Urban Service District. What happened to the UNITY campaign that the Mayor campaigned on? Is the county all united now? He needs to spend political capital to unify the county.

Moderate Man

The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.