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Taxing Questions

The legislature and the new governor might want to look deeply at the results of the Kentucky Living survey posted in this issue.

To be fair, they have a lot to pay attention to. When the legislature convenes January 6, the Democratic House and the Republican Senate face a state budget deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars. And that’s after nearly $1 billion of cuts in the last three years.

Ernie Fletcher took over as Kentucky’s first Republican governor in 32 years on December 9. By January 15 he’s required to submit a budget to the legislature.

Fletcher indicated during his campaign he wouldn’t raise taxes. That’s consistent with the wishes of 74 percent of those who responded to the Kentucky Living survey.

We didn’t design the survey to be a statistically valid sample. We just asked readers to fill out the form and mail it back. 8,063 readers did that.

That many returns may be large enough to represent the state. In fact, the question about who readers favored in the then-upcoming election for governor turned out to be pretty accurate. The survey gave Fletcher an 11 percent edge over Ben Chandler. The margin in the actual election was 10 percent.

So it seems voters don’t want tax increases. And politicians have gone a step further and promised major state programs won’t be harmed. How then will the budget be balanced?

Whether to raise taxes may actually be the wrong question. Even those in the survey who opposed tax hikes were willing to answer questions about which increases they thought were most and least responsible.

To be successful, leaders in Frankfort will have to try something different. They’ll need creative solutions that avoid the poisons of partisanship and sloganeering.

And they might look for guidance in the answer to another question in the Kentucky Living survey.

Asked, “How important do you think this year’s governor’s race is to the future of Kentucky?” nearly three-fourths said it would be “very important.”

People elect leaders to make tough choices. I don’t think they’re interested in political scorecards of who is or isn’t avoiding new taxes. I think they want leaders working together, crafting effective solutions for Kentucky’s future.

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