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Kentucky’s tax structure is broken – so broken that policymakers have convened 12 commissions since 1982 to study the state’s revenue stream.  And yet the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) found that still the state continues to tax low and middle-income people at a higher rate than the wealthy. This year the Governor Beshear formed the Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform, and the consulting economists assisting the Commission have released their report (PDF) which offers a variety of recommendations that are worth legislative consideration. The full commission, consisting of stakeholders and leaders from organizations across the state, will release its recommendations in November.

The Commission was tasked with analyzing the tax structure with these five goals in mind: fairness, competitiveness, simplicity and compliance, elasticity, and adequacy. The economic consultants found (and most analysts agree) that “a broader tax base is needed so that revenue can keep pace with future economic growth.” The report predicts a dire future for the state’s finances unless the tax structure is improved, “Without fundamental reforms Kentucky could face a $1 billion shortfall by 2020, and could find itself at a competitive disadvantage to neighboring states for business growth, retention, and recruitment.”

The experts’ comprehensive report included some common sense, positive proposals like eliminating itemized deductions, instituting an Earned Income Tax Credit, and broadening the sales tax base to more personal services. The Louisville Courier Journal, in the culmination of three months of quality, in-depth reporting on the issue notes that, “many lawmakers and others expect the governor’s effort will fall far short of any significant reform — just as reform attempts by most of Beshear’s immediate predecessors failed.” The reason? Getting legislators to agree to any tax increase (even if other taxes are lowered) may be a political bridge too far.

The Governor, however, has said that he is not abandoning the idea of a special session focused solely on tax reform. He admits, “It’s always difficult to address the issue of taxes. But I think it is do-able if we all will work together.” The full tax commission is expected to come out with its recommendations by November 15. The question remains whether Kentucky can not only study its tax system, but also reform it.