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Metro Council Members Say City Can Make Cuts That Spare Public Safety

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Louisville Metro Council members who voted against the mayor’s proposed tax hike are calling for a new round of budget cuts that would protect public safety agencies.

The bipartisan coalition led by Jessica Green (D-1) rebuked Mayor Greg Fischer’s efforts to double the insurance premium tax as “scare tactics.” Green said city leaders need to move forward on a plan to cut $35 million from the upcoming year’s budget that begins July 1.

“Mayor Fischer, give us a realistic approach and be open to recognizing that taxpayers are shouldering their own burdens now,” Green said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Metro Council voted down the mayor’s tax hike in an 11-15 vote last Thursday. That plan would have doubled the insurance premium tax from 5 to 10 percent (excluding auto and health) while requiring $15 million in cuts.

Fischer’s office has projected a $65 million budget shortfall by 2023 due largely to rising employee pension costs.

The mayor's office said Tuesday that Fischer is willing to work with the council, but has not received a sound alternative to address the city's funding gaps, according to an emailed response from spokeswoman Jean Porter.

Fischer plans to present his proposed budget to the council on April 25, she said.

At Tuesday's news conference, the coalition of eight Democrats and seven Republicans said they are committed to searching for solutions without touching the budgets for the police, fire and emergency services.

"Public safety is an area that all who voted no said is a priority when it comes to cutting the budget. We do not want public safety to be affected," Green said.

They also said tax increases should be the last resort. Instead, they suggested the budget has plenty of fat to trim before tax increases are warranted.

As an example of the city's relaxed spending habits, Brent Ackerson (D-26) pointed to what he described a bad real estate deal in which the Louisville Metro Housing Authority purchased a property for $3 million earlier this year after it was appraised at only $1.8 million.

Ackerson said he has a plan that would net about $30 million through 10 percent cuts to departments without affecting public safety.

“Make no mistake [Metropolitan Sewer District] rates are going to go up, [Louisville Gas & Electric] rates are going to go up, water company bills are going up, property valuations are going up, cable bills are going up,” Ackerson said. “The working people of this city are being bled and it’s a slow bleed.”

Marilyn Parker (R-18) said she sees the cuts as an opportunity to make the government better by forcing the city to look at its spending habits.

“Let’s look at the positives on this. We should have increased revenue,” Parker said. "Everyone can do a small part, we don’t have to have anything that resembles 'draconian.'”

Porter, the mayor's spokeswoman, said she doubts the cuts will be seen as positive given that residents are "asking for more services, not fewer."

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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