LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is again urging Metro Council not to pass what he calls “devastating” budget cuts.
The city is facing a $65 million shortfall over the next four years, caused, primarily, by the state's rising pension costs.
The battle at City Hall is over how to solve the crisis through tax hikes, budget cuts or both.
The Metro Council’s budget committee passed a proposal Thursday that would double the tax on most insurance premiums and increase a tax on rental cars. The plan would also cut the city’s budget by $40 million, including $15 million next year.
“These will result in devastating cuts to vital city services,” Fischer said. “I believe that citizens deserve a basic level of city services. They deserve that in our city, and that's in danger right now.”
Fischer wants to close Louisville's budget gap by tripling the tax on insurance premiums without major budget cuts.
District 17 Metro Councilman Markus Winkler doubts that is going to happen.
“There is no desire on the council to create a tax increase that generates the full $65 million,” Winkler said. “So, by default, you must have some level of cuts.”
Fischer said Louisville’s budget is already lean, and cutting it would derail the city's progress by reducing police officers, closing two fire stations, shutting down one library branch and affecting basic services such as patching potholes.
“They're not scared tactics," Fischer said. "They're just reality."
But despite Fischer's warning, some council members believe the problem can perhaps be solved with little or no tax increase.
“There are so many other cuts beneath the surface that I wish that we would take the time to look at before we vote on a tax increase,” District 7 Councilwoman Paula McCraney said Thursday.
But Fischer challenged council members to come up with specific cuts.
“They can't put specifics forward, because their plan is not defendable,” he said.
Winkler, who crafted the plan approved by the budget committee, said some combination of tax hikes and cuts is almost inevitable.
“I hope it is," he said. "I think it's the right solution."
Fischer said he is willing to compromise to a point. He said he could live with total cuts of $15 million over the next four years.
“If we could have total cuts of $15 million or so, we can figure that out,” he said. “It's going to be some pain, but we can figure that out.”
The deadline is fast approaching. Metro Council is to vote on the budget plan next Thursday so that any increase in insurance premiums can take effect July 1.
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