Consensus on road plan likely not to come until next week

Despite earlier optimism that an agreed-upon road plan would be completed by the end of this week, work will continue over the weekend by House and Senate leaders to try to iron out a compromise. 

“We have no agreement at this particular juncture,” Senate President David Williams said Friday morning during a press conference with House Speaker Greg Stumbo. “We’re far away from having any kind of document ready.”

Legislative leaders have been working on the road plan that will direct spending of state and federal transportation dollars including the $421 million Kentucky expects to receive under the federal economic stimulus package. 

The House leadership delivered a draft of the plan to the Senate on Monday, and Senate leaders have been delving into the details since. Williams, a Burkesville Republican, had said Tuesday that he expected a compromise to be reached within 48 hours. 

“It takes a lot of time to understand the nature of this huge and complex problem,” Stumbo said about the work on the plan.

Being discussed at the same time as the road plan is whether the legislature should act to freeze the state’s current gas tax rate, which is tied to the wholesale price of gas. 

The rate is currently scheduled to drop by four cents on April 1 because of declining gas prices, but legislative leaders are considering freezing the tax at its current rate to retain road  dollars. 

Each of those pennies equals about $32 million over the next year in road dollars to the state, and Williams noted that city and county governments also share in that revenue for local road maintenance. 

The state is facing a deficit of at least $100 million this year in its road fund based largely on a drop in revenue from vehicle sales and use taxes, so the reduction of the gas tax would have an even greater impact on road construction, Williams said. 

“I think that we’re going to have to take some steps to freeze those pennies or it’s going to be catastrophic for the state road plan,” Williams said.


NKY makes pitch for federal, toll-free bridge funding

Members of northern Kentucky’s Congressional delegation and local officials are in Washington this week to lobby for federal funding to replace the Brent Spence Bridge. 

While Congress works on a transportation spending bill, those involved in the lobbying effort are hoping to secure between $500 million and $800 million of the $3 billion required to build the bridge, according an article today by Pat Crowley with the Kentucky Enquirer. 

A proposal to create a statewide transportation infrastructure authority to be able to borrow money to pay for the state’s mega-projects has me resistance in northern Kentucky. The main objection has been because those loans would presumably be repaid by tolls levied on the projects funded by the authority. 

Tolls have not been as large an issue in other areas of the state affected by these megaprojects, including in western Kentucky where officials are pushing for the creation of the authority to fund the construction of Interstate 69 through the state including an Ohio River  bridge at Henderson.

Deputy cabinet secretary placed on leave following EPO

Steve Nunn, a former state legislator, deputy state cabinet secretary and son of former Gov. Louie Nunn, has been placed on leave after an emergency protective order was filed against him alleging he struck a woman. 

Reporter Ronnie Ellis with CNHI has the story about Nunn, who ran for governor in 2003, left the legislature in 2006 and has been serving as acting Commissioner of Mental Health and Mental Retardation for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. 

Nunn is accused by 29-year-old Amanda Ross of Lexington of striking her while they watched a recent University of Kentucky basketball game. 

From Ellis’s story – 

She indicated Nunn was at her house watching a basketball game when he “became combative, hit me four times in my face, broke a lamp, and scratched the hallway wall.” The summons also indicates Nunn was verbally abusive.

Nunn was placed on administrative leave after Ross filed the EPO. Nunn is formerly of Glasgow near Bowling Green, but his address on the EPO is listed as Midway.

Nunn is scheduled to appear in court on the order on March 4.

Payday lending bill clears committee, critics say bill doesn’t go far enough

A proposed system to help keep people from accumulating too much debt through payday loans cleared a House committee on Wednesday, but has predatory lending opponents saying the measure doesn’t go far enough.

 House Bill 444 is a revised and stripped-down version of House Bill 500 offered during last year’s session by Rep. Johnny Bell, a Glasgow Democrat, that seeks only to create a database tracking payday loans. 

“We think this is the wrong approach,” said Anne Marie Regan, a member of the Kentucky Coalition for Responsible Lending, said after the bill was approved by the House Banking and Insurance Committee. “We haven’t addressed the cost (of the loans).”

Payday loans, also called deferred deposit loans, are short-term loans of up to $500 that are typically required to be repaid in two weeks. Payday lenders generally require customers to leave a check for the loan amount plus a fee of up to $15 per $100 of the loan that will be cashed after the two week period. 

State law limits the number of payday loans a person can have at one time to two for a total of $500, but there currently is no way to track customers who might have loans with different businesses. Continue reading

Notes from the House floor

Just a couple of funny happenings on the House floor during the orders of the day today – 

  • Rep. Reggie Meeks, a Louisville Democrat, introduced his House Bill 160 today by saying it was “recycled” from last year’s bill that outlined proposed to changes in state law governing reporting recycling initiatives in state government. The line prompted more than a few good-natured boos from his fellow lawmakers who didn’t appreciate the blatant pun. 
  • House Speaker Greg Stumbo took some gentle ribbing from Rep. Mike Denham, a Maysville Democrat, about a recent report regarding a horse owned by Stumbo until recently. The Herald-Leader recently reported that Stumbo had failed to report on his ethics disclosure form that he was a part owner of a racehorse and was pushing a bill to put video lottery terminals at racetracks that could benefit horse owners.  So when Rep. Dwight Butler presented House Bill 418 dealing with stray equines, Denham asked “Will this bill help the chair (Stumbo) dispose of his horses in the future?” The quip prompted a smile from Stumbo and laughter from the chamber. 

Beshear releases general plan for use of federal stimulus dollars

Gov.  Steve Beshear released a general overview of how Kentucky will use the estimated $3 billion the state expects to receive under the federal economic stimulus package. 

Beshear released the breakdown following a press conference this afternoon with Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson about the plan. 

The governor plans to create a state Web site to track the spending similar to what is proposed on the federal level for the stimulus package. 

“These are tax dollars and public deserves to know how their money is being spent,” Beshear said in a statement.

The initiative Beshear is calling “Kentucky at Work” includes – 

  • Medicaid: Kentucky’s Medicaid program will receive about $990 million over the next two years. The program currently faces a $232 million deficit this year, while demand for services is increasing by about 3,000 people a month due to the economy.
  • Health and welfare: Kentucky will receive about $272 million for areas like public housing, weatherization, child care, child support enforcement and homelessness prevention.
  • Education: Kentucky will receive about $924 million in stimulus money. Approximately $535 million will be used to preserve existing commitments to K-12 and higher education, as well as to continue efforts to hold down the cost of tuition. The remaining $389 million, administered through the Kentucky Department of Education, will go to Title 1, Head Start, technology and school lunch programs and other programs that help families in crisis.
  • General Fund: Kentucky will receive nearly $120 million to help address critical shortfalls in priority areas and mitigate against even deeper cuts over the next two fiscal years.
  • Job training and public safety: The commonwealth will receive $66 million in job training and workforce development dollars. In the area of public safety, Kentucky will receive about $30 million to combat violence against women and to support criminal justice efforts at both the state and local levels.
  • Roads and Bridges: Kentucky will receive $421 million for highways and bridges. Gov. Beshear and legislative leaders have been working together on a road plan that contains projects that meet the federal government’s requirement that 50 percent of those funds be obligated within 120 days. Projects must be shovel-ready.
  • Transit: About $50 million will be allocated for transit.
  • Water and Sewer lines: Kentucky will receive about $71 million for water and sewer infrastructure.
  • Community Development: The state will be allocated some $12 million for local community development block grants.
  • Energy Projects: About $63 million will be allocated to Kentucky for energy initiatives.

Bill targeting “ambulance chasers” passes committee

A bill that would prohibit chiropractors and other businesses in “the healing arts” from soliciting those involved in accidents for 30 days after the accident was passed without opposition by the House Banking and Insurance Committee this morning. 

House Bill 412 mirrors a law already on the books that prohibits attorneys from soliciting business from someone involved in an accident, disaster or issued a citation for at least 30 days after the event. 

Rep. Jim Gooch, a Providence Democrat who sponsored the bill, showed committee members a report by WHAS-11 in Louisville that looked at chiropractic and other medical service businesses that aggressively targeted customers who had been injured in an accident directly following the accident. 

“It’s unfortunate that a bill like this has to be brought forth,” Gooch said. 

Several committee members said this should be first step in broader restrictions regarding such solicitations. 

Rep. Arnold Simpson, a Covington Democrat and attorney, voted for the bill, but took issue with some broad characterizations of attorneys and those in the medical field as “ambulance chasers.”

“There are hundreds if not thousands of chiropractors who work diligently in the pursuit of their trade without crossing any lines,” Simpson said. 

Read more about House Bill 412 in Thursday’s Messenger-Inquirer.