Road plan stalls over gas tax freeze

Work to pass a road plan and funding mechanism stalled Friday over a disagreement between House and Senate  leaders about when the legislation should be delivered to Gov. Steve Beshear.

Senate President David Williams said Friday morning during a press conference with House Speaker Greg Stumbo that he wants the governor make any vetoes in the road plan and sign it into law before the Senate passes a freeze of the state’s motor fuels tax.

House Bill 374 would freeze the motor fuels tax at its current rate and allow the state to use that revenue to borrow about $400 million toward the $1.2 billion transportation spending plan contained in House Bill 330. The tax rate is currently set to drop by four cents on April 1 without action by the legislature.

“If (the governor) signs the bill today, we’ll pass the four pennies,” Williams said. “If he doesn’t sign the road plan bill or he vetoes it, we won’t need the pennies.”

That’s not how Stumbo and many House members, who have already passed the road plan and the tax freeze, want to see the legislation move forward.

Stumbo said House members won’t want to send the road plan to the governor if the Senate hasn’t already signed off on the tax freeze.

“I think we’d like to see the Senate pass the pennies first,” Stumbo said.Stumbo noted that if Beshear received both bills today, the legislature would still be able to come back after the veto period to override any projects or portions of the bill Beshear might veto on the final two days of the session.

Williams said he prefers that the legislature withhold funding until the road plan has been finalized, and would like to the General Assembly to handle future road plans developed during the budget process in the same way.

If the road plan were passed but not funded, Beshear would still be able to use the federal stimulus dollars the state has received for transportation projects and use the road plan produced by his administration last year.

But without the bond pool created by the gas tax freeze, there would be few dollars available for other projects.

Beshear told reporters this afternoon that he has no preference about when he receives the bills, but would like to have time to review the road plan before signing off on it.

“I think it’s up to the House and the Senate,” Beshear said.

As of right now, House Bill 330 has been passed by the Senate and is waiting concurrence by the House, which means final passage by the legislature and a signature by Beshear seems unlikely today.

Negotiations between the House and Senate have continued throughout the day on the road plan and tax freeze.

Update, 5:57 p.m. …

After what appeared to be an impasse this morning, House and Senate leaders reached an agreement to move forward with both the road plan and funding mechanism by making final passage of both House Bill 330 and House Bill 374 this evening and sending both to the governor for his signature.

Passage on both bills today will give the chambers a chance to override any vetoes issued by Beshear when the legislature reconvenes on March 26.

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