House adjourns, 2009 session ends a day early

With several substantial legislative proposals on the table, the 2009 regular session of the General Assembly ended a day early Thursday and set the stage for the possibility of special session this summer.

The early end came after the House voted to adjourn for the session over the objections of some lawmakers and Gov. Steve Beshear, who had urged action on an economic development incentives bill and a proposal to create a transportation infrastructure authority.

“The (House Democratic) caucus was of the opinion that this has been a good session,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, said. “There are some issues that are still out there, but nothing that can’t be dealt with at a later date.” Continue reading

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Chair of western KY caucus makes pitch to use final two days of session

The chairman of the Western Kentucky Caucus has made an appeal to House and Senate members from the region for the final two days of the session to be used to take up remaining legislation, including House Bill 102 and House Bill 229.

Sen. Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson (LRC photo)

Sen. Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson (LRC photo)

“I am writing in hopes to gain your support for HB 102, regarding the bridge authority bill, and HB 229, regarding the economic development incentive bill,” Sen. Dorsey Ridley wrote in an e-mail sent today to western Kentucky lawmakers. “Please request House Leadership to allow action to be taken on these pieces of legislation.”

Ridley, a Henderson Democrat, sponsored legislation in the Senate to create a state transportation infrastructure authority similar to what is proposed in House Bill 102. The authority could be used to help finance the Ohio River bridges in Louisville and the bridge at Henderson as part of Interstate 69’s proposed route through the state – both projects with price tags in the billions of dollars.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Monday that the House should stick to its rules by using the final two days of the session on Thursday and Friday solely to override any vetoes by Gov. Steve Beshear. Stumbo said those rules could be suspended, depending upon the will of the House Democratic Caucus, which is scheduled to meet Thursday.

Ridley said both bills are needed to help Kentucky, particularly this end of the state, and should be taken up before the session ends.

“We all need to work together on these issues and the betterment of our state, particularly Western Kentucky,” Ridley said in the e-mail sent to members of his caucus. “I am hoping that by working together these bills will continue the process on Thursday and Friday.”

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. Continue reading

Senate committee passes road plan, saves vote on tax freeze until later

The Senate Transportation Committee voted this afternoon to send the proposed six-year road plan to the full chamber, but delayed action on a proposal to freeze the state’s motor fuels tax.

House Bill 330, which lays out transportation spending for this fiscal year and the next, along with House Joint Resolution 105, which sets project funding for the last four years of the six-year plan, both passed the committee without opposition.

An expected vote on House Bill 374, which would stop an scheduled 4-cent drop in the motor fuels tax next month, won’t come until later today or tomorrow.

Committee Chairman Sen. Ernie Harris, a Crestwood Republican, said he didn’t anticipate any changes to tax freeze bill and expects it to pass the full Senate by a healthy margin, but couldn’t say why there is a delay on the vote.

The freeze of the motor fuels tax would allow the state to use that revenue to borrow about $400 million to help fund the road plan.

“We don’t have a date or a time for the funding bill,” Harris said. “I’ve heard maybe a couple of questions about it, but I think it’s going to be passed overwhelmingly.”

Also still in limbo is House Bill 102 that would allow for the creation of local transportation infrastructure authorities to borrow money and levy tolls to pay for the state’s mega transportation projects, including Interstate 69 through western Kentucky.

Harris said that bill be taken up today or tomorrow, and changes are reportedly being made to the bill to ensure it wouldn’t be used for any multi-state projects besides those between Kentucky and Indiana.

In northern Kentucky, where many are pushing for the replacement of the Brent Spence bridge across the Ohio River to Cincinnati, the idea of the authorities and using tolls to pay for that project has met resistance.

Road plan still receiving scrutiny in the Senate

Lawmakers are continuing to work on the state’s road plan passed by the House last week, with a Senate Transportation Committee meeting this morning coming and going without  the measure being called for a vote.

Sen. Ernie Harris, a Crestwood Republican and the committee’s chair, said some minor projects omitted from House Bill 330 were being added, and once those changes are made the plan and accompanying freeze of the state’s gas tax will be taken up.

“I don’t know when we’re going to have it,” Harris said after the committee adjourned. “I guess there are some negotiations, some discussions between our leadership, the House leadership and the governor on this and a variety of issues.”

Harris said that included in that discussion is House Bill 102 which would allow for the creation of local transportation authorities to finance the construction of transportation mega projects such as the Louisville bridges and Interstate 69 through western Kentucky.

That bill cleared the House on Monday and has also been sent to the Senate Transportation Committee.

Senate President David Williams said last week that he had hoped to have the road plan approved by the full Senate by the end of today.

Harris said the committee could meet again today after the Senate convenes at 2 p.m. EDT.

Update, 3:02 p.m. …

Harris said this afternoon before the Senate convened that as of right now, there are no plans to take up the road plan or the authority bill today.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo told reporters that he was still confident that the road plan would be passed in the final three working days of this year’s session.

Committee vote on road plan, gas tax freeze to come this afternoon

The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee will vote this afternoon on a $1.2 billion road plan that has been crafted by House and Senate leaders over the past three weeks along with a proposal to freeze the state’s motor fuels tax.

The tax freeze will allow the state to borrow about $400 million to help fund the road plan that also relies on $400 million in federal stimulus dollars.

Included in the package is $35.6 million through the end of 2010 to begin construction of the U.S. 60 bypass extension in Owensboro, according to local lawmakers.

“We’ve got money in there to do the entire project over the six-year (road) plan,” Rep. Tommy Thompson, a Philpot Democrat, said Thursday afternoon about the U.S. 60 bypass extension. “The key money is to do that first leg in there right away and we got federal stimulus for that.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said after a House Democratic caucus meeting during which the plan was laid out for members that most of the projects in the plan were existing projects with very few new projects added.

“We are advancing existing projects,” said Stumbo, a Presontonsburg Democrat.

The inclusion of the U.S. 60 bypass extension project, which will be part of the expansion of U.S. 231 between Interstate 64 in southern Indiana and Interstate 65 in Kentucky, was applauded by Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne.

“I think that project is going to just pay tremendous dividends to this community in the future,” Payne said. “We are just sending really strong signals out of this community that Owensboro is alive and well and progressing.”

Rep. Jim Glenn, an Owensboro Democrat, said movement on the project will be a boost for the local economy.

“All of this adds dollars to the community,” Glenn said about Daviess County’s share of projects.

Read the Messenger-Inquirer Friday for the complete story.

House panel passes bill creating funding mechanism for transportation mega projects

A proposal to create local transportation infrastructure authorities to issue bonds and levy tolls for the state’s largest transportation projects moved forward Thursday, though some raised concerns that the legislation was being moved too late in the session.

With just nine working days left in this year’s legislative session, the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee signed off on House Bill 102, which has generated support in the House, the Senate and from Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration.

“The need for these mega projects is not going to go away,” Transportation Cabinet Secretary Joe Prather told the committee Wednesday night. “It’s going to continue to absorb resources if we don’t come to some final solution.”

The legislation would allow for the creation of local transportation infrastructure authorities at the request of local governments to oversee the funding and construction of transportation projects costing at least $500 million.

In western Kentucky, the most prominent project that could be handled by an authority would by the construction of Interstate 69 including a new bridge over the Ohio River at Henderson.

The project closest to benefiting from the authority concept would be the Ohio River bridges project in Louisville that is expected to cost Kentucky at least $2.9 billion and occupies a higher spot in the state’s road plan.

Once created, the seven-member local authority made up of appointees selected by the governor and the local government would craft a plan to build the project, issue bonds to pay for construction and to levy tolls to help repay the bonds and for maintenance.

Bill sponsor Rep. Don Pasley, a Winchester Democrat, explained that the bonds would not be able to be repaid solely by toll revenues. The projects would still require investment of state and federal road dollars, but at a much lower level. Continue reading