Despite complaints from many House Republicans of targeted cuts in their home districts, the House passed a two-year, $4.5 billion road construction plan Tuesday including more than $22 million in local projects.
The House cut nearly $1.2 billion in state highway projects that exceeded anticipated revenues proposed in Gov. Steve Beshear’s $6.3 billion road plan.
State-supported bond projects were reduced $92 million from the governor’s biennial plan, which covers construction of roads, bridges and other transportation improvements.
Which districts bore the brunt of those decisions rankled a number within the GOP ranks, though the chairwoman of the House subcommittee that rewrote Beshear’s plan said proposed projects are “very well spread out” across the state.
“I think that the projects that are in this road plan are very credible and very good projects,” Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, said after the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee passed House Bill 237 on an 18-5 vote with six “pass” votes.
Less than six hours later, HB 237 passed by a 51-43 vote largely along party lines. Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, broke from Democrats in voting against the construction plan while Rep. Jim Stewart, R-Flat Lick, voted for it.
Rep. Ryan Quarles, R-Georgetown, and Rep. Steven Rudy, R-West Paducah abstained while four others did not vote — Rep. Robert Damron, D-Nicholasville, Rep. C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown, Rep. Jim Glenn, D-Owensboro, and Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville.
Franklin County projects remain intact from the governor’s proposal, and the House version also adds $43,000 in fiscal year 2016 for traffic flow improvements in downtown Frankfort. In all, $22.4 million is allocated for local projects in HB 237.
The plan includes $5.7 million next fiscal year for enhancements to East Main Street from Martin Luther King Boulevard to Schenkel Lane, including construction of a $2 million pedestrian bridge across East Main at Kentucky State University’s campus; $7.3 million in the biennium to widen Louisville Road from the South Benson Creek bridge to Vicky Way; and $3.8 million next fiscal year to complete reconstruction of Bald Knob Road from the top of Bald Knob hill to Harvieland Road.
Others, however, were not as fortunate.
House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, who tried unsuccessfully to delay a vote on HB 237 until today, said many road projects cut from Beshear’s bill came from Republican-held districts. He called the moves “retribution and political gains” for voting last week against raising the gasoline tax floor at 32.3 cents per gallon, a measure that passed 53-44.
Based on an analysis by legislative staff, Hoover said $2.7 billion in projects for GOP districts and counties represented by Republicans were removed from the six-year road plan resolution.
He said some in both the majority and minority caucuses worried about passing HB 237 just hours after the committee’s substitute bill was introduced and passed. Rep. David Osborne, R-Prospect, said he received a copy of the bill before noon, about two hours before the House was scheduled to convene.
“I think it’s even more objectionable to the people of Kentucky, that their representative has no time to review a bill of such major significance and impact all across this state,” said Hoover, R-Jamestown. “But yet it comes out of committee, and here we’re asked to vote on it.”
Russell County, Hoover’s home county, had $49.2 million in road projects proposed in Beshear’s plan. That was reduced to a single $7 million project.
In Clay and Leslie counties, represented by GOP Rep. Tim Couch of Hyden, $114.6 million in state-funded road projects were cut from Beshear’s two-year proposal.
The House set $4.16 million for Shelby County projects in the biennium after Beshear slated $34.9 million in his proposal.
“The governor, who is not a member of my party, didn’t see fit to be partisan but rather had a very fair road plan for my district,” said Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville. “… In America, communities aren’t punished for voting for the opposition. That happens in Pakistan and Russia.”
Although Republicans bemoaned the loss of projects in their districts during floor speeches Tuesday, Combs reminded them that some big-ticket items are slated for GOP districts, such as $35.5 million for an Interstate 75 interchange in Georgetown, represented by Quarles, that will benefit the nearby Toyota plant and $42.4 million to extend a bypass in Clark County, represented by Republican Rep. Donna Mayfield.