The Senate’s version of a two-year, $5.4 billion highway construction plan would cut $13 million in Franklin County projects proposed by the House.
House Bill 237 and House Joint Resolution 62 — the biennial highway construction plan and the out years of the six-year road plan covering fiscal years 2017 through 2020, respectively — passed the Senate Transportation Committee 10-0 Wednesday with three Democratic senators voting “pass.”
Hours later, the Senate approved HB 237 27-1 with Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, voting “no” and 10 other Democratic senators voting “pass.” HJR 62 passed 29-0 with nine Democratic senators passing. The House then rejected the Senate’s changes, and a conference committee will be appointed.
The total amount of state and federal highway projects slated for Franklin County shrank from $22.4 million in the House’s version of HB 237 to $9.4 million in the Senate plan passed Wednesday.
Some of the House’s high-priority projects for Franklin County, such as $5.7 million to enhance East Main Street from Martin Luther King Boulevard to Schenkel Lane and nearly $15 million to widen Louisville Road from South Benson Creek to Vicky Way, were moved to the out years of the six-year road plan resolution.
The Senate removed $43,000 to improve traffic flow in downtown Frankfort from the House’s biennial construction plan. Two other projects in the House version — $2 million for a pedestrian bridge over East Main Street at the Kentucky State University campus and $910,000 to reconstruct the intersection of Cardwell Lane and C. Michael Davenport Boulevard — were bumped from the high-priority pool of projects, meaning they will be funded if money becomes available.
Sen. Julian Carroll said there will have to be “several changes” to the biennial road plan, and he expects some local projects — such as enhancements to East Main Street, a project Carroll said he’s been working on for more than a year — will be part of HB 237’s final draft.
“Obviously much of the strategy of the Senate versus the House is that they get involved in what they call swapping — you give here and we’ll give there kind of thing,” Carroll, D-Frankfort, said before the Senate convened Wednesday. “… The bottom line, very simply, is a lot of horse-trading goes on. Maybe that might surprise some people about how the democratic process works, but in reality, that’s it.”
Sen. Ernie Harris, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said no projects were removed from the two-year plan without input from senators who represent those districts. Many of the cuts from the two-year plan were moved to future years in the six-year plan, he said, but preference was shown to those in the Senate’s GOP majority.
“We took a variety of things in consideration, and the main one was could the money be spent, and also I had to give some priority to my members who want to keep their projects moving,” said Harris, R-Prospect.
Some in the House’s Democratic majority saw some projects wiped from the Senate’s biennial construction plan, either delayed or removed entirely.
House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, for instance, has nothing slated for Elliott County in the Senate’s version of HB 237, while Lewis County, also in Adkins’ House District 99, had about $19 million in projects cut from the two-year construction bill.
“That’s part of the process, and you accept that and move forward,” Adkins said. “That’s part of their positioning to get maybe a stronger position on bargaining as you go into the conference committee.”
While the Senate’s $5.4 billion biennial highway construction plan is about $900 million more than the $4.5 million House plan, much of the imbalance between the two versions of HB 237 exists because the Senate shifted more than $1.2 billion in projects to the lowest priority status, meaning those projects are in the plan but left unfunded. Such projects total $591 million in the House plan compared to $1.8 billion in the Senate’s.
Harris said the Senate’s road plan does not rely on increased revenues from the House’s proposed increase on the “floor” of the gasoline tax rate in House Bill 445. Senate passed its version of HB 445, without the increase, 31-0 Wednesday with six Democratic senators voting “pass.” House Democrats have said setting the rate at its level Dec. 31 would generate nearly $61 million per year for the Road Fund, but Republicans have balked at the idea of raising the gas tax 1.5 cents from its current level.
Even without the additional revenue, Harris said the biennial road plan passed by the Senate Wednesday is balanced. The House had proposed more than $3.9 billion in state and federal highway projects while the Senate has requested $3.7 billion, he said.
“We just had to move some projects into the out years to make sure we had a responsible, balanced plan,” he said, noting construction financing for some projects was delayed while funding utility and right-of-way work remained in the biennial plan. “… We kept the funding virtually the same, so if it’s funded properly with either state or federal funds, that funding code seldom changed, but we did move it to the out years.”