The road projects Republican Senate President David Williams wanted for his district are back in the mix, at least for a while.
The Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee amended House Bill 2, the Transportation Cabinet’s operating budget that pays for road projects, to secure $49.8 million in funding for projects in Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Russell and Wayne counties after Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear vetoed them from the two-year, $4.5 billion road plan Wednesday. Russell County borders Williams’ district.
HB 2 cleared the committee unanimously Thursday, setting up a vote on the Senate floor today.
Sen. Bob Leeper, a Paducah independent who caucuses with Republicans and chairs the committee, said he had a “fit of conscience” late Wednesday to restore the vetoed projects.
He cited a story in the Lexington Herald-Leader that showed spending in Williams’ district –about $700 per capita after the vetoes –paled in comparison to House leadership’s districts, such as $2,400 per individual in House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s district in Floyd County.
Williams, of Burkesville, did not ask that his projects be restored, Leeper said. He talked to Senate Republican Floor Leader Robert Stivers, of Manchester, and Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, about the amendment Thursday morning, he said.
“It was out of principle on my own, and I know that’s hard for you guys to understand, but there are some people up here who have some principle,” Leeper told reporters after the committee adjourned.
“What has happened is not good for the institution, it’s not good for the commonwealth, and that was my way to try to address it.”
In a statement explaining his vetoes Wednesday, Beshear said Williams moved the projects “to the front of the line” and endangered other high-priority projects, but Williams countered that the legislature had found additional money through servicing and reconfiguring debt interest.
Williams called the vetoes unfair and unconstitutional, and Leeper agreed.
“If I was a man of means … I would file a lawsuit myself because I do not believe the governor has the authority to (line-item veto the road plan), but I can’t challenge it,” Leeper said during the committee meeting.
Harris supported the move and called Beshear’s vetoes a “slap in the face to the legislature.”
“To me, it’s not an issue of fairness as much as it is the legislative independence,” Harris said during the meeting. “We are an equal part of government, and I believe that’s why it’s important to pass this amendment.”
But some senators were concerned that adding new language could prolong a special session that costs about $60,000 per day and is in its fifth day today.
“I’m just hopeful that as we wind this down that we don’t extend this unnecessarily beyond where it’s already been extended,” Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said during the meeting.
“If this gets into a situation of playing chicken, we’ve seen what the result of that is, and the result of that is five extra days up here at a cost to the taxpayers of over $300,000,” Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, told reporters after the meeting.
Leeper said if the House does not agree to the new language, he would recommend the Senate recede from the amendment, which can be defeated without killing HB 2.
“I’m not here to keep us up here any longer,” he said.
Beshear called lawmakers back to Frankfort last week after the legislature did not pass the Transportation Cabinet’s operating budget at the end of the 60-day session. He also included in his call legislation that would combat prescription drug abuse.
Williams wanted Beshear to sign the road plan before the Senate took up the cabinet’s budget, but Beshear declined, citing a right to examine the lengthy document that contains more than 1,000 road projects.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was to hear House Bill 1, the prescription drug abuse bill, today.