Kentucky House approves public-private partnership authorization

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/27/2015

The pursuit of public-private partnerships to get needed road and bridge work done in Kentucky received a big boost this week at the statehouse.

House lawmakers voted 84-13 to advance an amended bill to the Senate that would authorize private funding for public projects, including the Brent Spence Bridge project.

Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, said the bill’s passage would permit the state to work together with private groups to get projects underway that might otherwise not get started because of limited government revenues.

The chamber voted 66-22 to kill an amendment by Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, to prohibit adding tolls on any interstate project that connects Kentucky and Ohio.

Combs said during floor debate on the amendment that HB443 has nothing to do with a specific project or tolls.

Simpson’s provision was included in a similar effort one year ago that was vetoed by Gov. Steve Beshear. The Democratic governor said at the time it was a bad idea to eliminate any funding options for the project to replace the bridge that carries Interstates 71 and 75 into Cincinnati. The existing structure is toll free.

Another amendment offered by Simpson was added to the bill. It would require tolls to expire on a project once the initial construction debt is repaid. One more change would require an independent cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the project is in the public’s best interest.

Also included in this year’s version is a provision to require approval of a joint resolution by the Kentucky Legislature for partnerships that involve projects with the state of Ohio.

Open to traffic in 1963, the Brent Spence Bridge carries twice as many vehicles per day than it was designed to accommodate. Today, it is used to transport $417 billion worth of goods each year.

The replacement and renovation project has a price tag of $2.6 billion. Kentucky and Ohio must enact laws authorizing public-private partnerships to move forward with plans to privatize the Brent Spence Bridge.

In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich signed a bill into law one year ago authorizing toll taxes to pay off reconstruction of the state’s portion of the bridge.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is opposed to toll plans. The Association has sent multiple Calls to Action to truckers in both states and communicated with state lawmakers conveying the concerns of professional truckers.

OOIDA Director of State Legislative Affairs Mike Matousek has said imposing a new tax on all highway users would restrict mobility, divert traffic, and increase commuting costs for families and businesses.

HB443 awaits assignment to committee in the Republican-led Senate.

Also of note, a bill has died in committee that called for tougher penalties for fuel price gouging. HB184 sought to add a civil penalty of $10,000 for first-time offenders. Subsequent violations would result in $20,000 fines.

Sponsored by Rep. Donna Mayfield, R-Winchester, the bill also defined fuel price gouging as charging a price, without economic justification, that is grossly in excess of fuel sold within a 20 mile radius.

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