Gov. Beshear hoping to reach "common ground" on gas tax with sine die a week away

03/17/2015 06:46 PM

FRANKFORT — His veto pen has remained firmly capped midway through the veto recess, but Gov. Steve Beshear has been working behind the scenes in hopes of preventing a further drop in the state’s plummeting gas tax.

Beshear told reporters Tuesday the Road Fund has enough to complete work on “all of the things that I want to do for this commonwealth, but what I’m very concerned about is the future of the Road Fund.”

Kentucky’s gas tax is set to drop 5.1 cents per gallon April 1 following a 4.3-cent-per-gallon decrease Jan. 1. The Transportation Cabinet has said the sharp decline would create a $250.4 million hole in the current two-year road plan, and Sen. Ernie Harris, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, has said municipalities stand to lose 31 percent of the funds they’re expecting for routine road maintenance.

“What that will do is slow down if not require the cancellation in the future of a lot of projects that need to be done for the people of this state, and so I think it’s very important that we do something to stabilize the gas tax,” Beshear said.

“I am having conversations this week with leaders in both the House and Senate leaders to see if we can find some common ground and figure out how to stabilize that in some way so that we don’t continue to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in future years that are going to be needed.”

Lawmakers haven’t acted on the gas tax this session, but leaders in the Republican-held Senate and Democrat-led House have said they hope to resolve the issue before the 5.1-cent drop April 1.

A conference committee appears ready to consider a gas tax fix, even without a formal proposal before them. House Bill 299, a revenue bill on property valuation and tax breaks for food donors, will be considered by a panel that includes Harris; Rep. Leslie Combs, chairwoman of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation; Sen. Robin Webb, a member of the Senate Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation; and Rep. Jim Stewart, one of two Republicans who last year voted for the House’s gas tax proposal.

Beshear declined to say whether he would call a special session if lawmakers fail to act on the gas tax.

Politics have stymied past efforts at addressing the gas tax. Republicans hammered House Democrats who voted for last year’s revenue bill, which included a proposal to raise the floor of the gas tax, during the midterm election cycle.

Some are hesitant to vote for anything that could be pegged as a tax increase, Beshear said, calling such a line of thought “inaccurate.”

“Nobody’s going to raise any taxes,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll find a way to stabilize the gas tax so it doesn’t fall much farther than where it is right now.”

With a week left until the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn sine die, compromise on the matter has been elusive.

“We’re not there yet, so I’m not sure where that common ground is,” Beshear said.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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