Rep. Sinnette mistakenly says road projects in his district nixed as retaliation for not switching to GOP

11/18/2016 05:49 PM

FRANKFORT — State Rep. Kevin Sinnette said in sworn testimony before the House Investigatory Committee on Executive Actions Friday that after he rebuffed an offer to join the Republican Party, his district received nothing in a biennial highway plan passed earlier this year.

The only problem? It wasn’t true.

The committee is investigating possible foul play in the delay of an $11 million road project in Rep. Russell Meyer’s 39th House District. Meyer, D-Nicholasville, says the contracted extension of East Brannon Road was put on hold because he declined join the GOP at Gov. Matt Bevin’s request.

Bevin has disputed both lawmakers’ accusations.

Sinnette, D-Ashland, says he was threatened during a December meeting with Bevin, Chief of Staff Blake Brickman and Rep. Fitz Steele, D-Hazard. CNHI News first reported his account of the meeting.

Sinnette said Meyer’s allegation got him thinking and made him check road projects in his 100th House District.

“We reviewed the other counties around us, and Rowan County got $13 million, Greenup County got $12 million, Elliott County $26 million, Carter County $24 million, Lawrence County $27 million,” he said during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting. “I got nothing.”

But Sinnette was relying on a previous version of the road plan passed by the Senate this year.

The final version that Sinnette voted on, another House bill that was not the original biennial highway construction play, included money for the project in question — a half million dollars to build a left turn lane on U.S. 23 for a Marathon Oil development.

“I don’t want to make allegations that aren’t true, operating on the documents that we get off the website and what it looks like appears to happen, and things do happen on the wee hours of the night,” he said after he was corrected by Stewart Willis, House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s policy advisor.

“If that’s not the situation, then I have no issue,” Sinnette continued. “My issue of it being pointed out that my projects were taken out, I don’t want to accuse anybody of anything. Like I said, it just sparked my interest as to making a concerted look at my House plan to see what has happened.”

Sinnette later took issue with the project being part of the Transportation Cabinet’s “Pause 50” program to halt state-funded road projects and replenish the road fund. He also said that robocalls questioning his pro-life credentials began in his district the day after his meeting with Bevin.

“I would like to see the documentation within the file as to why it was paused,” he said. “I would like to see the progress that’s been going on on these other road projects. I don’t think it’s anything bad to get information in regard to road projects when you’re talking multimillion dollars.

“I don’t want any red flags. I hope there’s not anything paused for no reason, and if there is a pause, what’s the reason and is it a substantial pause that’s for good cause?”

Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said Friday’s meeting was “nothing more than the same old lies.”

One person who won’t testify is Steele, who said he would only appear if subpoenaed.

He did not return a call seeking comment on his decision. Meyer, D-Nicholasville, indicated that he may testify after Thanksgiving, according to Rep. Jim Wayne.

Wayne, the committee’s chairman, said he’s “just out for the truth here.”

“If they don’t want to come tell their side of the story, I can’t force them, but it does question in some ways their credibility,” he said. “That could be stated because if you made the accusations in one arena, why not come before this arena? And we’re trying to be as objective as possible.”

Wayne, D-Louisville, reiterated that he hopes to have a report ready when the General Assembly convenes January third.

But if the committee’s power to issue subpoenas is challenged in court, that could prevent the panel from gathering testimony in time for their deadline. Bevin has declined to participate or make current Transportation Cabinet personnel available for questioning.

“That is an issue in that if we issue subpoena and someone were to challenge that, that would end up in court, and the time for the Democratic control of the House would run out probably before the court would settle that issue,” Wayne said.

“But let me just say I think it’s real important that we clarify this issue for not just the current situation but for future situations because constitutionally the House is in charge of investigating allegations against any elected official, and the way that’s spelled out statutorily and constitutionally is for the House to set up a committee to do this investigation. But if the committee only has subpoena powers when the legislature is in session, you’ve limited the power of the legislature considerably.”

House Speaker-elect Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, has already expressed his misgivings about the committee, a possible signal of the committee report’s fate when Republicans take a 64-36 supermajority in January.

Democrats currently hold a 53-47 majority.

The panel is scheduled to meet again at 9 a.m. Dec. 2.


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