Road plan, Transportation Cabinet budget heading to Senate after clearing House

03/22/2016 10:10 PM

FRANKFORT — Some House Republicans harkened back to Democrats past while another questioned the majority party’s religious faith after interchange improvements near a Noah’s Ark-themed park in his district was cut, but a $4.5 billion biennial road plan passed the House of Representatives on a 56-40 vote mostly along party lines Tuesday.

Rep. Leslie Combs, a Pikeville Democrat who chairs the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, said House Bill 305 includes Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed bridge replacement projects and continues major infrastructure projects like widening Interstate 75 to six lanes in Rockcastle County, continuing the expansion of the Mountain Parkway and taking steps to connect the route to Beckley, W.Va., and pre-planning an Ohio River bridge between Henderson and Evansville, Ind.

Like past road plans, not all projects will be funded in the biennium.

The Transportation Cabinet will have $581.7 million in road fund receipts to spend on state projects over the next two fiscal years, and Combs cited lacking funds when asked by Republicans about projects in their districts that weren’t included in HB 305. The original proposal was over programmed by 224 percent, she said.

In fact, Combs said just four Republicans discussed specific road projects in their districts during the budget-writing process.

“They were considered in this road plan,” she said. “They are in here.”

But that didn’t stop some within the GOP of accusing those in the majority of playing politics with the two-year highway plan.

“The road plan is a political document,” said House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown. “We just might as well admit it. It’s always been a political document. It will always be a political document.”

Rep. Brian Linder went a step further after House Democrats cut a new I-75 interchange project in Grant County, site of the Ark Encounter, set to open in July.

The $4.9 million design and pre-construction project had been included as low-priority state construction in Bevin’s original road plan, and Linder took its omission in the House proposal, plus past wrangling on tax incentives between the park’s owners and Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration, as an affront to the Almighty.

“At some point we need to really stop worrying about who’s in control of the House and start recognizing who’s in control of the universe,” said Linder, R-Dry Ridge. “For pulling this money, the only thing I can think of is it’s either you’ve got something against me or you’ve got something against God.”

Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, reminded House Democrats that Beshear had pushed to complete Interstate 69 in talking about a $17.3 million project to extend the Julian M. Carroll Purchase Parkway in Graves County that was not included in HB 305.

Rep. Jim DuPlessis offered a similar appeal, citing former Democratic Rep. Jimmie Lee’s support of construction in his Hardin County district that did not make the House version of the road plan.

“You’re not just hurting me with this in Hardin County,” said DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown. “You’re hurting the one who fought with you.”

Combs, speaking of DuPlessis and Linder, said neither approached her about construction they would like to see in their districts over the biennium.

“And yes, I do believe in God,” she said.

Four Republicans — Reps. Denny Butler, Daniel Elliott, Jonathan Shell and Russell Webber — broke party ranks in voting for HB 305. GOP Reps. Michael Meredith and Steven Rudy cited Section 57 of the Kentucky Constitution, which covers personal or private interests in legislation, in abstaining from the vote.

The House also passed a $3 billion Transportation Cabinet budget in House Bill 304 and House Joint Resolution 91, the last four years of the six-year road plan, on 60-38 and 52-43 votes, respectively.

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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