BRADENTON, Fla. - Kentucky legislators passed a bill stabilizing the state's gas tax in the waning hours of this year's annual session.
During debate that ran until nearly 4 a.m. on March 25, lawmakers passed a conference committee's version of House Bill 299, which includes an adjustment to the gas tax formula that funds state and local road projects.
Gov. Steve Beshear signaled that he plans to sign the measure, which will preserve about $126 million in the road fund in the current biennium.
"By setting a new floor of 26 cents per gallon on the gas tax, House Bill 299 protects the stability and predictability of the fund going forward, preventing dramatic falls or increases," Beshear said. "Nearly half of the gas tax is passed on to municipal governments and counties, so the floor will preserve funding for local communities for use in road and bridge maintenance."
HB 299 sets a 26-cent "floor," or minimum, for the state gas tax. The legislation also allows for an annual, rather than the quarterly, fuel tax adjustment that will allow the gas tax to rise or fall up to 10% per year.
The new rate will take effect immediately upon being signed into law by the governor.
The rate is currently 27.5 cents a gallon, but is expected to fall on April 1 without the new floor due to changes in the average wholesale price of gasoline.
State transportation officials warned earlier this year that falling gas prices would equate to a loss of $129 million on an annualized basis for the state road fund.
Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, said he opposed the bill because he viewed it as a temporary fix for funding Kentucky's roads.
"It's my opinion that we need to fund our roads not based upon how much gas you buy but on how many miles you drive," said Koenig, who added that he planned to file legislation next year to study new road funding mechanisms for the state.
For a second year, the General Assembly failed to pass a bill authorizing the use of public-private partnerships for highway and bridge projects. Kentucky allows P3s for other kinds of projects and services.
Beshear said he hoped that the P3 bill for transportation projects would be considered again in 2016.
The P3 bill was being sought to help finance the $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge renovation and expansion project between Covington, Ky., and Cincinnati, Ohio. The two states' governors had already said they planned to use a P3 to do the project, though that plan depends on tolls that northern Kentucky residents oppose. Ohio already has a P3 enabling legislation.
How the project will proceed at this point is unclear.