BRADENTON, Fla. — The Kentucky General Assembly adjourned its special session Wednesday after plugging a $1 billion hole in the upcoming budget and creating a new bonding authority that will help the state finance some or all of its share of the $4 billion Ohio River Bridges Project.
Gov. Steve Beshear called lawmakers together June 15 after revenue projections were more than 5% under the approved fiscal 2010 budget. He also added several items to the agenda, including the new transportation authority.
In most cases, lawmakers followed Beshear’s proposal to trim the budget and prop it up with $740 million of federal stimulus funding. Most state agencies were required to cut 2.6% from their budgets, but legislators did not remove some paid state holidays from the schedule, as Beshear suggested.
“I am pleased to tell the people of Kentucky that I will sign legislation that balances our budget for the upcoming year and that creates significant new investments for our people in jobs, growth, and economic revitalization — at a time when our state needs it the most,” Beshear said in a statement.
However, the governor did complain that lawmakers added to the budget bill several tax credit proposals for new car and home purchases, as well as active military income tax exemptions. Even though he said they were worthwhile, Beshear said the measures were unfunded and would require significantly deeper cuts in the future.
“Those decisions today will have profound consequences tomorrow,” Beshear said. “And there should be no doubt of that among everyone involved in crafting this budget revision.”
Beshear also indicated that he will sign a bill creating the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority, which was included in another measure that passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House on a vote of 86 to -10.
The authority will have bonding powers that will finally provide an avenue for Kentucky to fund its share of the long-planned federally designated mega-transportation project to build two new Ohio River bridges between Kentucky and Indiana, and to reconfigure the interchange where Interstates 64, 65, and 71 converge in Louisville known as “spaghetti” junction.
The project has been on the drawing board for years, and it has received approval from the Federal Highway Administration.
“The overwhelming majority vote speaks volumes for the need for the project, the benefits it will bring, and the strong support for getting the bridges built,” said Edward Glasscock, chairman of an advocacy group called the Bridges Coalition. “The passage of this legislation means the Ohio River Bridges Project can proceed and thousands of jobs will be created now and in the future.”
The bi-state project is estimated to cost just over $4 billion. Kentucky’s share is estimated to be 72%, or $2.92 billion, and Indiana’s share is estimated to be 28%, or $1.15 billion. Kentucky’s share is larger because it includes the interchange reconstruction, which is estimated to cost $1.75 billion.
In addition to joining a bi-state authority to fund the bridges project, the new transportation authority can also authorize bonding for other transportation projects in the state.