BRADENTON, Fla. – A sweeping bill that would bring Kentucky in line with more than 33 states authorizing the broad use of public-private partnerships is now before Gov. Matt Bevin. House Bill 309 contains a significant caveat – a prohibition on the use of tolls that involves any state road or bridge project that connects with Ohio.
Former Gov. Steve Beshear vetoed a P3 bill that contained a similar prohibition in 2014 because it banned a needed funding source for the $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge project.
P3 financing has been used in Kentucky for projects such as the construction of college dorms, although state law currently does not authorize it for transportation projects.
That would change if Bevin signs HB309, sponsored by Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, and Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris.
The bill, which received wide support in both chambers last week, provides a framework for the use of P3s as an alternative financing method for all local and state public projects, including roads and bridges.
The measure clarifies that the bidding for unsolicited P3 proposals received by state and local government agencies must be open and competitive. It also includes clearer language regarding use of P3s by colleges and universities, and allows the state Finance Cabinet to hire an outside consultant to review local P3s.
The legislation would also create the Kentucky Local Government Public-Private Partnership Board to oversee proposed P3 deals.
“The bill creates a transparent process which state and local governments will follow,” Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said when his chamber considered the bill on March 24. “The primary benefit will be to position Kentucky as open for business especially as it relates to big-ticket infrastructure projects that state and local governments cannot afford without some private money during tight budget years.”
Even with the prohibition on tolling projects connecting Kentucky with Ohio, lawmakers said they support the bill to provide the state and local governments with another financing tool.
The toll ban is aimed at preventing collections in northern Kentucky where the state has worked on a $2.6 billion plan to repair the 53-year-old, double-decker Brent Spence Bridge.
The bridge carries Interstates 75 and 71 across the Ohio River between Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, and is a busy commuting and shipping corridor that has been over capacity for many years.
Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, has long opposed tolling the bridge project because it affects constituents in his area who cross the route daily for jobs in Cincinnati.
Simpson negotiated the toll ban in HB309 and a similar P3 bill that was vetoed in 2014.
Last year, Beshear and Ohio Gov. John Kasich agreed on a design plan to lower the Brent Spence project cost to $2.6 billion from $3.5 billion.
However, funding for a new bridge and renovating the existing double-decker bridge has remained elusive.