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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Low-income Kentuckians working in Indiana would be eligible for a break on Ohio River bridge tolls under a plan to be considered in the 2014 General Assembly.
Workers who commute to Indiana and qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit -- less than 5,000 people in the Louisville area -- would be able to receive annual toll credits or rebates, according to the bill pre-filed by Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat.
"What we think this will do is help balance the scales a little bit," Wayne told members of the legislature's budget review subcommittee on transportation. "These are people who really have no job skills. Most of them have very little education. They struggle day to day."
Wayne was the chief sponsor of a similar measure that stalled in a House committee in 2013.
But now that Kentucky and Indiana have set initial toll rates for a new eastern Jefferson County bridge, a new Interstate 65 span downtown and the Kennedy Bridge, Wayne said low-income Louisville residents will have to pay an additional $500 a year to get to work in Southern Indiana.
That amount is based on a worker paying the $1 toll -- the cheapest proposed -- twice a day, or $10 a week for 50 weeks a year, Wayne said.
The federal credit is available for 2013 for a single person who makes no more than $13,980 a year and has no children, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Wayne noted that only people who are working would be able to claim the rebates or credits. Drivers would qualify for tax credits if they have to pay state income taxes, Wayne said.
The measure would apply to Kentuckians who cross toll bridges across the Ohio River and would extend to the Brent Spence Bridge at Cincinnati if tolls are eventually placed on that span.
Wayne's proposal has the support of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, whose associate director urged lawmakers to give the bill "serious consideration."
"This bill represents a commonsense effort to lessen an otherwise substantial burden on individuals and families who are least able to afford it," Jason Hall told the transportation panel in a prepared statement.
Those impacted include workers like dishwashers and warehouse employees, said Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Louisville Democrat who spoke in favor of Wayne's measure on Thursday.
"Those are the people who as lawmakers we should be looking out for," Jenkins said.
The rebates to low-income commuters using the Louisville bridges would be about $1.9 million a year, according to estimates from the Legislative Research Committee. That money would be transferred from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's budget.
Secretary Mike Hancock said in an interview that his agency will follow the legislature's action, but noted that the bill's passage could drain money otherwise spent across the state.
"At the end of the day it probably means $1.9 million less in road projects," he said.
Also at Thursday's meeting, Sen. Ernie Harris suggested that the states consider a lower rate for local commercial trucks crossing the toll bridge.
Harris, a Crestwood Republican and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he had heard from constituents concerned about the toll costs. Trucks would pay $10 to $12 per crossing.
Hancock told the committee that no decision on other toll discounts has been made.