Ky. lawmaker questions $50 million change in Louisville bridge funding
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Gov. Steve Beshear's highway plan proposes using $50 million in state money for Kentucky's share of the Ohio River Bridges Project – a change from previous financing that solely banked on federal appropriations.
The move, which state officials agreed to as Kentucky sought a loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation last year, caught a key House budget leader off guard as Beshear's proposal received its first legislative hearing on Tuesday.
Kentucky lawmakers "certainly didn't authorize the bridge with that understanding, and then now we've got a $50 million expense we weren't planning on," Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, said during Tuesday's meeting of the House budget review subcommittee on transportation.
Combs, the budget panel's chairwoman, said in an interview Wednesday that Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials failed to notify lawmakers about the switch to state money for the project.
She also said the move may hinder other Louisville-area transportation requests in the governor's plan, saying of Louisville: "You just got $50 million."
Kentucky has $360 million available for state-priority projects in fiscal 2014, according to the Beshear proposal. The $50 million for the Louisville bridge represents about 14 percent of those dollars, and the governor's plan states that the money "must not be moved" from its state funding category.
"I feel like they should have at least notified us, informed us," Combs said.
But Senate Transportation Committee chairman Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, said Wednesday he was briefed on the proposal and noted that it is a one-time use of the fund that also benefited the state's borrowing costs.
"That $50 million infusion from state money will allow them to get a lower interest rate on their bonds," Harris said.
The rest of the $300 million in highway funds Kentucky plans for the project are federal.
Kentucky had been planning to pay the $1.3 billion cost of a new downtown bridge and a reworked Spaghetti Junction interchange with a mix of funds that includes federal gas-tax revenue sent back to Kentucky and bonds to be repaid with revenue from tolls on the project.
Russ Romine, executive advisor to Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock, told the house panel that adding the state money to the bridge financing plan allowed Kentucky to increase the amount of federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or TIFIA, loan.
The U.S. Department of Transportation approved a $452 million TIFIA loan for Kentucky in December.
In an interview, Hancock acknowledged that Combs is "absolutely right. In the last highway plan we showed this as all federal (funds) and now we're showing a $50 million slug of it as state (funds), and her concern is that's state money that takes money away from other state projects."
Asked whether Combs' concern is accurate, Hancock said: "Well, yes, but we were looking in that direction in order to maximize our TIFIA loan."
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