FRANKFORT — The $50 million in road projects that Gov. Steve Beshear vetoed in or near the southern Kentucky district of Senate President David Williams are back — for now.
In a surprise move Thursday, the fourth day of a special legislative session, the Senate budget committee added the projects to a bill containing the Transportation Cabinet's operating budget.
The panel adopted by voice vote an amendment offered by committee Chairman Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, that restored the projects. The committee then approved the amended House Bill 2 on a 14-0 vote and sent it to the Senate, which is expected to consider it Friday.
If the changes become law, which seems unlikely, they would reverse Beshear's decision on Wednesday to veto the road projects from the state's two-year road plan. That bill was approved on April 12, the last day of the regular legislative session.
Leeper said he introduced the amendment "as a matter of principle" because it was not fair for the governor to direct his vetoes at one legislator.
Leeper noted an article in Thursday's Lexington Herald-Leader that showed some Democratic House leaders received more money per-capita in the road plan than Williams did. Before Beshear vetoed the projects, a Herald-Leader analysis showed that Williams' six-county district would have gotten $1,017 per person in road spending. Floyd County, the home of Democratic Speaker Greg Stumbo, would get $2,411 per person.
Leeper said Williams, R-Burkesville, did not urge him to sponsor the amendment.
"It was my idea," Leeper said.
Leeper stressed that he did not want to extend past Friday the special legislative session that began Monday to approve a transportation budget and a bill to curb prescription drug abuse.
He noted that his amendment adding road projects could be defeated in the full Senate without killing the bill.
If the Senate accepts it, he said, the House always could reject it. And even if the House approves the changes, Leeper said, Beshear could again veto the projects.
But there is some chance that restoring the road projects could extend the special session, which costs taxpayers about $60,000 a day, including weekends and holidays. That could occur if the House and Senate do not immediately agree on a road fund bill and the chambers stayed in session to negotiate a compromise.
Only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda, but the legislature determines when it will end.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said if the Senate approves the amended bill with Williams' projects, "we'll talk to our caucus about it and see what happens."
Williams said in a statement that he did not know prior to the Senate committee meeting that Leeper would restore the vetoed projects.
"While appreciative of his sentiments, I am still considering with leadership the path forward," he added.
Beshear's spokeswoman, Kerri Richardson, said, "The governor will review the transportation budget when it reaches his desk, and he expects to receive it Friday."
Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said after the committee vote that the legislature appears to be heading in the wrong direction as an institution.
"I can't say this is our finest hour," Neal said. "I am hopeful that we don't extend this any more than it's already been extended."
Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, said he hopes leading lawmakers don't start playing "a game of chicken" that extends the special session beyond Friday.
"At some point, people around here got to put on their big boy pants, suck it up and quit screwing the taxpayers," Shaughnessy said. "This has gone on long enough."
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider House Bill 1, a measure to regulate pain clinics, at 11 a.m. Friday. Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the bill approved by the House was not considered in committee Thursday because several senators have questions about it.
Asked if the bill is in trouble, Stivers said, "I don't know. There are a lot of discussions."
The bill regulates pain clinics and moves the state's prescription drug monitoring system from the Cabinet for Families and Health Services to the attorney general's office. It is opposed by some in the medical community.