Politics & Government

Beshear vetoes $50 million in funding for roads in or near Williams' district

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Senate will approve a $4.5 billion operating budget for the Transportation Cabinet on Friday and end a special legislative session that began Monday, Senate President David Williams said late Wednesday.

The announcement came after Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law a two-year road plan, but not before vetoing about $50 million in funding for road projects in or near Senate President David Williams' Southern Kentucky Senate district.

Williams said he was "very pleased" that the governor finally signed the road plan, "and we will proceed now to pass the operating budget" for the Transportation Cabinet.

He said Beshear's vetoes were "vindictive and unconstitutional. But since he just directed them at me, we will proceed."

The Senate GOP leader said per capita spending in the road plan for his district after Beshear's vetoes is about $700, compared to about $2,400 in House Speaker Greg Stumbo's district. Williams' district includes Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Monroe, Wayne and Whitley counties.

Beshear also vetoed about $14 million of road projects in nearby Russell County, the home of House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown.

Beshear said Williams had greedily added millions of dollars for road projects in his district when the Senate passed the two-year road plan during the regular 60-day legislative session, which concluded last Thursday.

By doing so, Williams shifted money away from worthy road projects in other areas of the state, Beshear said.

"Sen. Williams has essentially moved all his district's road projects to the front of the line, forcing other projects that the Transportation Cabinet and other legislators considered high-priority to wait until additional funding becomes available," Beshear said in a written statement. "It's unfair to the citizens and it's unfair to the rest of the lawmakers whose districts will suffer."

Beshear called on the Senate on Wednesday to approve the Transportation Cabinet operating budget, which the Senate refused to consider last Thursday before the regular legislative session ended. Williams had said he wanted Beshear to sign the road plan into law before the Senate would approve the transportation operating budget, which funds the road plan.

Beshear called lawmakers into a special session on Monday, at a cost to taxpayers of $60,000 a day, to approve the transportation budget and a bill aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse.

Williams, who lost to Beshear in last year's race for governor, said he thinks Beshear "needs to seek some counseling about his hate for me. I think he has an issue. I think he has allowed his personal anger and vitriolic comments to go beyond the bounds of normal reason."

Williams said Beshear will be governor for only three more years and "then another governor will come in and build these roads" that Beshear vetoed.

He said three children have been killed in a road curve in Cumberland County that needs repairs. "I hope no one else is killed" because road funding has been denied, he said.

Williams added that he forgives Beshear "for what he has done to the people of my district and I hope they can forgive him. And I hope that this is the final act of political vengeance that he tries to extract against me."

Williams also has questioned whether Beshear can legally line-item veto the road plan. The governor only has the power to veto specific lines of revenue-generating bills. He must accept or reject all other legislation as a whole.

Asked Wednesday if he might sue to challenge the vetoes, Williams said, "I'm not real big on suing."

Beshear's office on Wednesday distributed copies of a March 2009 Lexington Herald-Leader column in which Williams said the governor could sign into law or line-item veto a road plan.

Williams said the law was changed in 2009 so that the transportation budget included three pieces of legislation: an operating budget, a two-year road plan and a resolution containing a longer-term road plan.

Beshear said the Senate can pass the transportation operating budget and a bill aimed at curbing "pill mills" in Kentucky by Friday.

"The House has again met their obligations by passing the transportation budget this morning," Beshear said after the House voted 96-2 to pass House Bill 2, the more than $4.5 billion transportation budget. "There is no reason for the Senate to delay passing that budget and the prescription drug bill right away and end this costly special session on Friday."

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