Senators maneuver on road plan

FRANKFORT — The state Senate is expected to take up a $4.2 billion road plan and the state's two-year budget early next week, Senate leaders said Friday.

In a series of bizarre maneuvers on Friday, the Senate Transportation Committee and later the full Senate unanimously approved the Senate's version of the road plan.

But minutes after approving House Bill 292 and adjourning for the day, Senate leaders huddled for several minutes and then went back into session to return House Bill 292 to the Senate Transportation Committee. That means that the Senate will be able to make further tweaks to its road plan.

That plan includes about $207 million for construction, planning and design for road projects for Fayette County.

Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said the Senate decided to keep the bill because the House had already adjourned on Friday and was no longer accepting bills from the Senate.

"We're going to take this time over the next two days to go over it again," Harris said. "We have been rushed."

But the move to return the road budget to the Senate Transportation Committee also came after House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told reporters that there was a possibility that the House would accept the Senate's version of the road plan and that the two chambers would not go to a conference committee. A conference committee is where problems and differences between the two bills are hammered out behind closed doors.

Senate leaders denied that was the reason they ultimately decided to keep the bill.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said there may be changes in the way that some of the road projects are funded.

"We could very well change things," Williams said of the bill. Asked if that means the Senate will add additional projects, Williams said: "If you change things, you've got to add some things or subtract some things."

The Senate version does not include $300 million in state bond funds, but does include $112 million for infrastructure projects around Fort Knox. The Senate version also includes about $800 million more spending than the House plan.

But Harris, who did not have the House plan with him on Friday, said he wasn't sure why the Senate plan included more money than the House version.

The Fayette County portion of the Senate plan includes money for the Newtown Pike extension and other key projects that the House had also included in its budget.

Harris said he would like the committee to meet again Monday and have the road plan voted out of the chamber the same day.

That means that the Senate could be trying to vote out two of its most important pieces of legislation — the budget and the road plan — at about the same time.

Sen. Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said Senate leadership staff is making a series of changes to the Senate's budget and will continue to work through the weekend. Leeper said that he hopes the committee votes on the budget Monday.

Leeper said it's likely that two revenue provisions — accelerating sales tax collections and a two-year suspension of a net operating loss tax deduction for businesses — would not be in the Senate version of the budget. Those two revenue measures generated about $277 million in the House budget plan.

That's a large hole that will have to be filled. The House closed a potential $1.2 billion shortfall in its budget by cutting two school days, tweaking health insurance for state workers and making about 2 percent cuts to many state agencies.

Leeper said they are still looking at options to make up that shortfall.

"It's going to be shared sacrifice," Leeper said.