It's back, as surely as the early crocuses and robins. A bill allowing billboard companies to trim trees and other vegetation in public rights-of-way is awaiting a vote in the House.
There are several problems with House Bill 226, beginning with the extra work and expense it would create for the Transportation Cabinet.
No fiscal note has been prepared, analyzing the bill's costs to state government. But if Kentucky starts a program to benefit billboard companies and advertisers by trimming trees owned by taxpayers, the program should at least pay for itself.
It certainly should create no new burdens for taxpayers and state agencies. It seems unlikely, though, that the proposed $200 application fee and $150 "view permit" fee would pay for overseeing the permit reviews, state inspections and reports mandated by HB 226.
Also troubling, the bill gives the cabinet just 45 days to approve or reject a "view permit," and rejections could be quickly appealed at no cost. This is not a workable process, according to the Transportation Cabinet, which opposes the bill.The 45-day deadline would reward billboard companies that run out the clock by submitting incomplete applications.
It's also hard to justify the bill's provisions for "non-conforming" billboards, those that would not be allowed under the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 or Kentucky's billboard law.
Why should owners of non-conforming billboards be able to obtain permits to repair them and trim vegetation around them when the object should be to get rid of them?
The billboard industry argues that the roadside advertising is good for businesses and tourism and that, under HB 226, certified arborists would be supervising the pruning and replacement plantings.
Perhaps there is a way to balance the public's interest with that of the billboard companies, but this bill's not it.