By Beth Musgrave and Jack Brammer – firstname.lastname@example.org
FRANKFORT — On the final night of last week’s special legislative session, Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, complained about voting on a 245-page bill outlining $6.7 billion worth of road projects without even seeing it.
“This is an absolute outrage,” she said after casting one of two votes against the measure in the Senate. “Who knows what’s in it?”
The answer: A lot.
A review of the massive bill passed after 10 p.m. last Saturday shows that the districts represented by legislative leaders fared well. The bill included more than $400 million in borrowing, more than half of which is going to projects in 12 legislative leaders’ districts.
In some cases they snagged money for new road projects that were not included in any of the road-building proposals considered by the House and Senate earlier this year.
For example, the plan calls for spending $3 million of borrowed money on a “scoping” study to determine the feasibility of building a new bridge over Lake Cumberland near Wolf Creek Dam, in the districts of House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, and Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.
“The money always seems to go to leadership. They are the ones who hold the fiscal pencil,” said Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, who also voted against the road plan.
Buford said he voted against the plan because of the $404 million it borrows — $100 million more than Gov. Steve Beshear had proposed in his original plan this winter.
“Our monetary situation is going to worsen,” Buford said.
House and Senate leaders said the $404 million in bond money was key to getting the road plan passed on the last day of the special legislative session, which was called mainly to pass the state’s two-year budget.
Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said the additional $100 million was needed because the House had used up most of the other funding sources for projects it wanted.
“They wouldn’t give up anything,” he said. “So if the Senate wanted anything, bonding was the way to go.”
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in a written statement that the final road plan was largely approved by the House earlier in the week, “which was important to our members.”
“The distribution of road funds depends on a variety of factors, including how far along a project is in planning, whether it is part of a larger project that has long been included in the road plan and a fluctuation in what counties may receive from one biennium to another,” Stumbo said.
Leaders also said the last-minute projects would have been vetted publicly, but doing so would have extended the $63,000-a-day session for two more working days.
If the two chambers were not able to approve the plan before midnight Saturday, the legislature would have been off on Sunday and Memorial Day. Even though they wouldn’t have worked on Memorial Day, the law stipulates that they get paid every day but Sunday while in session.
Spending an extra $126,000 would have angered taxpayers, said Senate Majority Floor Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.
Some say the state’s road plan is over-programmed — meaning there are more projects than money — by more than $2 billion. That means new bond money is one of the most sought-after funding sources for a project, since those that rely on regular state funding have a much lower probability of getting built.
A Herald-Leader analysis of projects designated to be funded by the $404 million bond show that more than $210 million will be spent on projects that cut through 12 legislator’s districts — all of whom hold leadership positions in the House or Senate in both parties.
In the House, Stumbo received $62.6 million over the next three years for road projects in Floyd County and also received the most bond money of any leader — approximately $40 million.
But much of the bonded money in Stumbo’s district was for one project — $39.8 million for the Little Mud Creek Road — which has been in the works for nearly 25 years and was stopped during former Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s administration.
House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, collected $165.2 million for his four-county district in Eastern Kentucky. Of that, about $22.67 million will be paid for through bonds.
Leaders of the Republican minority in the House also scored big in the road plan. House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, received just shy of $20 million in bond money for a variety of projects, including $3 million for a design study of a new bridge to cross Lake Cumberland and connect Clinton and Russell counties on U.S. 127.
It’s not clear how the new design study was inserted into the plan. It was not included in the House or Senate versions of the road plan that each chamber approved separately earlier this year.
Hoover did not return phone calls seeking comment on Friday.
Clinton County Judge-Executive Lyle Huff said there has been discussion for years of the need to remove U.S. 127 from the top of Wolf Creek Dam.
He has seen drawings with three potential routes, all of them on the downstream side of the dam. “It depends on whether you whistle Dixie or sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic where it’s going to go,” Huff said.
Portions of U.S. 127 already have been rebuilt, and construction is underway now on a bypass around Albany. The new bridge would be part of the larger project, which will improve Clinton County’s economy, Huff said.
In the Senate, Stivers’ seven-county district in Eastern Kentucky reaped $292.1 million worth of projects. Of that total, $34 million were for bonded projects, second only to Stumbo.
Those projects include $4 million for a new entrance to the Green Park project, a planned eco-friendly industrial park; $1.5 million for a new entrance road to a Clay County elementary school and constructing a new bridge for KY 3475.
None of those projects were included in previous road plans.
Stivers explained his district’s haul by saying it is one of the largest geographic areas in the legislature, with seven counties. He also noted that it contains two legislative leaders — himself and House Majority Whip John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty.
Stivers said the new entrance to the Green Park was contingent upon a new company locating in the area and that the elementary school project was needed for safety reasons.
Williams received the most money for road projects at $306 million, but only $18.6 million came from bond funds.
He said much of the remaining money for his road projects come from regular state funds, which are the least reliable funding source.
Sen. Minority Leader Ed Worley, D-Richmond, who is retiring after this year, was able to get $104 million for his three-county district. About $7.6 million were projects paid for with bond money.