By John Cheves
Gov. Steve Beshear blamed Senate President David Williams’ “greed” last week after Williams added tens of millions of dollars in spending for his district to the state’s two-year road plan. Meanwhile, Williams criticized Beshear for not signing the plan into law hours after legislative leaders hammered out a compromise version and delivered it to the governor.
A week after the regular legislative session ended in failure because of this impasse, the facts don’t entirely support either man.
Though Williams, R-Burkesville, did try to fatten short-term road spending in his district, which includes six rural counties along the Tennessee state line, what he awarded himself pales in comparison to the asphalt anticipated by House Democratic leaders, who get first crack at the governor’s road plan and share the governor’s party affiliation.
From 2012 through 2014, the road plan the legislature approved last Thursday would have spent $115 million in Williams’ district, or $1,017 per person. Floyd County, home of House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, would get $95 million, or $2,411 per person. Elliott County, home of House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, would get $41 million, or $5,259 per person.
By comparison, Fayette County would get $248 million, or $839 per person.
“They sprinkled money everywhere, and then the governor picked me out to try and demonize me,” Williams said Wednesday.
“Coming out of the House, this plan had $93 million for Greg Stumbo in Floyd County. My entire Senate district — that’s six counties with more than 100,000 people — I had $70 million in real money,” Williams said. “It’s very unfair to say that I was greedy, as if I was going to personally benefit from this.”
Stumbo said most of Floyd County’s money will go to build one project that has lingered in the road plan since 1996. The Minnie-Harold Connector, linking Little Mud Creek Road to nearby communities, will get $79 million.
“It is something that our residents have long needed,” Stumbo said. “As projects like this move to construction, it can appear that some legislators benefit more than others in a given budget cycle, but that is not a true apples-to-apples comparison.”
Williams added one project for his district: $770,000 to build an access road for the Whitley County Industrial Park. Otherwise, he moved projects ahead by several years on the Transportation Cabinet’s schedule, or he changed their funding sources to guarantee they would get a higher priority.
With his vetoes to the road plan on Wednesday, Beshear eliminated Williams’ changes to funding sources. That could bump some projects, such as reconstruction of U.S. 127 in Clinton County, for which Williams had arranged federal money, back into line behind many other competing projects around Kentucky. Projects forced to rely on regular state construction money often find themselves in limbo for lack of funding.
Meanwhile, Williams’ criticism that Beshear should have signed the road plan Thursday, thus eliminating the need for a special legislative session, is dismissed by aides to the governor and Democratic lawmakers.
Six of the 138 legislators, including Williams and Stumbo, finished negotiating the plan early Thursday morning. Beshear got it hours later, around the time the House and Senate voted on it.
“I had to trust the people who were running it that it was OK, that Fayette County’s projects were OK,” said state Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington. “It’s a complicated damn document. I think government works more efficiently if people actually know what they’re doing before they do it.”
Officials at the Transportation Cabinet this week said they needed days to study the final version of the 254-page plan and its hundreds of projects, each of which covers three fiscal years and lists one or more of two dozen possible state or federal funding sources. Simply switching a funding code from “SP” to “SPP” for a $10 million project in one town puts it on the fast track and possibly dooms projects elsewhere, officials said.
“I will not ignore the due diligence I owe our citizens to review legislation, and in this case, I’m particularly glad we combed through the bill,” Beshear said Wednesday, announcing his vetoes.