Kentucky Politics

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear praised the Republican-led legislature for funding broadband, water and school construction projects with Kentucky’s share of the federal coronavirus relief package, saying it would create jobs and boost the state’s economy.

Lawmakers set aside $1.3 billion of stimulus money during this year’s legislative session—nearly half the total amount Kentucky state government will get from the federal package.

Beshear estimated the effort would create about 14,500 jobs and that legislators were off to a “good start.”

“It’s one of the first times we’ve been able to work together that closely, and I think it’s going to be good for everybody,” Beshear said.

State budget writers received notice late during this year’s legislative session that Kentucky would receive about $2.4 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act, which passed out of Congress earlier this year.

Though all Kentucky’s Republican members of Congress voted against the legislation, GOP state legislators embraced the opportunity to fund infrastructure projects with federal money after initially expressing caution.

The legislature dedicated $300 million to expand broadband internet in underserved parts of the state, $250 million for water and wastewater projects, $575 million to start repaying the state’s unemployment insurance loans, and $127 million for school construction and renovation.

Beshear said the funding is an opportunity to modernize the state’s infrastructure for people and businesses.

“Normally we do one of these projects, and who pays for it? We do. They raise our rates over a period of time,” Beshear said.

Last year, Beshear used CARES Act funding for coronavirus testing, vaccine distribution, eviction relief and other programs — actions lawmakers couldn’t sign off on because they were out of session.

But this year, lawmakers stripped Beshear of power to spend any of the federal relief money without their approval.

That means if Beshear wants to access the more than $1 billion left in Kentucky’s relief package before lawmakers return next January, he would have to call them back for a special legislative session.

On Wednesday, Beshear said it was too early to say if he’d call a special session, but that he’d still like to create a relief program for “small businesses, affected industries and individuals.”

The next regular legislative session starts on Jan. 4, 2022.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.