Kentucky Politics

Calling it a “work in progress,” Kentucky lawmakers are still considering a bill that would limit a governor’s power to appoint a state transportation secretary.

The bill is sponsored by a Republican leader of the state Senate and would require Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to pick a transportation secretary out of a list generated by a board comprised of members selected by influential lobbying groups.

The Senate would have final authority to confirm or reject the governor’s pick.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Republican from Lebanon, said the bill would make the Transportation Cabinet transparent and accountable.

“Contrary to some reports, this bill does not strip the governor of the power to appoint the secretary. The governor would still appoint the secretary but would be limited to considering candidates recommended by the board,” Higdon said.

The bill would make the transportation secretary Kentucky’s only cabinet secretary that requires confirmation from the legislature.

Members of the newly created Transportation Board would be selected by the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Under the bill, the board would give the governor a list of three potential candidates. Higdon pointed out that if the governor doesn’t like any of the candidates on the list, he could reject it and get a new list of three names.

The board would also be in charge of prioritizing which projects end up in the state’s two-year road budget and six-year road plan.

Higdon said that the bill was not filed to target the state’s new governor.

“We filed it on Election Day,” Higdon said. “We had no idea, I think most people understood it was the flip of a coin on Election Day who was going to win. So this is not directed at any particular person.”

The bill was heard in the Senate’s Transportation Committee on Wednesday but did not receive a vote.

Higdon said that “nothing in this bill is etched in stone.”

Kentucky’s current transportation secretary is Jim Gray, former mayor of Lexington and a former chairman of Gray Construction.

Gov. Beshear has downplayed the significance of the bill. During a news conference last month he said the proposal was the result of last year’s bitter election.

“Maybe some of the impetus that led to that bill slowly fade away. But it’s really early,” Beshear said.

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