Politics

A bill that would allow private companies to finance, construct and operate public projects is advancing in the state House, this time without a major hangup for some legislators.

The public-private partnership bill failed in the last three legislative sessions, when lawmakers raised concerns that the financing model would be used to repair and implement tolls on the Brent-Spence Bridge in Northern Kentucky.

Under the bill, the Brent-Spence Bridge and any other project connecting Kentucky and Ohio are precluded from using the “P3” model.

Rep. Leslie Combs, a Democrat from Pikeville who sponsored the bill for the last three legislative sessions, refused to even mention the bridge’s name Tuesday when she presented the bill to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

“It does not include anything to do with a project in Northern Kentucky, therefore I do not wish to hear its name, I do not wish to have a discussion about it because it has nothing to do with that project in Northern Kentucky,” Combs said.

The committee sent the bill to the House floor.

In a typical P3, a private company would front much of the money for the construction phase of a project. Once the project was complete, the company would recoup the costs of the project through user fees or tolls over several years.

Both local governments and state agencies would be allowed to use the P3 model.

If a local government proposes a P3 project that is greater than 30 percent of its annual revenue, the project would be reviewed by a new 11-member Public-Private Partnership Board under the bill.

State Rep. Jim Wayne, a Democrat from Louisville,  said improvements have been made to the bill over the years.

But he still opposes the legislation because it doesn’t require enough oversight.

“Having something spelled out in here on citizen input and have a tolling authority representative of the people I think would be appropriate,” Wayne said.

In 2015, the bill passed the state House despite opposition from Northern Kentucky lawmakers, but was never taken up in the state Senate.

Gov. Steve Beshear vetoed the P3 bill in 2014 because it had been amended to prevent the Brent-Spence Bridge repairs from using the P3 model.

Even though the Brent-Spence Bridge is excluded from the bill, state Rep. Arnold Simpson, a Democrat from Covington, said he still opposes the bill.

“As we modify it in the future, we in Northern Kentucky will be mindful of the unfairness of asking the giving community to pay gasoline taxes and tolls for the right to use a public, federal freeway,” Simpson said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.