The Bottom Line: Lawmakers discuss Kentucky’s transportation funding needs

By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Executive branch officials testified before lawmakers Monday on the current transportation needs facing Kentucky and on the two-year Road Fund budget proposed by the Beshear administration.

Robin Brewer, executive director of the Office of Budget and Fiscal Management, said Kentucky has seen a decline in Road Fund revenues in recent years as gas tax revenue is down and there has been very little growth in all areas of transportation funding.

Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Florence

Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Florence, the chair of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, said the decline in revenues illustrates an obvious transportation funding issue for the state. New Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray agreed and added that, when you see a 15 percent loss in revenues in the private sector, it signals the need to do something differently. Gray also stated additional transportation funding would “help the engine run better.”

As for the state’s next Road Fund, Beshear’s proposal includes $778.9 million over the biennium for construction including resurfacing, highway plan, construction contingency account, and state match for federally funded construction, as well as $803 million over the two years for maintenance.

The proposed budget also includes $34.9 million over three years as the state transitions to REAL ID. Santoro expressed concerns about the transition to REAL ID, as Kentuckians are required to make the transition from their current license to a REAL ID by the end of 2020, but the state currently only operates four facilities where Kentuckians can make the switch.

There are also many other areas within the Road Fund budget detailed by Brewer and Gray during the presentation, including public transportation.

The governor’s budget proposal allocates $2 million for public transit funding (not including school transportation). Leaders from public transit systems across the state testified before the committee, expressing the need for additional funding in the budget to make up for lost toll credits, which will also lead to a loss of federal funds.

The state has to meet a 20 percent match to receive 80 percent federal funds. The transit leaders explained that the $30-$40 million in federal funding for public transit is compromised as $4-8m million was previously used to meet that 20 percent mark.

The leaders from TARC, LexTran, TANK, Rural Transit Enterprises, and Federated Transportation of the Bluegrass emphasized the role public transit plays in getting many Kentuckians to and from work or school, which is critical to the state’s economy.

Because of the toll credit issue and the reality that federal funds would essentially be “frozen” because the state would be unable to meet the 20 percent match, the groups said they are asking legislators to put a total of $10 million in state funds into public transit instead of the current $2 million proposed.

Stay tuned to The Bottom Line for more on transportation funding issues and the Road Fund budget.