By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky needs increased transportation funding in order to support economic development, ensure the safety of citizens, and make critical investments. That was the message presented to lawmakers Monday by representatives from the Kentucky Infrastructure Coalition.
A proposal is in the works to raise the gas tax and make other changes to the road funding formula in order to generate additional revenue to be spent on the state’s roads, bridges and other forms of transportation. While a bill has not yet been filed, the group pointed to support by many key organizations for an increase in infrastructure funding and the legislation filed in previous sessions on the topic in recent years.
Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Ashli Watts told the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation that while the state has celebrated record-breaking economic investment over the last year, Kentucky has been falling behind on funding for transportation. Watts stated the commonwealth cannot reach the full potential of such economic investments without meeting the infrastructure demands they create.
“Kentucky has the 7th most deadly rural roads in that nation. In some areas of the state, Kentuckians sit in traffic for 40 hours or more a year, and driving on poor roads costs the average motorist about $400 a year from wear and tear and congestion,” Watts said. “We can do better. Most of the states around us have done better for their citizens.”
Watts noted Kentucky has reached a tipping point when it comes to the need for increased investments in transportation as the state’s toll credits are expiring and that federal money that has been used to support public transportation and many projects across the state will now require additional state funds.
“We know increasing the gas tax is hard. But you have a broad coalition backing you and supporting you,” Watts told lawmakers.
Boone County Judge/Executive Gary Moore, who serves as president of the Kentucky Association of Counties, also told lawmakers it is not every day that such a large group of different organizations band together to advocate for an issue like the Kentucky Infrastructure Coalition is doing.
“It is day 33 of session and we have come together to ask you to file the bill and begin addressing this important issue,” Moore said. “We have your back.”
Moore pointed to many of Kentucky’s surrounding states where lawmakers have voted to raise the gas tax and have not been voted out of office because of it. He stated that the need for more funding in many communities across the state requires significant leadership in this area.
Kentucky League of Cities President and Mayor of Jeffersontown Bill Dieruf told the committee it is critical to pass a bill to increase infrastructure investment because Kentucky roads are crumbling and as the state waits to take action, the cost to fix those deficiencies continues to grow. He noted that the motor fuels tax has been flat for many years now and it creates significant issues for local governments as they seek to ensure their citizens are safe.
Dieruf encouraged lawmakers to pay attention to the condition of many of the state’s roads as they drove home as it signals the urgency for action.
LaRue County Judge/Executive Tommy Turner noted the primary role of government is to ensure safe, efficient transportation and no matter politics or party registration, transportation impacts all Kentuckians equally.
Turner stated many of Kentucky’s counties are on a 50-year asphalt repaving schedule as funding is such an issue for many communities and added investment in all areas of transportation will bolster economic development and support the state’s workforce.
Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Florence, the sponsor of previous infrastructure investment bills, stated while time seems to be running out in the legislative session, many lawmakers understand the issues faced by the state on this issue and he hopes to see something done in 2020.
Stay tuned to The Bottom Line for more updates on this issue throughout the 2020 session.