- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky House and Senate lawmakers agreed Tuesday to a $4.1 billion road-spending plan on the Legislature’s final day, avoiding an expensive special session.

The plan includes $5.2 billion worth of projects throughout the state. But as much as 25 percent of that money will not be spent. Lawmakers said they like to include a cushion in case some projects are delayed because of environmental concerns or problems acquiring land.

Republicans and Democrats clashed over the spending plan Monday, when leaders of both parties said it was unlikely they would reach a deal. That could have led Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to call the legislature back to Frankfort for a special session that would have cost taxpayers $60,000 per day.

But lawmakers emerged from hours of closed-door meetings Tuesday to say they had reached an agreement both bodies could pass.

In an election year when Republicans are trying to take control of the House, the road-funding plan ended up showcasing the political and philosophical differences between the two parties. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and House Democratic leaders wanted to restore the state gas tax to the level it had been in December 2013. That would have raised the tax 1.5 cents per gallon and generated $107 million over the next two years to pay for more projects.

But Senate Republicans attacked that proposal as a tax increase, setting up nearly three weeks of contentious negotiations that almost ended without an agreement. House Democrats agreed to give up the gas-tax increase and Senate Republicans agreed to add more projects to the plan.

Senate Republicans were quick to declare victory.

“When we started this process, the governor’s plan was based on a tax increase we were not going to approve. It was over-programmed 87 percent,” said Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “And we are leaving here with a plan that is balanced federally within 5 percent, which is normal, and the state portion is over-programmed about 25 percent. That’s a little bit higher than what we wanted, but it is within the realm of a good compromise.”

The proposed gas-tax increase could become a campaign issue in the fall. But Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said it wasn’t crucial to Democrats that such an increase be passed.

“The only difference it made is whether Kentuckians would have seen the benefit of getting their roads built and fixed or whether the oil companies profiteered,” Stumbo said.

The Senate approved the plan 37-1, and the House 71-26. It includes:

-$35 million for a new interchange on I-75 next to a Toyota factory.

-$28.7 million to continue planning the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge that connects Covington to Cincinnati.

-$123 million over two years to continue the Mountain Parkway widening project in eastern Kentucky.

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