With this year’s session of the Kentucky General Assembly set to expire at midnight, among the major legislative initiatives hoping to beat the clock is the push to freeze the floor for the state’s gas tax, which is set to drop more than 5.1 cents per gallon on April 1. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet says unless the legislature takes action today, this decrease will lead to a $250 million shortfall for the state’s Road Fund over the next two years.
A county-by-county analysis released today by the Kentucky Center for Economic policy shows that local governments throughout the state would be hit hard by this loss of gas tax revenue, as they collect nearly half of this total for maintaining their roads.
Of all of the counties hit by the looming loss of revenue over the next two years, Jefferson County would be the hardest hit, losing $4.4 million for its road fund — more than double the next highest county.
A broad coalition has emerged to set a new gas tax floor at its current 21.2 cents per gallon, including Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, who held a press conference with local government leaders around the state urging legislators to act before time runs out on the session. However, asked if Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is for setting a gas tax floor and if he has lobbied for such to legislators, his spokesman merely replied, “It will have an impact on our funds, but we won’t know the extent until the legislature makes its decisions.”
In 2014, the House passed a bill to freeze the gas tax — though the Senate declined to do the same — a vote which Republicans used to attack Democratic candidates in last fall’s election. While Republican Senate President Robert Stivers told The Courier-Journal’s Tom Loftus that freezing the gas tax is not a tax increase, Republican Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer contends it would be, as does Americans for Prosperity of Kentucky, the new lobbying organization funded by the conservative billionaire Koch Brothers. The Chamber and AFP have waged dueling ad campaigns for and against setting the floor in recent weeks.
According to a 2013 report card from the American Society of Engineers, 7 percent of major roads in Kentucky are considered in poor condition, and Kentucky motorists pay approximately $940 million each year on vehicle costs due to driving on such roads. Such conditions have likely been made worse after two straight brutal winters.
If the General Assembly does act before midnight, a three-fifths majority of each chamber would have to pass such legislation, as it deals directly with Kentucky’s budget in a non-budget year.
***** UPDATE 4:40 p.m. *****
An hour after this posting, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said that the effort to freeze the gas tax was likely dead for this session, citing the lack of strong Republican support and the fact that House Democrats were “beat up” for leading the way on their own last year.
Mayor Fischer’s spokesman also just decided to give IL another response to our earlier question, saying: “The mayor does support setting the floor at the current level.”