A bill that would have allowed tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge is officially dead in this session of the General Assembly, Gov. Steve Beshear Wednesday acknowledged for the first time publicly.
However, Beshear said he hopes the legislation will return next year, along with an official funding plan for the $2.6 billion project to repair the bridge and build another one alongside.
In a wide-ranging discussion with the Enquirer, Beshear also said he hoped that the bill to restructure the board that oversees the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport would make it to his desk – and that he hoped that Ohio interests would eventually get seats on the Kenton County Airport Board. And the second-term Democratic governor said that when it came to legislation to combat the state's heroin epidemic, that he was in favor of needle exchanges but also for tougher criminal penalties currently proposed by House Democrats.
He also said that major statewide issues still needed to be addressed such as declining road fund revenues from the gas tax, holding out the possibility of calling a special session of the General Assembly to fix that problem.
Beshear said that unlike previous years, this 30-day session had a distinct slant toward issues directly impacting Northern Kentucky. Those topics also included the bill designed to further regulate the state's beer industry, which had a direct impact on a local company, as well as heroin, the public-private partnership bill (P3) and the CVG board reconstruction.
"With heroin and the P3 legislation so tightly wrapped up in the Brent Spence, yes, there has been a lot of Northern Kentucky interests represented," Beshear said.
The General Assembly wraps up next Monday and Tuesday, with all bills needing to be passed and signed by both chambers by midnight Tuesday to be eligible to be signed into law. Beshear said it was too soon to say whether he would veto any legislation passed to date by the House and Senate.
Here is what he said in the 45-minute telephone conversation:
What is the status of the so-called P3 bill, which was a major priority of yours heading into the legislative session?
Unfortunately, it appears that the P3 bill probably not make it through this current session, although I am pleased that it passed the House of Representatives for the first time without specific language banning tolls. We have put language in this bill that makes it very clear that any financing plan to build any project between Ohio and Kentucky that involves tolls would have to come back specifically to be passed by the House and the Senate when a financing plan is put together.
I want to reiterate a vote for this bill is not a vote for tolls in any way, but obviously the political rhetoric tries to tie tolls to the bill. And just because we didn't pass the P3 bill this session, it will not slow down our work on the Brent Spence Bridge. We are going to move forward with a financing plan in conjunction with Ohio, and we will have that done by the end of the year and then move into the next session (when the bi-annual budget is created) with both P3 and the financing plan and see if we can't get both of those.