FRANKFORT — After a long line of Democrats questioned whether it will endanger lives and cost the state money for road repairs, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed along party lines a bill allowing trucks to carry up to 120,000 pounds of aluminum and other commodities.
The present limit is 80,000 pounds, although there are now exceptions for steel and poultry. House Bill 184 is sponsored by Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, whose region is site of aluminum smelters.
Miles said increased permit fees would be returned to the state’s road funds, although she conceded they will be insufficient to cover any additional damage to highways. But, she noted, the increased weight limits would reduce the number of overall loads by requiring fewer trips.
But she said the bill is also an economic development measure because the aluminum industry employs 18,000 in Kentucky and many of its products supply the state’s auto manufacturers. Finally, she said, it will “level the field” for truckers in Kentucky with other states which already allow higher weight limits.
Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, however said the measure will increase damages to Kentucky’s roads and endanger lives.
He said the road fund is “already in crisis” and the measure will compound the problem by costing the state money and increasing damage to roads.
“The only thing this will level,” Wayne said, “is the family van when it’s run over by one of these big rigs.”
Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, a civil engineer and former employee of the state Transportation Cabinet, said heavier trucks are known to take longer and require more distance to stop.
And “any notion the fees will offset the extra damage is absurd,” Overly said. “The heavier the vehicle, the more the damage.”
Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forrest Hills, said the U.S. Congress in 2015 refused to pass similar legislation for federal highways and the heavier loads won’t be allowed on interstates, forcing them onto state and county roads, forcing local governments to pick up some of the additional maintenance costs.
Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, who last year switched parties, criticized Democrats for their opposition, claiming the “minority party doesn’t seem to want people to work.” Representatives Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, and Mike Castlen, R-Maceo, said the bill supports jobs and economic development.
Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, said the trucking industry paid $692 million in road taxes while driving only 12 percent of total vehicle miles in the state.
Ultimately, the bill passed 64-27 and now goes to the Senate.
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The House also passed a measure to help the downtown Louisville arena, the Yum! Center, pay off its bonds by enlarging the area from which new tax revenues are collected to pay those bonds.
The bill would enlarge the TIF — tax increment funding — district and extend its time by 25 years. (Any new tax revenue in the TIF district that occurred after the construction of the center is collected by the arena board and used to pay off bonds.) It would also require the arena board make payments it had agreed to the state Fair Board which operated the old Freedom Hall to compensate it for the loss of revenue from the University of Louisville’s basketball games which now are played in the Yum! Center.
That was part of the original agreement between the state, the arena board, UofL and the city of Louisville but the arena hasn’t paid those so far.
Wayne, who is a UofL fan and whose brother played basketball at UofL, said he thinks the bill is a good one but premature.
He called the original deal with UofL the “sweetest of sweetheart deals,” negotiated by “three people behind closed doors:” then UofL President James Ramsey, UofL Athletic Director Tom Jurich and Jim Host, who then Gov. Ernie Fletcher appointed to chair the original center board.
He pointed out UofL gets most of the revenue from arena events, including non-UofL events such as concerts or other events and reminded his colleagues of recent controversies over exorbitant compensation and bonuses to Ramsey, Jurich and others.
Wayne wants to wait until state Auditor Mike Harmon, a Republican, completes an audit of the center which he said “could provide us good direction” on how to help the center and the city.
But the measure passed 79-14 and now goes to the Senate.
Also on Monday, the state Senate passed a bill to use money from state reserves to infuse the Kentucky State Police retirement fund with additional cash.
Senate Bill 112, sponsored by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, will appropriate $23 million this year and $125 million next year to the state police retirement fund. The money comes from reserves that Gov. Matt Bevin’s request were budgeted to grow and ultimately be applied to the state’s troubled pension systems.
The bill passed 37-0 and now goes to the House.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.