Senate committee passes bill to change way Kentucky transportation secretary and road projects are selected

In a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Transportation on Wednesday, a bill was passed that would create a board that would change the way Kentucky’s transportation secretary is selected and be in charge of which road projects are prioritized.

Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Higdon, would create a ten-member board of representatives from across the state to oversee the Strategic Highway Investment Formula for Tomorrow (SHIFT) program or something similar which seeks to take a data-driven, objective approach to compare capital improvement projects and prioritize limited transportation funds.

In an earlier meeting of the committee where Senate Bill 4 was heard for discussion only, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Ernie Harris stated Kentucky is struggling with funding for transportation as the state loses toll credits used to match federal funds. He added because Kentucky is struggling with state transportation funds, many projects will have to be cut down in order to continue to make the 80/20 match with federal money.

During that meeting, Higdon noted Kentucky has not seen an increase in gas tax revenue since 2011 and wear and tear on the road has increased because of use while consumption has remained around the same since cars are more fuel-efficient.

The board would be made up of nine voting members: one from each of the six congressional districts, one person from an urban area and one from a rural region, and two others. The board would be selected by the governor from a list of names given to him and all nine would have to be confirmed by the Senate. Those names of suggested board members would come from the Kentucky League of Cities, Kentucky Association of Counties, and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.  The transportation secretary would be the tenth member of the board and would be a non-voting member.

As for how the transportation secretary would be selected, Higdon said Kentucky is currently one of nine states where the governor appoints the transportation secretary without any legislative approval.

Higdon stated that under the bill, the governor would still be able to select the transportation secretary but it would be from a list of names given to him by the board. If the governor does not like the list of names presented to him, the board can select new names to give him. Once a decision is made, the appointment will be subject to Senate confirmation.

The bill passed with a committee substitute which Higdon said contains language to strengthen and clarify the original intent of the bill including ensuring no more than two members on the board are from the same congressional district and making members to executive branch ethics requirements.

Senate Bill 4 now moves to the full Senate for a vote on the floor.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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