FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky Senate approved a $4.5 billion transportation budget Friday, but only after adding in nearly $50 million in road construction projects that had been vetoed by Gov. Steve Beshear.
The appropriations measure that passed 37-0 provides money for hundreds of major road improvements across the state, including partial funding for a $2.6 billion project to build two bridges across the Ohio River in Louisville. But the 10 smaller projects that the Democratic governor vetoed garnered most of the floor debate.
The vetoed projects were in a rural southern Kentucky district represented by Beshear's chief Republican rival, Senate President David Williams. Sen. Bob Leeper, an independent from Paducah, came to Williams' defense, offering an amendment that would restore the projects.
Leeper, chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said Williams had been unfairly singled out by Beshear.
"I don't think that's right," he said.
As leaders in their respective parties, Williams and Beshear have been at odds for years. Beshear has pushed unsuccessfully to oust Williams as Senate president by trying to elect enough Democrats to overturn the GOP majority. Beshear has even appointed Republican senators to lucrative positions outside the Legislature to create potential openings for Democrats.
Despite those efforts, Republicans have maintained control of the Senate and have kept Williams as their leader.
The transportation budget, which includes funds to widen interstate highways and expand airports, now goes to the House where leaders have already expressed doubts about whether Leeper's amendment can pass.
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Lawmakers have been meeting in a special legislative session since Beshear called them back to Frankfort on Monday to pass the transportation budget. The measure had been left hanging when the regular annual legislative session ended last week.
Beshear blamed Williams for the Senate not passing the measure and forcing the special session that has cost some $300,000 so far.
The Senate had refused to pass the transportation budget until Beshear signed the road construction plan. Neither side was willing to budge before time ran out in the regular session.
Beshear blamed Williams, saying his inaction forced the special session that has cost $300,000 so far.
The House passed the transportation budget Wednesday, and was set to give it another look Friday evening to consider the Senate's modification. The Senate set aside $100 million to widen I-65 through three counties where numerous fatal traffic accidents have occurred in recent years. A crash on a rural stretch of the highway near Munfordville in 2010 killed 11 people, 10 of them members of a Mennonite family and a truck driver whose tractor-trailer crossed the median and struck their van.
Leeper said if the House refuses to go along his proposed amendment restoring the vetoed projects he'll withdraw it to ensure that the special session is not unnecessarily prolonged.