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Kentucky House Passes Public-Private Partnership Bill Without N. Ky. Toll Ban

The Kentucky House on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow the state to engage in public-private partnerships.

Notably, the bill passed 84-13 without an amendment that would have forbid using a "P3" to finance a toll bridge connecting Kentucky with Ohio. A similarly amended bill was vetoed by Gov. Steve Beshear last year.

A “P3” is a financing model that allows the state to contract with private companies on major projects. Typically a private company would front much of the money for the construction phase of a project and then would be able to recoup expenses through users fees or tolls.

Rep. Leslie Combs, a Democrat from Pikeville and a bill sponsor, said P3s are necessary because the state is running out of money.

“We don’t have any more ways to fund and finance," Combs said. "That’s what it is, another option at financing and finding a way beyond what we have available to us.”

Rep. Jim Wayne, a Democrat from Louisville, said the P3 legislation wasn’t “ripe” enough yet. Wayne said that lawmakers needed to fully consider the “marriage” between the state and a business.

“Because a corporation has an entirely different model for existing and that is, as well all know: profit. It wants to make money,” Wayne said. “So we have to be very, very cautious in blessing this marriage.”

Much of the debate on the bill surrounded the possibility of a P3 being used to finance a $2.6 billion replacement of the Brent-Spence Bridge, which connects Covington and Cincinnati.

Rep. Arnold Simpson, a Democrat from Covington, pleaded with legislators to include a ban on tolls between Ohio and Kentucky, saying his constituents would be disproportionately affected

“They will pay a toll on the way to work and on the way back home,” Simpson said. “My folks don’t wanna pay no tolls.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Beshear have both indicated they would support tolling on the bridge.

The bill passed both the state House and Senate last year, but it was vetoed because of the amendment forbidding tolls on projects connecting Kentucky and Ohio.

In his veto statement of the bill last year, Beshear said it was “imprudent to eliminate any potential means of financing construction of such a vital piece of infrastructure that serves not only the Commonwealth and the state of Ohio but also the eastern United States.”

The bill heads to the Senate now. Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, has said he supports the concept of P3s.