FRANKFORT — The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would open possibilities for public-private partnership funding of needed projects and services in the state.
House Bill 309, passed by a 29-9 vote in the Senate, would provide the framework for the uses of public-private partnerships (also known as P3s) as an alternative financing tool.
“The bill creates a transparent process which state and local governments will follow,” said Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, in support of the bill. “The primary benefit will be to position Kentucky as ‘open for business,’ especially as it relates to big-ticket infrastructure projects that state and local governments cannot afford without some private money during tight budget years.”
Wise pointed out that P3 deals are already part of the daily business in the state, but HB 309 sets up oversight for those deals including a provision that state P3 projects valued at more than $25 million will require approval by the General Assembly. The bill also establishes the Kentucky Local Government Public-Private Partnership Board to review P3 deals with local governments.
The end result, Wise said, will be more projects being funded.
“Instead of communities coming to us as legislators with two hands out to secure funding for sewer and water projects, convention centers, amphitheaters, sports complexes or even revitalizing our own state parks,” he said, adding that with a P3 in place “they may come to us with only one hand out.”
Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, was among the nine dissenting voters on the bill. After attempting to attach an amendment that would prohibit P3 partners from making political donations to its public partners until three years after the end of the partnership, Buford warned of the possibilities for corruption and small communities stuck in bad deals.
“Folks, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that could saddle the taxpayers of those small communities for the rest of their lives,” Buford said. “Be careful what you vote for. You might get it.”
Another facet of HB309 that drew attention was a provision that prohibits the authorization of tolls for any project involving the interstate highway system connecting Kentucky to the state of Ohio, a clear reference to Cincinnati’s Brent Spence Bridge project.
P3 legislation passed in the 2014 General Assembly, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Steve Beshear. Presented again in last year’s session, it did not pass into law.