Beshear To Legislature: Seal The Deal On Heroin, Gas Tax
Gov. Steve Beshear has some tough words for the General Assembly as they scramble to address the state’s heroin epidemic and dwindling gas tax revenues in the final hours of the 2015 session.
At midnight tonight, lawmakers will run up against a constitutionally mandated deadline and the longer negotiations stretch out, the more Gov. Beshear is sounding like a frustrated parent. Tuesday, the governor urged legislators to "quit fooling around and nitpicking."
"It's time to fish or cut bait. They've been up here for three months. We've been dealing with some difficult issues. They've been putting in a lot of hard work, but it's time to close the deal," Beshear told reporters. "They better not walk off from here today and not have passed a heroin bill."
Late Monday, a Senate panel approved two heroin measures, which headed to the House for their perusal. Opt-in needle exchange programs, strengthened penalties for traffickers, and a Good Samaritan provision remain points of contention, but House Speaker Greg Stumbo appears receptive to the new packages – if a drafting error concerning penalties for Class C felonies can be cleaned up.
"We all live with philosophical difference down here, but I think if you take the totality of the bill, assuming that that problem can be resolved, versus its negatives that one has to conclude that it's a very significant piece of legislation," he said.
Beshear also warned legislators Tuesday if they can’t cobble together an agreement to stabilize the gas tax rate by Sine Die, Kentucky drivers will feel the effects.
"All of the citizens out here who know the condition of our roads right now because of the weather - we've had a horrible winter - all of our county judges, all of our magistrates, they're out here wanting to repair all of this and get people back on good roads. We're not going to have the money to do that. And I think the people of Kentucky are going to take it out on the folks up here if they don't get the job done," he said.
Still, prospects for the legislation, which conservative group Americans for Prosperity has dubbed a gas tax hike, aren’t exactly rosy. House Speaker Greg Stumbo says support in both chambers isn’t where it needs to be.
"A lot of people got beat up on that issue in the last political cycle," the speaker explained. "Obviously our members are very leery. We're not going to do anything until we're sure what position the other side takes."
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet estimates that failure to stabilize the gas tax could rob the Road Fund of $300 million dollars over the next two years. Asked whether those numbers could warrant a special session, Beshear says if the legislature can’t agree to lock in the current rate now, it’s unlikely they would act to raise it after the 22.5 cents per gallon floor goes into effect April 1.