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Is 2016 The Year For P3?

Josh James

Public-private partnership legislation, often dubbed p3, glided through a House committee Tuesday despite some lawmakers' concerns about transparency and the risks facing local governments.

P3 partnerships permit governments to enter into joint agreements with private companies to finance major projects, many focusing on transportation. Bill sponsor Democratic Rep. Leslie Combs assured the panel the legislation contains new safeguards for cities.

"I think local governments right now today need this legislation, need this tool in the toolkit more than any other level of government right now, because of the major constraints they have on them, the major infrastructure needs that a lot of our local governments have," she said.

Legislators spent much of the Q&A period referencing a Herald-Leader editorial warning of risks to taxpayers if local governments don't properly vet p3 projects - reservations House Speaker Greg Stumbo appeared to downplay, suggesting many lawmakers would question the credibility of the paper's editorial department. The opinion piece cautioned that cities could fall under the sway of "powerful interests" and wind up leaving taxpayers on the hook for poorly-negotiated projects.

Asked about the bill's prospects for passage in the House, the Democratic Speaker replied, "It needs to. I'm hopeful that it will." 

Past versions of the legislation have faltered over concerns about funding the Brent Spence Bridge project with tolls - a provision purposefully excluded from Combs' bill. Senate President Robert Stivers says the idea has "a lot of support" in the chamber, adding "the fact that there's an exemption for the Brent Spence Bridge probably enhances its chances."

Even if the General Assembly successfully guiding the legislation to the governor's desk, it could feel the touch of the veto pen. While not opposed to p3 across the board, Gov. Matt Bevin has registered his disapproval of using the partnerships to fund critical infrastructure projects involving interstate commerce. 

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.