Lawmakers Propose Bill Stripping Governor’s Transportation Cabinet Powers

Dec 2, 2019

Credit Ryland Barton / Kentucky Public Radio

Three top Republican lawmakers in the Kentucky Senate have proposed a bill that would strip the governor’s power to appoint the leader of the state’s powerful Transportation Cabinet.

The measure would instead put that power in the hands of a board comprised of members selected by influential lobbying groups — the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

The proposal has political implications as the state prepares to return to divided government next month with a Democratic governor and supermajority Republican legislature.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Republican from Lebanon and one of the bill’s sponsors, said the measure would insulate the cabinet and road construction spending from politics.

“The secretary of transportation is a person that controls a great deal of money and a lot of responsibility. We just need to makes sure we have the right person in that spot,” Higdon said.

The bill was filed on Nov. 5th — Election Day — by Senate President Robert Stivers, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Ernie Harris and Higdon, the committee’s vice chair. All of the lawmakers are Republicans.

Higdon said that lawmakers filed the bill on Election Day so that they wouldn’t be accused of trying to undercut a governor for political reasons.

“I didn’t want to be accused of waiting to see what the outcome of the election was. This bill pertained to whoever won — either Gov. Bevin or Gov.-elect Beshear,” Higdon said.

The governor would have some say of who sits on the nine-member Kentucky Transportation Board, but would have to choose a secretary from a list of nominees created by the groups.

The state Senate would then have the power to confirm or reject the nominee. No cabinet secretaries are currently subject to Senate confirmation.

The board would also be in charge of prioritizing which projects end up in the state’s two-year road budget and six-year road plan.

No more than five of the nine members on the board would be allowed to be members of the same political party.

Gov.-elect Andy Beshear downplayed the significance of the bill during a news conference on Tuesday, saying it was the product of a highly partisan election season.

“My hope is that as we continue to have those meetings that maybe some of the impetus that led to that bill slowly fade away. But it’s really early. We’re going to have a chance to talk to legislators about that as we move forward,” Beshear said.

Beshear has not yet named a Transportation Cabinet secretary or any of the other secretaries who will head up Kentucky’s cabinets — the 11 agencies that make up the state’s Executive Branch.

The legislature will consider the bill in the upcoming session, which begins in January.