Following approval this week by the state Senate, State Rep. Leslie Combs’ bill to authorize public-private partnerships in Kentucky is on track to become law, a move that would bring the commonwealth in line with more than 30 other states.
“Today’s Senate vote—and the expected final approval in the House of some minor changes—means that Kentucky is about to get a powerful economic development tool that will maximize our tax dollars, give us a chance to take on projects that could only be dreamed about and to do it all in a way that is transparent and accountable to the public,” said Combs, of Pikeville. “I want to thank State Sen. Max Wise, of Campbellsville, for his support and help in guiding it through the Senate, and I deeply appreciate the backing of such groups as the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which has been a great advocate. Over the long term, I think this legislation has the potential to be one of the most far-reaching laws we have passed in quite some time.”
House Bill 309 would establish the regulatory framework that the state as well as local governments would follow when contracting with a private business to carry out a public function.
For the state, there would be required public postings, hearings, and legislative oversight; and no project costing $25 million or more could be done without the General Assembly’s authority. The bill clarifies that any shared transportation project done with the state of Ohio would need separate approval by the General Assembly.
Local governments would largely mirror the same process as the state, and there would be added oversight with the creation of the 11-member Kentucky Local Government Public-Private Partnership Board, which would evaluate and approve P3 agreements that have a value worth 30 percent or more of the local government’s general revenues. The state Auditor’s office would also have authority to periodically review local P3 agreements.
Combs noted that the state and local governments are already able to work with private businesses in many capacities.
“My bill is to make sure these governments have added flexibility in how they carry these contracts out and to make sure that the public has much more input in the process,” she said. “By streamlining it, every agency will be operating off the same set of rules, ensuring all of them are following proper protocol.”
Combs has spoken twice at a national workshop focused on using this legislation for transportation projects.
“Given my work chairing the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, I know very well what P3 could mean for our highway system,” she said. “We can no longer rely on the federal government for major projects, and there are limits on what we can do at the state level without putting pressure on other projects. By partnering with the private sector, we will have another opportunity to move forward like other states are already doing. It’s a win for everyone involved.”