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Gas tax will not increase

BY ADAM BEAM Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Kentucky drivers will not pay more at the pump this summer as House Democrats dropped their support for an increase in the state gas tax.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he has told legislative leaders to prepare the state's two-year road spending plan without the extra $107 million that would have come from a 1.5 cents-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax. And state lawmakers approved a two-year revenue bill Monday without the gas tax increase.

House Democrats narrowly approved the gas tax increase earlier this month, saying it was needed for road projects throughout the state. But the Republican-controlled Senate rejected the increase. That set up four days of contentious debate between House and Senate leaders, culminating with a marathon closed-door meeting that ended at 5:30 Sunday morning.

"There will be less money going back to counties and cities to repair the roads, that's just the fact of life," Stumbo said.

One casualty could be $37 million for the Brent Spence bridge in northern Kentucky. The double-decker bridge, which connects Covington with Cincinnati, opened in the 1960s. It carries more traffic than it was designed for, causing frequent traffic jams and safety concerns and has become a symbol of the nation's aging infrastructure.

Kentucky owns the bridge and is responsible for its maintenance. It will cost about $2.6 billion to replace the bridge. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear proposed using tolls to help pay that cost, but state lawmaker rejected that proposal. The Senate added an extra $37 million to the state's two-year road plan to pay for the land acquisition necessary for the project to get started.

State lawmakers will continue to negotiate the road funding plan in until April 14, when they are scheduled to vote on it.

But Stumbo said the final plan will not include the $37 million for the Brent Spence bridge.

"What the Senate did is pretty much money that is not likely to materialize," Stumbo said.

But Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said he would push to keep the money in the road plan.

"If that money stays in the project stays on track for the next two years. And that buys us some time to hopefully get the federal government around to recognize their obligation to be the primary finance mechanism for that bridge," McDaniel said. "I anticipate staying in."

Kentucky's gas tax is 30.8 cents per gallon, the 18th highest in the country. The average price for a gallon of gas Monday in Kentucky was $3.61 per gallon, the 16th highest in the country, according to AAA.

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