FRANKFORT -- A bill that would strip a governor's power to appoint his or her own Transportation Cabinet secretary stems partly from former Gov. Matt Bevin's heavy use of the cabinet's discretionary road fund in the waning days of his administration, Senate President Robert Stivers told The Courier Journal.
Stivers, R-Manchester and co-sponsor of the bill, also accused past Democratic governors of abusing this power, but said Bevin hoarded millions of dollars and then drained the funds in order to aid his unsuccessful reelection campaign.
"... I did not think (it) was appropriate, what he did," Stivers said. "Retaining virtually all of the discretionary monies and then using it in the last 90 to 120 days to make nice press announcements ... to try to get himself ingratiated with various voting blocks here in the state."
The bill's main sponsor, Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, said the governor receives roughly $30 million annually in discretionary road money, "and when you see a governor save a large portion of that discretionary money for an election year, one might question the motives."
Stivers specifically alleged Bevin hoarded his discretionary funds in 2017 and 2018, then blew through those funds in the following months with press conferences handing out checks ranging from $500,000 to $800,000 to local officials to add blacktop to local roads.
"(Past governors) have not basically squirreled away their money for almost three years," Stivers said. "Really, it should be an emergency fund, where there's a bridge or something like that that washed out or a road where there's a slippage, things of that nature. But it's become more of a political slush fund."
A Senate committee advanced the the bill -- Senate Bill 4 -- on Wednesday. Democrats have criticized the bill as a blatantly partisan move to undercut new Gov. Andy Beshear.
"If Sen. Stivers believes that Gov. Bevin did the wrong thing, Gov. Bevin is no longer governor. You don't let one governor who has done the wrong thing influence your relationship with every future governor," Beshear said Wednesday.
SB 4 would create a new Kentucky Transportation Board. Its nine voting members would nominate three candidates for secretary that the governor would choose from.
The legislation passed out of the Senate Transportation committee by an 8-3 vote, with both Democrats present voting against it, along with Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown.
Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley also criticized SB 4 in a statement, indicating "significant private and public opposition" to the the bill.
"SB 4 would strip Gov. Beshear of authority that has been held by every previous governor of both parties, including Governors Bevin and Fletcher, and would create a transportation cabinet effectively run by committee," Staley stated. "Gov. Beshear is trying to build a new tone of cooperation and good faith. SB 4 makes that difficult."
When the bill was prefiled late last year, state Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, told Republican legislators in an email that it was an "asinine" attempt to limit a new Democratic governor's powers.
Higdon told reporters after the committee meeting that Beshear's current appointee, Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray, would be in his current position until at least February 2021 if the bill passed into law.
While the law would go into effect in July, the Senate would have to confirm a new secretary when the legislature reconvenes the following year.
On Monday, Stivers told The Courier Journal that SB 4 was not a partisan targeting of Beshear, noting that he and Higdon prefiled it on Election Day before anyone knew the outcome of the vote.