State Rep. Mike Denham and State Sen. Steve West were the keynote speakers during the Maysville-Mason County Area Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting Thursday.
Road projects, the state pension fund, and replacing the necklace lighting on the Simon Kenton Bridge were just a few of the topics touched upon during the meeting.
Both gave an overview of several pieces of legislation passed during the 2015 Session of the General Assembly. Among the bills highlighted were the heroin bill, dating violence bill, legislation creating the Craft Academy at Morehead State University, and the gasoline tax bill. Another bill addressing the underfunded Kentucky Teacher's Retirement System was also presented during the 2015 session, but didn't gain enough support for passage.
Denham said the situation with the state's pension funds, including the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System fund, would have to be addressed in the 2016 session. According to Denham, the Kentucky Retirement System is underfunded $9 billion and the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System is underfunded $14 billion. Denham referenced the situation as the perfect storm, with investments taking a hit beginning with the 2008 recession and more baby boomers retiring.
House Bill 510 dealt with the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement, which Denham referred to a being "critical" for his district of Mason, Bracken, Fleming and Robertson counties.
According to a statement Denham issued Thursday, the 2015 Kentucky General Assembly has appropriated and/or authorized appropriations for nearly $200 million in tobacco settlement money for fiscal years 2014-2016. Funds appropriated for fiscal year 2014-2015 are based on an expected payment of $99.7 million in 1998 Master Tobacco Settlement (MSA) dollars to Kentucky. It was also noted in the release and during Denham's presentation that the 2015 General Assembly also authorized appropriations of up to $26.6 million to cover any deficit in anticipated tobacco settlement payments for fiscal years 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. The $26.6 million would be drawn from $68.6 million in yet-unappropriated funds received as part of a 2014 settlement regarding nonparticipating manufacturers to the MSA.
The subject of all the road construction projects taking place across the region was also addressed by Denham. He said the projects are behind schedule by six to eight weeks because of the snow in March and then rain in April. He said paving East Second Street is the next project to begin, which should take about six weeks to complete.
Denham and West said several road projects are behind schedule because of the complexities of working with utility companies. The stretch of U.S. 68 from Millersburg to Paris is behind schedule 18 months because work had to be stopped three times because of the relocation of utility lines, which must be done by the utility, not the transportation cabinet contractors. He said the widening of Kentucky 9, AA Highway, on the western end of Mason County is one year behind schedule because of the same reason.
Denham also explained the stretch of U.S. 62 (formerly 68) being replaced in Mason County had to be done because the road bed underneath the layers of concrete and asphalt has eroded over the years, causing the seams of the road to pull apart and creating a rough driving surface. He said the project could have been delayed several years or done now while the money is available.
Work has begun on the permanent cap at the Maxey Flats Disposal site in Fleming County and should be finished in 2016; the hydro electric plant in Bracken County is scheduled to come online soon; ground will be broken soon on the Kentucky 1159 project; and the finishing touches are being put on the Flemingsburg bypass.
"Eighty to $90 million will be spent in this area over the next two years on roads," Denham said.
Both legislators said the situation with the necklace lighting on the Simon Kenton Bridge hasn't been forgotten, rather it's on hold until a lawsuit involving a fatality of a worker on a bridge in Owensboro with similar lighting is settled.