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Talk of new taxes to pay for Kentucky roads

Changes coming to road funding in 2020 require Kentucky lawmakers find new ways to pay for projects.

LOUISVILLE (WHAS11) -- Potential new taxes to alternative fuel vehicles and/or upping the gas tax could be solutions to a problem waiting down the road in Kentucky.

Lawmakers just passed a budget, but leaders on both sides of the aisle warn that unless they develop a solution, funding changes are going to detour the Commonwealth's progress during the next budget debate.

The Federal government offers help paying for some road projects across Kentucky if the Commonwealth foots a percentage. That 80-20 split has been manageable due to credits for past toll projects, but those credits will expire within the next two years creating a hole lawmakers say cannot be filled by the current gasoline tax alone.

On the General Assembly's final day at work in April, Senate President Robert Stivers rose in agreement with fellow Republican, Oldham County Senator Ernie Harris. Senator Harris was raising awareness of a bill on the horizon which includes new ways of paying for roads including taxes on hybrid or electric vehicles and a gas tax increase.

“So basically," Sen. Harris warned. “If we don't do something to affect the gas tax we will be building no roads in 2021 with state money because all of the state money will have to go to the 80 percent, 20 percent match.”

Senate Minority Leader, Democrat, Ray Jones applauded Senator Harris joining the floor discussion suggesting that conversations need to begin.

Interim committees are expected to tackle the topic this summer.

But the issue is more complex than it may sound, you cannot just fix the problem by raising the gas tax because cars are becoming more fuel efficient.

“The hybrid and electric cars are going to become increasingly prevalent in today's economy," insists Kentucky House Speaker Protem, David Osborne.

And you can't just tax hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles because visitors put a lot of wear and tear on our roads.

“One of the problems with addressing it, quite frankly, one of Kentucky's greatest advantages in this space is our logistics and our road system," said Speaker Osborne. "And half of the Eastern United States drives through Kentucky.”

This week we caught up with Republican State Representative Jerry Miller who owns two hybrids which would be taxed under the House proposal.

“Not one of my favorite choices," admitted Representative Miller. “But the truth is, as we progress into more and more fuel-efficient vehicles, whether electric or hybrid, somebody's got to pay for the roads and the way this country and state have chosen to pay for roads has been fuel taxes. So we've got to recover that or we're going to have to go to a completely new system.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer admits it's not just Kentucky's conundrum.

“So whatever the method is, what I sense in Frankfort and also around the country, this is a national problem, is that states are figuring out ways to make sure that their road plans are properly invested in," Mayor Fischer said.

Senator Harris said that the best case would be to devise a solution during the interim and get something passed early in 2019 during the short legislative session.

That would allow lawmakers to adjust for funding changes in time for the next budget talks in 2020.