BELLEFONTE, Ky. — State investment in infrastructure upgrades is essential to economic development, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ashli Watts said Thursday.

Watts called on area business and civic leaders to lobby for infrastructure spending during the 2020 legislative session. She spoke during the Ashland Alliance’s annual legislative preview luncheon.

“There is nothing more critical we can do in this session than increase infrastructure investment, and I think it could be done in a bipartisan manner,” Watts said following her presentation.

“For us, it is the key to economic development. It’s the number one thing businesses look at in locating to Kentucky,” she said.

Watts walked Alliance members and guests through a handful of priorities, including hot-button issues like pension reform and tax reform.

Kentucky needs additional spending for infrastructure upgrades because current spending levels are not sufficient to maintain its roads and bridges, much less build new ones, Watts said.

A Chamber infrastructure reports shows 8 percent of the state’s roads are in poor condition and the state ranks 27th nationally in structurally deficient bridges.

The preferred vehicle for funding infrastructure upgrades would be a gas tax hike, Watts said. With an increase in the number of fuel-efficient cars on the highway, less money goes into the road fund than six years ago, she said.

The chamber also favors a shift to consumption-based taxes to raise more revenue, Watts said. One avenue would be to enable local communities to enact local option sales taxes, and to raise restaurant taxes.