Republican legislators give their proposal
for funding state's highway projects
By John Hanna
TOPEKA, Kan. Republican legislative leaders are proposing
to shore up the state's comprehensive transportation plan
with bonds, sales tax revenue and federal funds.
The plan, which GOP leaders outlined Tuesday, is designed
to prevent cancellation of highway projects promised to communities
under the $13.5 billion, 10-year transportation plan started
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, has offered a plan that
rests on issuing $465 million in bonds and dedicating $264
million in sales tax revenue to highway work.
The Republican approach requires just $150 million in bonds
but sets aside $395 million in sales tax revenue for transportation
projects before the program ends in 2009.
Republicans also count on an additional $300 million in federal
highway funds over six years, while the Sebelius plan makes
no assumptions about the outcome of current congressional
debate over transportation funding.
"It makes no sense to do a fix and ignore the federal
money," said Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson.
Sebelius, in a statement issued Tuesday, suggested the Republicans
were overly optimistic about federal aid. But she pledged
to work with them to secure federal money and said she was
encouraged that they had offered a plan.
"While we've taken slightly different approaches, I'm
hopeful that we can reach a compromise that will allow us
to protect valuable jobs and keep our promises to communities,"
Kerr and House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said the GOP
plan also is designed to ensure the state has enough money
to continue highway maintenance at current levels after the
transportation plan ends.
Under Sebelius' plan, the Department of Transportation projected
a deficit $238 million in its budget for 2010. Republicans
said their plan leaves KDOT with $141 million to carry into
Sebelius and the Legislature's Republican leaders have said
they want to safeguard both the state's credibility and the
high-paying construction jobs that highway projects produce.
Transportation Secretary Deb Miller has said that unless
legislators act in the current session, the state will have
to cancel $150 million worth of projects later this year and
an additional $100 million each year into 2008.
KDOT has estimated the gap between available revenues and
promised spending at $775 million into 2009, absent passage
of a plan this year.
In setting up the transportation program in 1999, legislators
promised to dedicate ever-increasing amounts of sales tax
revenues to highway projects. But they quickly began diverting
the revenue to other government programs as other funding
sources declined, and no sales tax money was set aside for
transportation in 2003 and 2004.
Both Sebelius and GOP leaders propose to resume the sales
tax set-aside in 2006 at about $50 million. But the GOP plan
calls for the set-aside to jump to $168 million in 2007, whereas
the Sebelius plan increases it to only $105 million.
Sebelius has said a larger set-aside than the one she proposed
would be unrealistic, given the demands of financing education,
social services and other government programs.