Kansas Legislature OKs KDOT budget cut

| 4/10/2003

Kansas lawmakers have approved a budget that cuts more than $120 million from its highway program, but truckers who drive in the state are not likely to see any changes yet.

Kansas Secretary of Transportation Deb Miller said the department would not cut any highway projects that are already under way.

“At this point, we are not cutting any announced projects in the program,” Miller said. “We have no need to withhold projects, delay projects, not go forward in fiscal year 2004.”

Miller said if the Legislature does not cut the department's funds any further in future years, KDOT can absorb the cuts. In part, she said, changes in the economy could help the department. For example, when the department started the program in 1999, it assumed it would pay 5.3% interest on bonds; now the rate is much lower. On the $600 million in bonds the department has yet to sell, the savings could be considerable. The department also assumed a much higher rate of inflation than it now faces.

“That doesn't capture all of what we need to capture,” she said. “But what we're looking to do, as I said, is to absorb this cut not just in this one fiscal year, but really throughout our comprehensive transportation program, which runs out to fiscal year 2009.”

The department also has a number of so-called “set-aside programs,” projects it decides whether to pursue on a year-to-year basis.

“One of the options, rather than eliminating or delaying an announced project would be to make reductions in those programs in the out years,” she said. “The impact ultimately would be not building something that otherwise would have been built, but it wouldn't be eliminating a project that's already been announced.

“We probably have looked at all the things we can that aren't connected with eliminating projects,” she said. “We've sort of taken all the flexibility, so to speak, out of the program. If we have additional cuts into the future, I think we'll have to take a much more serious look at the need to eliminate or delay projects.”

The comprehensive highway program includes a massive number of road projects on highways throughout Kansas. Hundreds of bridges will be replaced, resurfaced or overlayed; a number of roads will be reconstructed; some rest areas will be upgraded; and railroad crossings with be improved. Some roads will see high-tech additions, such as the “intelligent transportation system” proposed for interstates in the Kansas City area, and de-icing systems planned for some bridges, including one in Finney County. Other highways will be widened, such as U.S. 36 in Doniphan County, U.S. 50 in Finney County, U.S. 59 in Douglas County, Kansas Highway 61 in McPherson and Reno counties, and U.S. 69 in Bourbon and Miami counties.

The 2004 budget, proposed by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, cuts $128 million from the state's comprehensive highway program in fiscal 2004. In addition to the $128 million, KDOT will also lose $31 million from its fiscal 2004 budget, and an additional $13 million during fiscal 2003, to pay the cost of the highway patrol, Miller said. KDOT has not paid for the highway patrol since 1983.

SB6 passed both the House and Senate April 3. The House vote was 85-36; the Senate vote was 32-8. It is now awaiting the governor's signature to become law. The money cut from roads was used to help balance the state's books.

In addition to the cuts for fiscal 2004, former Gov. Bill Graves, now president of the American Trucking Associations, cut $95 million out of last year's transportation budget. The $128 million withheld for fiscal 2004 is state sales tax money normally transferred to KDOT for the highway program. Since fiscal year 2000, $612 million in sales tax money for roads has been shifted elsewhere.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark H. Reddig can be reached at mreddig@landlinemag.com.