By BECKY KISER
Area legislators are concerned about the continued use of state highway monies to fund other areas of the budget.
The new Kansas governor, Jeff Colyer, is also speaking up about the situation. Last week Colyer told lawmakers the state “must end the highway funding sweeps and build an effective plan that promotes economic development and strengthens our transportation network.” Because of that sweeping for a number of years from the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), nearly two dozen projects to repair or expand highways are currently delayed.
During the Feb. 3 legislative forum in Hays, the participants talked about the possible implementation of a fuel tax, which unlike sales tax on fuel, cannot be swept or transferred.
“The money that’s being swept from KDOT comes from sales tax. The federal funds cannot be touched,” explained Sen. Rick Billinger (R-Goodland.) “A special sales tax was implemented with the last Comprehensive Transportation Plan.”
The Senate Ways and Means Committee, of which Billinger is a member, had a hearing at the end of January from which he expects a bill to be passed out to form a committee which will study a new Comprehensive Transportation Plan. Billinger anticipates it would be a 10-year plan and the committee would determine how it should be funded. “They’ll try to figure out a funding source other than sales tax, something that can’t be swept into the state general fund.”
Rep. Leonard Mastroni (R-Lacrosse) thinks a fuel tax isn’t a bad idea.
“I thought last year would have been an ideal time to implement it,” he said, “because gas was around $2 gallon and we’d probably get the least amount of pushback from that if we had done that then. It’s something I think we can still think about.”
If a new Comprehensive Transportation Plan is approved, Mastroni said his only concern would be that “priorities in the current plan’s construction projects that have been waiting for a number of years should not be changed in priority of which job gets done first.”
He’s worried that a new plan would open up priorities in eastern Kansas and the monies “would go to Wichita and the Johnson County and western Kansas may be kind of pushed back.
“There is a considerable amount of construction we want to do in southwestern Kansas by Dodge City and Garden City.”
Increased semi-truck traffic in southwest Kansas has also created a safety concern, Mastroni said. He illustrated the danger by relating a recent personal experience.
“We were on a tour bus filled with 40 to 50 legislators discussing highway projects and traveling on Highway 156 near Jetmore which goes into Garden City. There was a semi tanker behind us and he decided to pass us just outside Jetmore where there are a lot of hills, plus the highway there doesn’t have any shoulders.
“As the semi went past our tour bus, everybody stopped talking,” Mastroni recalled. “You could literally put your hand out the window and touch that tanker as it went by. It was a scary feeling.
“With the increase in truck traffic in some of these areas, we have to do something.”