Maybe the Kansas House committee should have taken a look at the figures before it endorsed a new state transportation plan.
When Kansans picked up their newspapers Wednesday morning and read that the Kansas House Transportation Committee had drafted a transportation plan as big as the governor's plan but which required no bond financing or tax increases, they probably wondered, "How can they do that?"
The answer, as we learned later on Wednesday, was: "They can't."
This was not the kind of halfcocked activity that gives voters a great deal of confidence in the functioning of the Legislature.
On Tuesday the Transportation Committee came up with a plan that would require $2.4 billion in new revenues over eight years. Committee members reckoned that if the state was willing to give up on any tax cuts for the next several years, there would be enough money to cover their plan without any tax increases or additional bonded indebtedness. A staff member at the hearing suggested the committee might want to wait to review budget projections on the measure before endorsing the bill, but committee members decided that wasn't necessary. These people clearly know a great idea when they see it.
But sometime after the vote, the committee decided it wasn't such a great idea after all. One member was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "I hear they looked at budget runs and freaked out."
Whether or not they "freaked out," committee members apparently decided that dedicating so much state revenue to the transportation bill would dig too deeply into financing for other government programs -- little things like public schools, universities and social services.
Oh, well. Our bad. Back to the drawing board.
The committee was scheduled to meet again and hear about a Republican plan already outlined by House GOP leaders. It would spend $300 million less than Graves' plan. It was unclear whether it might include a proposal for increased gasoline taxes, but if House leaders were looking for a way to get the chamber to support such a tax, the Transportation Committee's miscue might have been a good ploy. After seeing how unlikely it would be that the state could fund transportation improvements from existing revenue sources, House members might be more likely to buy into a gasoline tax increase.
Whatever the strategy, Kansans hope legislators will do their best to get their figures straight before approving measures that taxpayers will then be obligated to fund.