Archive for Friday, August 5, 2005

KDOT: State fared poorly in road bill

Kansas may not be able to finish 10-year highway program

August 5, 2005


— Even with a sizable increase in federal funds coming, the state could be forced to consider canceling road projects it promised to communities, top transportation officials say.

Kansas fared poorly in a $286.4 billion highway bill Congress approved last week and might not have enough money to finish all of its 10-year highway improvement program by 2009, Transportation Secretary Deb Miller acknowledged. The department expects to need at least several months to analyze the 1,700-page measure, however.

While the amount of money allocated to Kansas is 19.3 percent higher than under existing federal law, the average for all states and the District of Columbia was 30.3 percent. Only five states fared worse than Kansas.

"I would have to confess I was taken aback when I saw our numbers," Miller said Wednesday during an interview with The Associated Press. "We did not do well in this bill, particularly not when you look at us relative to other states in the nation. We're feeling a little bit sick about it."

The assessment by Miller and other KDOT officials came less than 16 months after Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a bill approved by state legislators to keep Kansas' $13 billion transportation program, started in 1999, from crumbling.

That measure assumed that Congress would provide an additional $50 million a year that Kansas could dedicate to its program. KDOT's rough estimate is that the federal dollars will fall between $15 million and $20 million short, annually.

"Some people are saying it's great now that the bill has finally passed; it's taken out the uncertainty of what was going to happen," said Terry Heidner, KDOT's planning and development director. "The flip side of that is sometimes the certainty is not the certainty you would like to have. Until you know, you can always have hope."

Under current law, Kansas' share of federal highway dollars averaged $321 million a year. Under Congress' plan, it will jump to $383 million annually, into 2009.

The difference is $62 million a year, but not all of that money is allocated to the state. About a third of it goes to cities and counties.

Also, Miller said, it's unlikely that Kansas will be able to spend the full amount. Annual appropriations bills by Congress have typically sliced 11 percent of states' highway dollars, she said.

Miller acknowledged that increased federal funds will help the state, but she added, "When you see other states doing considerably better than we do, you know, it makes you feel like you got left out of the party."

When legislators enacted the state's highway program in 1999, they authorized bonds, increased motor fuels taxes and dedicated other revenues to transportation. But they quickly began diverting money from highway projects to shore up other parts of the budget.

Miller had threatened to cancel about $550 million worth of projects over five years.

The measure enacted last year by Kansas legislators said that if federal funds didn't increase as much as expected, KDOT could issue up to $60 million in bonds to cover the gap.

"The gap is probably going to be more than the $60 million," Miller said. "Until we've done a little more detailed analysis, we won't know exactly where we are."

Miller and other KDOT officials blamed Kansas' poor showing on a battle between congressional delegations from so-called donor states and from other states.

For donor states, their share of federal dollars has been less than the amount of federal motor fuels tax revenues collected from their residents. Some states, particularly sparsely populated ones, receive more: Alaska has received more than $5 in highway money for every $1 in motor fuels tax collected.

Donor states persuaded Congress to guarantee them a bigger share, while states like Alaska didn't see their status change. Kansas typically came out a little ahead but will become a donor state by 2007.

Had the congressional legislation allocated $300 billion or more, Kansas' status wouldn't have changed, KDOT officials said. But President Bush refused to accept a bill that big.

Suellen Markley, KDOT's federal program consultant, said that meant some states "had to be in the vise."

"And it was us, I guess," she said.

Highway Bill

A look at the states faring best and worst under a new highway bill. States seeing the smallest average annual increases in federal funds under a highway bill recently approved by Congress (shown in percentages): State -- Increase Connecticut -- 19 Hawaii -- 19 New Hampshire -- 19 New York -- 19 Pennsylvania -- 19 Kansas -- 19.3 Massachussetts -- 19.5 Rhode Island -- 23.1 Iowa -- 25.2 Washington -- 26.6 Seeing the biggest increases: State -- Increase Colorado -- 46.8 Minnesota -- 46.1 Arizona -- 40.7 Vermont -- 39.4 Texas -- 37.4 Ohio -- 36 District of Columbia -- 39.9 Indiana -- 34.7 California -- 34.3 Illinois -- 33.3


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.