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Archive for Sunday, June 25, 2006

State to begin push for new transportation plan in 2008

Opponent says roads don’t fuel economic growth

June 25, 2006

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— In the not-too-distant future, Kansans may be asked to open up their wallets for another highway program.

The current $13 billion, 10-year comprehensive transportation plan expires in 2008, and officials already are starting to raise support for another one.

Patrick Hurley, of Economic Lifelines, a transportation lobbying group, said he receives requests from cities and towns all the time for road projects to help the economy.

"We hear from not just obviously the contractors, but from communities. We're certainly gathering that same kind of information," Hurley said.

The opening of the discussion occurred last week when the Kansas Department of Transportation showcased a new study that said the state's interstate highway system was in need of $515 million during the next 10 years to widen four sections of road in the Kansas City and Wichita areas. There was no estimate for improvements needed to 220 bridges and reconstruction of 150 miles of roadway on the interstates.

And the 864-mile interstate system in Kansas represents less than one percent of the 10,000 miles or roads and highways maintained by KDOT.

Alan Cobb, head of the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity, said highway interests want to raise Kansas taxes.

"They're advocating for a massive borrowing program and taxes. The current highway plan is the main reason we have the second-highest growth in state per capita debt since the early 1990s," Cobb said.

Cobb's organization is the main proponent of the so-called Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which is a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit government spending to inflation plus population growth and require voter approval of tax increases. So far, the amendment has failed in the Kansas Legislature.

Hurley said that similar budget-limiting measures in Colorado and Missouri have hurt their road systems.

But Cobb counters those states are doing better than Kansas economically.

"There is not a whole lot of evidence that more highway spending helps the economy," he said.

But many officials disagree with Cobb, saying that Kansas' road system is an economic boon.

Former Gov. Mike Hayden, who pushed through the state's first transportation plan in 1989, said, "I see people all the time who say thank you for the highways."

And Hayden, now secretary of the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Department, said those wanting another transportation plan must start preparing soon.

"It's definitely not too early to start working," Hayden said.

The 1989 plan totaled $2.6 billion and was touted then as the largest public works program in state history. It increased the state sales tax from 4 cents per dollar to 4.25 cents per dollar, fuel taxes seven cents per gallon over four years, and the automobile registration fees by 50 percent.

Ten years later, then-Gov. Bill Graves signed the current plan, which raised fuel taxes four cents per gallon over five years and allowed $1 billion in additional borrowing authority.

Since then, the Legislature has increased the fuel tax another two cents per gallon and increased the state's borrowing authority for transportation several times for nearly $500 million more.

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