Gov. Kathleen Sebelius shouldn't be expecting a thank you card from Sean Wilson.
The longtime employee of Hallmark Cards Inc. in Lawrence faces the prospect of seeing his commuting costs rise even more, now that the governor is proposing a plan to boost Kansas Turnpike fees to help pay for repairs and maintenance needs on college campuses.
Sebelius' plan calls for boosting turnpike tolls as much as
5 percent per year for each of the next seven years. The move would provide $300 million to help tackle $575 million in deferred maintenance issues at state universities.
Wilson isn't all that excited about the prospect of paying up to another $1.14 a day on daily turnpike tolls by 2014, which would be enough to add $26 to a monthly K-Tag bill. And that's not including any future rate increases required by the Kansas Turnpike Authority.
"It sounds like a great idea for the University of Kansas, but it's more money out of my pocket," said Wilson, a printing press operator who recently joined a van pool to save money on his commute from Lee's Summit, Mo. "It just puts me further in the hole."
Michael Johnston, the turnpike authority's president and chief executive officer, isn't in love with the plan either.
The surcharge, he said, would break faith with a user-fee concept that has been part of the legal tradition of the Kansas Turnpike throughout its 50-year history.
"While I have enormous professional respect for Governor Sebelius, and have known her for 25 years, I am, nonetheless, very disappointed that the governor has turned to turnpike customers to correct a problem they did not cause and for which they should not be held responsible," Johnston said in a statement.
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Steve Brown, plant manager for Berry Plastics in northern Lawrence, said that travel costs - including turnpike tolls - were a big reason the company closed its warehouse in Topeka last year and shifted those operations to a building in southeast Lawrence.
But traveling on the turnpike is inevitable, he said, and paying more for tolls to address needs not directly related to the road doesn't seem fair.
"We're moving vehicles all the time," he said. "Whether it's employees or trucks to and from other locations, it would affect us. It really would."
Karen Schuyler, plant manager for ICL Performance Products at the edge of North Lawrence, said that the 30 or so tanker trucks and dry-freight vehicles that come and go each day already come with added costs, in the form of fuel surcharges.
"That's appropriate for the carrier, because it is a big cost item for them," she said. "This (turnpike surcharge), I would hope, would be a small enough cost item that they wouldn't feel the need to pass it along to us."
Wilson, who has worked at Hallmark for 30 years, said that paying for deferred maintenance needs on college campuses should be covered either by higher tuition rates or a tax increase.
He has two daughters to support: one who attends a community college near Tulsa, and another who is headed next fall to the University of Oklahoma.
And Sebelius, Wilson said, won't be doing coaches Mark Mangino or Ron Prince any favors on the football field in the coming years.
"This just makes me mad," Wilson said. "It gives us more incentive to beat KU, K-State, all of 'em."