Archive for Thursday, February 1, 2007

Higher tolls sought for repairs at universities

Sebelius calls for increase to fund deferred maintenance

February 1, 2007


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— Motorists would pay higher tolls on the Kansas Turnpike to fund repairs at state universities under a $575 million plan released Wednesday by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

"This plan is responsible and focused, and it allows us to enhance the academic mission of our universities now and in the future," Sebelius said.

But the plan, specifically the toll increase, drew fire.

House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, called it a "traveler's tax."

House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said, "I believe transportation funds should not be used for purposes other than transportation."

Republicans, getting wind of the proposal earlier, filed legislation to block toll increases from being used for regents schools.

The Kansas Turnpike, a powerful political force, also mobilized.

"We don't believe our customers should be responsible to fix a problem that they didn't create," said Michael Johnston, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Turnpike Authority.

"It's awful news for our customers," he said.

The proposal would increase the turnpike toll from $8.75 for the entire 236-mile road to approximately $12.75 over seven years, Johnston said.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has proposed raising tolls on the Kansas Turnpike to help fund higher education needs, including maintenance on buildings. Vehicles passed through the East Lawrence tollbooth Wednesday.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has proposed raising tolls on the Kansas Turnpike to help fund higher education needs, including maintenance on buildings. Vehicles passed through the East Lawrence tollbooth Wednesday.

Sebelius on defense

Sebelius defended her plan, saying it didn't raise taxes, Kansas Turnpike tolls would still be among the lowest in the nation and it addressed deferred maintenance at universities that had been mounting for years.

Of her critics, she said, she was open to other ideas.

Higher education officials praised Sebelius for providing a specific plan and expending her political capital.

"It's a pretty creative plan," said Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway. "The governor understands that deferred maintenance is something that requires an ongoing budget item."

Reginald Robinson, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, said Sebelius produced "a serious, creative and comprehensive proposal for addressing the challenging maintenance issues confronting our state university campuses."

The proposal calls for spending $575 million over the next seven years.

Of that amount, $300 million would come from a surcharge on turnpike tolls of up to 5 percent per year for seven years. "We do have some asset potential in the turnpike," Sebelius said.

Sebelius' plan also would accelerate payment of $75 million in bonds on a previous "crumbling classroom" initiative, which is similar to a recommendation by the Kansas House.

And the proposal would allow $200 million in loans from the state's Pooled Money Investment Board. Sebelius said her "Foundations for the Future" plan would also require the universities to set aside maintenance endowments for new buildings.

Sebelius looking to increase toll prices to pay for university repairs

Under a new plan outlined by Gov. Sebelius, tolls on the Kansas Turnpike would increase to pay for repairs on state university campuses. Enlarge video

Campuses crumbling

The six regents universities have said they have a backlog of about $660 million in needed repairs, many of which are critical to the schools' operations.

In 2004, for instance, a broken water pipe flooded the main administration building at KU Medical Center, causing an estimated $1 million in damage, officials said.

Last month, an 84-year-old water pipe on the campus of Kansas State University burst, disrupting classes in several buildings.

The issue has been simmering for years. Higher education officials say the repair projects keep piling up because the state gives them about $15 million per year for maintenance when they need $85 million annually.

Last year, the regents recommended a tax increase and borrowing to address the problem, but the proposal died in the Legislature.

In 2004, universities said they needed $584.5 million. That number increased last year to $727 million, including $285 million for the KU campus in Lawrence and the Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

But last week, lawmakers told school officials to pare down the list by removing repairs at buildings not essential to education, such as Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas University.

KU Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Lariviere said the top priority for KU would be $8 million in repairs to utility tunnels that carry heating, cooling, Internet and telephone lines.

"Some of these tunnels were hand dug by first- and second-generation Kansans more than 100 years ago," Lariviere said.

Another problem building is Malott Hall, which houses KU's chemistry department and pharmacy school, he said.

"Malott Hall opened in 1954, and it looks, feels and smells like 1954 in Malott Hall," Lariviere said. A broken sewer pipe on Tuesday reinforced the odor problems in the building, officials said.


janeyb 11 years, 3 months ago

The higher tolls might be a good way to preserve the condition of the turnpike. Raise the tolls and daily drivers and truckers will avoid it. They made a big deal about raising the fees for the parking meters and parking fines in Topeka 2-3 years ago. Since they raised the fees, they have collected less and less each year. It solved the downtown parking problem.
I see in the Capital-Journal that Washburn and the community colleges want to be part of the deal. Shouldn't each county be responsible for their community college maintenance? Shouldn't Topeka and Shawnee county have to figure Washburn maintenance out on their own? I don't think this is going to go anywhere, because too many entities want in. Kathleen is an expert though at raising money, with disguised tax increases.

KS 11 years, 3 months ago

This is yesterday's news and the LJW can cut and paste all of my comments from that column. This woman is something else? I have really tried to sort of like her, but I guess first impressions are hard to change.

411mookie 11 years, 3 months ago

Maybe my tolls could help pay for the Libraries or the Historical society, heck maybe even the parks and rec problem they are in. This is STUPID. I can see it now - Welcome to Kansas campaign - "Pay for our schools and our inability to run things right"

whiskeysour 11 years, 3 months ago

I would rather they raise tolls, however unpleasant the thought might be, than sell the KTA to a foreign company like IL did and I think perhaps TX (though not sure about TX). In IL they "sold" a portion of road to a Spanish, I believe, company for just 99 year "lease" in order to raise cash. Not a good strategy in my opinion.

I do believe that some of this is just having to pay the piper for years of ignoring the problem . . . though wanting $$$ for non-academic buildings/structures seems unworthy to me. Though since WU is a municipal university it should probably be the city, not the state, funding them.

budwhysir 11 years, 3 months ago

Maybe they can raise tuition to help take care of our roads. Or raise sales tax to take care of a smoking ban, or raise taxes to study affordable housing, or they could charge more for parking so we can build a rec center for the schools

Tom McCune 11 years, 3 months ago

I posted this one late last night, but it didn't carry over, so here goes again...

I'm not positive, but I think the money to build the TPike was raised by selling bonds to the public, which bonds were approved by a public election. Those bonds were paid off over 20 or 30 years using money from the tolls. The public was promised that once the bonds were retired the toll gates would go away. At least that's the story my dad told me every time I got to hand over the money to the collector when I was a little kid.

OvRtheRoad 11 years, 3 months ago

Newell_Post -- I posted this on the other article for you this AM but I guess you didn't see it... yesterday's news!

Here's the history for you: Although it may have been said at the time, there was actually no basis for the myth that tolls would ever be removed. The original legislation said something like the road would "revert" to "state" control when: 1. the bonds were paid off AND 2. the roadway was in good condition. Any engineer out there can tell you that these 2 things aren't likely to ever happen at the same time. Plus, in order to achieve the latter, more bonds were sold and the cycle continued. That's my version of the history for what it's worth! It's a good example of a hard lesson we're learning now: If you build it, you must have a revenue source for maintaining it.

2xhawk 11 years, 3 months ago

I'm not anxious to pay more taxes, but if we've decided these institutions are valuable to the state, don't we all have an obligation to pony up an adequate amount? What sense does it make to raid one of the few state entities that's providing a superior service AND keeping costs down?

Let's just bite the bullet and raise taxes or temporarily increase the sales tax. Or close Ft. Hays, whatever.

deepthroat 11 years, 3 months ago

I also posted this on the other article, today For years, interest made on tuition money from regent universities in Kansas was rolled into the state's general fund. Only last year, they've started giving that money BACK to the schools where it belongs. So in essence, people who were going to college got taxed twice...once when they paid their taxes, and twice when they paid their tuition. Imagine how many building repairs could have been funded with all of that interest income on MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in tuition.

armyguy 11 years, 3 months ago

just recived a email through my k-tag email. Thought some might like it. It is as follows.


January 31, 2007 - For Immediate Release

WICHITA - Governor Sebelius announced this morning a proposal to fund the hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs to public university structures.

"As I understand it, one of the key elements in the Governor's proposal is the sale of $300 million in bonds to be repaid from a new surcharge to be levied against Kansas Turnpike Authority customers," said Michael Johnston, KTA President/CEO.

This surcharge, to be funded from higher tolls on Turnpike customers, would for the first time in its history break faith with the 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. "Naturally, I will continue to monitor the situation and earnestly hope that the Governor and Legislature find a more equitable solution to the important needs of our state."

janeyb 11 years, 3 months ago

When you think about it, this would be a regional tax increase. How many western Kansas people, especially those around Liberal ever use the Kansas turnpike? But those kids probably go to K-State, Fort Hays, Emporia State etc. They need to move the toll booths to the state lines and include more Kansasns to pay instead of just Kansas City to Topeka to Wichita. Make more Missourians pay, especially since it appears KU is going to start playing most of its football games there.

How about more user fees? You can smoke a cigarette in restricted buildings at $5 a cigarette. You're 50# overweight, but you can drink a sugary drink for $5 a can.

budwhysir 11 years, 3 months ago

If we charged for politicaly incorrect posts, we could make a bundle

kg52 11 years, 3 months ago

Once again it seems to be penalizing the working class because I think that is who uses the turnpike the most. There must be a better way. I guess I don't understand why there is such a poor state of repair, whatever happened to routine maintenance? I am sure the general public will foot this bill as always but there should be a better way than picking the pocket of the working poor time and time again.

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