Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday signed into law legislation that will make his appointed secretary of transportation also director of operations of the Kansas Turnpike Authority.
Brownback and Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Mike King said the law will produce savings through efficiencies between the 10,000-mile state highway system and the 236-mile toll road.
But critics of the legislation have called it a power grab by Brownback, a Republican, aimed at running off the current KTA president and chief executive officer, Mike Johnston, who served in the Legislature as a Democrat. Some Republicans also argued against the bill, saying the turnpike was efficiently run and should be left alone.
Brownback said he didn't know what would happen to Johnston, whom he called "a good guy."
King said that Johnston's future would be up to the KTA board, which is composed of five members: two members appointed by the governor, and King, and the chair of the Senate transportation committee and a member of the House transportation committee.
King added that a number of people who work for the turnpike and KDOT are eligible for retirement.
Johnston, who was not at the bill-signing ceremony, said he didn't know what would happen.
He said he hasn't had any conversations with Brownback or King "suggesting that I do something else."
He added,"Whatever my future is will be largely determined by my own preference."
Johnston wouldn't comment on whether he thought the new law was a good one, saying that was the prerogative of the Legislature and governor.
Brownback had called for merging KDOT and KTA in his State of the State address and built into his budget $30 million in savings over two years in efficiencies from the merger.
But during the legislative session, when asked by legislators, King provided no specifics on how the savings would happen.
On Friday, he said the state may be able to save money by sharing engineers, facilities and making some changes on bonding. He said he was going to form a focus group in the next several weeks to study the issue.
The legislation includes a provision that tolls from the turnpike can only be used for operation of the turnpike. In addition, the law will expire July 1, 2016, which supporters said would give the Legislature time to see if the new system was working well.