Archive for Thursday, January 17, 2013

Brownback plans to transfer highway funds to schools, merge Kansas Turnpike Authority raise questions

Gov. Sam Brownback's State of the State address earlier this week pointed to the existence of the Kansas Department of Transportation and Kansas Turnpike Authority as "one of the clearest examples of duplication in state government."
The governor proposed merging the two under Secretary of Transportation Mike King.

Gov. Sam Brownback's State of the State address earlier this week pointed to the existence of the Kansas Department of Transportation and Kansas Turnpike Authority as "one of the clearest examples of duplication in state government." The governor proposed merging the two under Secretary of Transportation Mike King.

January 17, 2013


On the street

Do you think Gov. Brownback’s suggestion to combine the Kansas Turnpike Authority with the Kansas Department of Transportation is a good idea?

I think it would cause some issues in the long run because we wouldn’t have two separate entities to meet two separate needs.

More responses

Reader poll
Do you think Gov. Brownback should try to combine the Kansas Department of Transportation with the Kansas Turnpike Authority?

or See the results without voting


— The latest version of the turnpike tussle has started in the 2013 legislative session.

Gov. Sam Brownback's State of the State address earlier this week pointed to the existence of the Kansas Department of Transportation and Kansas Turnpike Authority as "one of the clearest examples of duplication in state government."

The governor proposed merging the two under Secretary of Transportation Mike King.

But the merger idea hit a speed bump Thursday when King appeared before the Senate Transportation Committee.

"I have reservations about why we should fix something that really isn't broken," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. He said he believed Brownback was simply trying to expand his control over state government.

Hensley said the Kansas Turnpike Authority, which oversees the 236-mile Kansas Turnpike, is efficiently run, supported by tolls and receives no tax dollars.

Brownback said merging the two entities would save the state $30 million over two years, although he provided no details about where those savings would come from.

Earlier this week, Brownback's Budget Director Steve Anderson said under the proposed merger there would be savings where turnpike revenue could be used to make improvements to "feeder roads" to the turnpike. But Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said the proposal would produce savings in merging administrative offices and service crews.

Secretary King said he thought bringing the Turnpike Authority under the Kansas Department of Transportation would make KDOT more efficient. KDOT oversees about 10,000 miles of state highways.

King said both KDOT and the Turnpike Authority have road designers and facilities in the same city in six locations. He said there are eight states where the head of the state transportation agency is also over the turnpike system.

But Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, said the Kansas Turnpike is seen as "the crown jewel" of roads. "We really need to be very careful with the changes that we make. We need to be very cautious," he said.

Michael Johnston, who is president and chief executive officer of the Turnpike Authority, said he was eager to learn more about Brownback's plan.

He declined to give his opinion on the merger proposal.

But he said one of the attributes of the Turnpike Authority is that it is independent of politics. "Ours is independent and it is non-partisan. One of the reasons it has been so successful is because it has not been politicized by any governor," he said.

Johnston said the Turnpike Authority was chartered in 1953 to build and operate the tollway without state dollars. "That is what we have done," he said.

Still, there have been attempts in the past to tinker with the turnpike.

In 2006, two major investment banking firms issued reports on how much the turnpike would fetch if it were sold to private interests. In 2007, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, proposed increasing tolls and using the revenue to fund repairs at state universities. And in 2009, a legislator filed a bill to abolish the Turnpike Authority and use the tolls to fund state government. None of these proposals went anywhere.

Secretary King said Kansas highway officials are looking at other states that are constructing more toll roads, but he said there was no study identifying a potential toll road in Kansas.

Donovan said Kansas may not have the population density to make more toll roads feasible.

Brownback has proposed over the next two years taking $245 million from the state highway fund and using it for public school funding, including special education.

Donovan said he was concerned about the Legislature using KDOT funds for other purposes. He said policymakers tell the public that their motor fuels taxes and other fees go to paying for transportation improvements, "then we spend it on schools. That sort of makes the public trust us even less."

But King said low bids, low inflation and low interest rates are freeing up highway funds. He said no projects under the state's comprehensive transportation plan would be jeopardized by Brownback's proposal to transfer those funds to schools.


Brian Laird 4 years ago

This does make some sense. As I understand it, fuel taxes and registration do not cover the full cost of highway construction, so that transferring some of the general tax revenue used to fund highways to education is reasonable. One could then look into modifying fuel taxes and registration in order to cover the full cost of highway construction.

gccs14r 4 years ago

How about fixing the AMTRAK rails from Newton to the Colorado border, or doing a general higher-speed upgrade for the entire Kansas portion of the route? Or lay a high speed railbed down next to the BNSF tracks so AMTRAK doesn't have to wait for freight and the rails aren't worn down as quickly. Commuter rail from Manhattan to Independence, MO would be good, too. If we have surplus transportation dollars, let's work on improving our public transportation infrastructure.

gccs14r 4 years ago

Tens of thousands every weekday.

deec 4 years ago

This move is designed to make it easier to privatize the turnpike and camouflage the state's impending budget deficit.

gccs14r 4 years ago

And then in a few years people will wonder why there are bus-sized potholes in a road we have to pay to drive on.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Cancel the Haskell Wetlands portion of the SLT, and well over half of the school funding shortfall is covered. A win-win situation all the way around.

jhawkinsf 4 years ago

But, but, but. The people voted on that. Isn't that your rationale for having a vote on the rec. center. The will of the people.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

I think we should have a vote over whether to bulldoze your house.

jhawkinsf 4 years ago

Translation: All this "will of the people" you've been spouting is just so much BS. When the will of the people agree with you, fine. When the will of the people disagree, the will of the people be damned.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Sometimes the people are wrong, especially when posed a badly flawed referendum question concerning the disposition of land the county (and Baker) had no business disposing of.

jhawkinsf 4 years ago

We're blessed to have you as the arbiter of when the people are right and when the people are wrong.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Oh, get over yourself. Everybody is always their own arbiter of when other people are right or wrong, including in votes taken in elections.

BTW, I doubt that even 8 per cent of the total eligible voters voted in favor of this. You often cite such facts when expounding on your latest round of cynicism.

jhawkinsf 4 years ago

I really don't understand what argument you're making, Bozo. You want to hold an election where it's likely few will actually vote. But if the vote goes your way, then it's proof that the people agree with that position. And if the vote doesn't go your way, then it's to be ignored because the voters were wrong. Do I have that right?

BTW - For some time, I've been on the fence when it comes to this project. I'm all for development when investors are sinking millions of their own money into a project. I'm much more skeptical when it comes to outlays of public money. And in this case, my skepticism tipped the scales a several weeks ago when I said in this forum that I opposed this project and would vote against it if given the opportunity. Still, having an election with so few voters is meaningless to me, and apparently it is to you as well, unless those few agree with you. Then it becomes very meaningful.

In my opinion, unless one third of eligible voters actually vote, it's as meaningful as one of those non scientific polls the LJW puts out each day. And yes, that includes elections for the city commissioners themselves, which if memory serves, half of that one third threshold was reached last time.

sciencegeek 4 years ago

This administration has a history of stating as fact what they want the world to be, not what is.

One example is the plan to save millions on Medicare by outsourcing to companies that also have to make a profit, which is easily done, if you cut benefits. Several other misguided examples also come to mind. So it should be no surprise that merging the KTA with KDOT will be a "good thing", too. All ya gotta do is lessen services to the taxpayers!

When you are determined to shrink the size of government no matter what the cost, shrinking services is an easy way to do it. Especially when you know you'll get re-elected anyway. Potholes aren't a problem when you have your own jet.

Steve Jacob 4 years ago

SLT, 15th and Iowa, even roads around the new Rock Chalk Park might be in trouble.

2xhawk 4 years ago

Since KDOT roads are in crummy shape, and the Turnpike's are A+, maybe we should consider dissolving KDOT, and turning over the highway system to the KTA.

Seriously, the only way this works is if the State 1. raises tolls on the Turnpike, 2. reduces maintenance, and/or 3. stiffs the bondholders. Those might help plug some holes in Sam's budget, but they're not so good for the rest of us.

P.S. Anybody who thinks the State won't reduce maintenance on the KTA just needs to go back a year, and look at the stories about Sam pulling millions of dollars out of KDOT's budget to cover shortfalls in other departments.

katskull 4 years ago

In April of 2010 Reader's Digest published a list of the states with the best roads. Kansas was #1. Shortly after, some other entity, that I can't remember the name of, also published a similar independent report and Kansas ranked #1 in that one too. Have you been to other states? The ones I've been to didn't have roads as good as Kansas.

Randy Leonard 4 years ago

Don't expect that to last much longer. As Brownback continues to defund the state government the roads will shortly start to deteriorate. It will only take 4 to 5 years at lower funding levels before it become noticeable.

thinkagain 4 years ago

Oh Mike Hayden and Bill Graves where are you when we need you? You never looked so good.

Matthew Herbert 4 years ago

everyone voted for Graves in his re-election bid. He won by a larger margin of victory than ANY other governor running that year. Bill Graves was the answer to the question of "Why should Kansas eliminate term limits". Kathleen Sebelius would have also been an accepted response.

tomatogrower 4 years ago

I'm confused. If the Turnpike Authority pays for itself without tax dollars, then how will it save tax money? How can they save something they don't get? Are the employees of the Turnpike Authority paid with tax dollar?

2xhawk 4 years ago

So, we're going to replace the semi-private high-tech KTA maintenance (wireless weather data transmitters, etc) with the low-bid KDOT procedures?

What could go wrong?

windjammer 4 years ago

Thwe operation of the Kansas Turnpike uses zero tax dollars. Keep your hands off Brownie

Water 4 years ago

Remember the famous words of the bank robber Willy Sutton? Question: Willy, why do you rob banks? Answer: 'Cause that's where the money is.

TongiJayhawk 4 years ago

As it states in the article: "King said both KDOT and the Turnpike Authority have road designers and facilities in the same city in six locations. He said there are eight states where the head of the state transportation agency is also over the turnpike system."

jhawkinsf 4 years ago

Only to a person so far to the left of the political spectrum that the center can't be seen even with a high powered telescope. Or to say it another way, someone who purposely makes themselves politically irrelevant.

chootspa 4 years ago

Sarcasm detector malfunctioning. Replace sarcasm detector.

jhawkinsf 4 years ago

Actually, having read many of liberal's posts, I truly believe he thinks both Obama and Brownback are far to the right of where he thinks they should be, making them indistinguishable to him. I don't think any sarcasm was intended by him. Now you ....

pace 4 years ago

Anyone know how bozoback, is doing in the polls, not that I think the Koch lacky's worth is in his popularity, just trying to figure out if there is something in the water in Kansa?

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

"But King said low bids, low inflation and low interest rates are freeing up highway funds."

Low interest rates eh? Does that mean that Brownback is bringing borrow and spend ,borrow and spend,borrow and spend,borrow and spend officially to Kansas which is Reaganomics which is supply side economics which produces big debt:

From the school of big debt brings Kansas to the beltway.

In fact, by the time the second Bush left office, the national debt had grown to $12.1 trillion:

This GOP ENTITLEMENT - Over half of that amount had been created by Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy.

This GOP ENTITLEMENT - Another 30% of the national debt had been created by the tax cuts for the wealthy under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

This GOP ENTITLEMENT - Fully 81% of the national debt was created by just these three Republican Presidents.

Republicans love debt when they are in charge.

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Sam wants to kill the mortgage interest tax deduction. How do real republicans feel about this?

Sam definitely represents the Rt Wing Libertarian Neocon Fundamentalist Tea Party for Economic Terrorism.

jhawkinsf 4 years ago

Right Wing Libertarian Neocon Fundamentalist Tea Party For Economic Terrorism. Or RWLNFTPFET for short.

Matthew Herbert 4 years ago

Libertarian, NeoCon, Fundamentalist, Tea Party. How little you know of politics if you believe these four political orientations are synonymous.

Larry Sturm 4 years ago

Number 1 it is aginst the law to use gasoline tax dollars that the public voted for road maintence and use it for school finance, because he cut taxes for 200,000 businesses

The KTA is is a seperate enity and people who pay tolls expect to drive on a good road and it is well maintained as it should be.

headdoctor 4 years ago

Here we go again with Brownback's ignorance about Federal highway funding. If he rips $245 million out of the Kansas highway budget how many Federal dollars is he putting in the trash can in the long run. I would guess at least $245 million in potential matching funds. Just when I think the man can't possible get any more stupid he proves me wrong.

He doesn't need to be declared or to tell people he is the Dictator of Kansas. He is showing it by his own actions.

Randy Leonard 4 years ago

The Federal share of a project is 80% and state 20% so he is potentially giving up $1.225 Billion in Federal funds.

Greg Cooper 4 years ago

Which of the lives saved by the bar checks is not worth "$120k"?

And, by the way, $120k for Lawrence alone? Source, please.

And, by the way, again, the Turnpike Authority has a lot of money because the President of the KTA is a savvy businessman who has a grip on reality, knows his business, and does not steal from one department to feed another, things the legislature and Sam and the Gang need to emulate.

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

"Brownback plans to transfer highway funds to schools" Watch the source of this reckless statement.

Don't believe a word of it. He is just saying this hoping to quiet down those who realize how fiscally important a good education is for the person and the state. Those who realize public education is the best bang for the tax buck.

Sam Brownback wants to funnel tax dollars into corporate schools where money is spent recklessly aka wasted in a big way. It is the corporations that fund his political campaigns.

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Perhaps we're seeing why the rt wing republican party did not want even Sam Brownback as a presidential candidate = stiffed by his own party.

blindrabbit 4 years ago

Sammy will figure out a way to screw up the state highway system. Maybe need to combine some design types, but please don't lessen the quality of the roads. Kansas may be backwards with respect to some issues, but the State Highway System is pretty good. We travel throughout the U.S. by auto, Kansas does well as compared to other close states including Colorado, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri

BlueWaffle 4 years ago

I wanted to make a suggestion for Sam that could save the State of Kansas. If you used one of these strategies Sammy I bet Kansas would save a crapload of money

For Sam Brownback

For Sam Brownback by BlueWaffle

Larry Sturm 4 years ago

How does brownback expect people and business to come to kansas when he is distroying our education and our infrastructure?

sciencegeek 4 years ago

Because it happened in Texas. They have a crummy education system and one of the highest percentage of minimum-wage jobs, but their population increases, so none of that matters.

The fact that they have tons of OIL and lots of large corporations are located there and they have this "ocean" thing to bring tourism--none of which applies to Kansas--doesn't draw people. Not in Brownback's dream world, anyway.

John Hamm 4 years ago

One thing for certain the KTA NEEDS to come under the jurisdiction of Kansas Highway Department. They run that road anyway they want. "It's our road and the State doesn't have anything to say about it." Yes, I've been told that by them.

Greg Cooper 4 years ago

Let me run this by you:

OB: Who actually controls the turnpike? KTA: We do, with funds provided only by the users of the roads, without any income from the State of Kansas. Pretty efficient, wouldn't you agree? OB: Duh.............

jayhawklawrence 4 years ago

I have always been amazed at the size of our transportation budgets at the state and national level. This is where much of the government pork business takes place and it is an efficient system for transferring tax dollars to the bank accounts of favored political donors. It is a decades old good ole boy network. Paul Ryan's family owes their wealth and probably his poltiical career to the relationships his family established through the Wisconsin transportation department.

Much effort is made to keep corruption out of these contracts but when there is this much money involved it is natural for a guy like Brownback who is leading the largest power grab in modern Kansas history, to want to take over this mountain of cash. Every move that the Brownback administration is making is about taking control of the money and solidifying their power.

This is not a story about good governance or the efficient management of resources, this is a story about the arrogance of power and how wealthy people become even more wealthy.

webmocker 4 years ago

jayhawklawrence 9 minutes ago "This is not a story about good governance or the efficient management of resources, this is a story about the arrogance of power and how wealthy people become even more wealthy."


Tracy Rogers 4 years ago

If the DOT has so much money that they could transfer $245 million out to schools, maybe Sammie needs to think about lowering fuel taxes.

grandnanny 4 years ago

Something in rotten in Denmark. Brownback is the king of privatization - he talks all the time about how badly the government does so why would he want to put the KTA (which gets no tax money) and merge it with KDOT (a government run agency). There is something Brownie isn't telling us. Perhaps it has something to do with the superhighway from Texas to Canada that we don't hear much about - the one that allows Mexican drivers to cross our borders and drive to Canada. Obviously he wants to get his hands on some more money to make up for his tax cuts. He can take KTA workers away from the turnpike to fix feeder roads thus letting the turnpike deteriorate. Don't expect the turnpike to get cleared of snow immediately as it is now - you'll have to wait because they will have other roads to clear. Why does he need all that money for education anyway since he isn't planning to raise the per pupil funding? Oh, probably to put it into charter and private schools.

lunacydetector 4 years ago

KTA gets no tax money? they charge a fee to drive the road....but i guess it's all about semantics.

lunacydetector 4 years ago

Does this mean the Turnpike Authority will not be having annual board meetings overseas like they did when they went to Italy?

Centerville 4 years ago

No, they'll probably have one somewhere closer, like Paris...again. If any Kansas reporters were interested in reprinting anything buy faxes from Anthony Hensley, they might look into KTA finances (or inquire as to why they're kept under wraps) or they might really get busy and check into KTA's contracting practices. Or into KTA's excess cash balances. But that would be hard and marching orders are marching orders.

Greg Cooper 4 years ago

OK, then, cv, what is their cash balance, and what does it matter to you?

Got any information about "their contracting practices" that is germane to the conversation at hand?

If you have issues with an entity that delivers exactly what it promises, and without YOUR tax dollars, find a real excuse for bitching.

lunacydetector 4 years ago

they charge a fee to drive the road. couldn't that be considered a tax? geez.

hoping they will stop having their annual meeting in some far distant country, like italy - which they did.

the turnpike's tolls weren't supposed to last forever, yet they do.

Jonathan Becker 4 years ago

As the noted political scholar, Margo Channing, observed: "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!"

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