The Kansas Turnpike, born out of the old Kansas Highway Department, now is in its 50s but looking great! That’s why it seems to make little sense to step backwards and combine Kansas Turnpike Authority operations with today’s Kansas Department of Transportation as a money-saving venture, as Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing.
Specifically, the governor’s budget document offers this explanation: “The governor recommends that the Department of Transportation assume authority over the daily operations of the Kansas Turnpike Authority (KTA). This change will not be a consolidation of the two agencies, as the KTA will remain a separate organization. The governor does, however, anticipate in his budget a $15 million transfer from the State Highway Fund to the State General Fund in both FY 2014 and FY 2015 as a result of operational savings that will result from greater cooperation between the two agencies.”
Exactly where the $15 million in annual savings envisioned by the governor would come from isn’t clear. The governor’s office has mentioned merging administrative offices and service crews in its explanations.
However, the KTA’s financial report for the year ending Dec. 31, 2011, (the most recent report available) identifies $6.8 million in total administrative expenses. The other operating expenses are listed as being for insurance, toll collection, patrol, maintenance and a catch-all category of improvements-repairs-replacements; all told these categories amount to $25 million.
Where would $15 million come from without chopping into funds that deal with the quality of the highway?
That seemed to be the basis for concerns raised by Senate Transportation Committee members, one of whom described the ‘pike as “the crown jewel” of Kansas highways and urged caution about changes.
Perhaps the governor, who’s also proposing to take money from KDOT to support schools, also has his eye on the KTA bank account. The KTA financial report pointed to $86.8 million in “unrestricted net assets” held by the authority.
The authority, incidentally, receives no federal or state tax funds; its operations are supported entirely by the tolls it collects. And it reports that $9.2 million in motor fuel and sales taxes from its six service areas already go into the state coffers. That money does not get spent on the turnpike.
Also, the fact that it’s an interstate highway helps generate federal aid that goes to the state to help finance other state transportation projects.
The turnpike may be at least a golden duck, if not a goose, and it seems shortsighted, based on the facts that have so far been provided, to consider the sort of ill-defined and ill-explained switcheroo that’s on the table.