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Appropriations chairman alleges that head of Kansas Turnpike offered $25 million to kill merger proposal

Topeka — House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said the head of the Kansas Turnpike Authority offered Gov. Sam Brownback $25 million to back off his proposal to merge the KTA with the Kansas Department of Transportation.

KTA President and Chief Exeuctive Officer Michael Johnston denied the allegation.

Rhoades made his comment Monday during committee discussion of a proposal to take $30 million in "savings" from KTA and KDOT to support general state operations.

State Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, said no one from the Brownback administration has explained how those savings would occur. The savings, he said, "seems to be a number plucked straight from the air."

Rhoades responded, "Maybe it would come from the $25 million that the director offered the governor."

Asked to respond to Rhoades' comment, the KTA's Johnston said, "There is no truth to it."

He said of revenue collected from tolls on the 236-mile turnpike, "This money doesn't belong to me, and I can't spend it without board approval."

Johnston said a House member called him recently and asked him whether he offered $25 million to kill the merger proposal. "I gave him the same answer I am giving you," Johnston said. He declined to identify the House member.

As far as the proposed savings that Brownback has said would be realized if KTA were brought under KDOT, Johnston said he has no idea what the governor is talking about. "I was never consulted about anything," he said.

Also on Monday, the House gave final approval to a bill that says the KTA and KDOT should work together to minimize duplication of effort in maintaining the turnpike and state highway system.

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