State transportation committee advances plan that would raise taxes to fund state transportation plan

? A legislative committee on Monday pushed forward two proposals that would increase taxes to fuel a new state transportation plan.

Supporters of the recommendation said they wanted to get the debate started on a new 10-year highway plan when the legislative session starts Monday.

“The primary purpose of any recommendation is to provide information to our colleagues, stimulate discussion and get feedback from them,” said state Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood.

But opponents said they opposed the idea of increasing taxes.

State Rep. Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said legislators should determine what kind of construction and maintenance program was needed before discussing how to fund it. “I have immense problems supporting this,” he said.

But state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the recommendations represented months of work and study on the issue, and that the full Legislature should have the benefit of the special transportation committee’s input.

“This is a very important decision for the future of our state,” he said.

The House-Senate committee forwarded two options.

One option would apply the state sales tax of 5.3 cents per dollar on motor fuels purchases, but reduce the current motor fuels tax, which is 24 cents per gallon, by 5 cents per gallon. Local governments could also assess the local sales tax. That proposal would raise $4.4 billion over 10 years.

Even with the reduction, the addition of sales tax on motor fuels would greatly increase drivers’ costs, said state Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita.

The other option would increase the motor fuels tax by 7 cents per gallon and then enact further increases based on the Consumer Price Index. By the end of 10 years, transportation officials estimate the per-gallon tax would increase 15 cents. That would raise $3.74 billion over 10 years.

Both plans would also increase car registration fees by $20 and truck registration fees by $100.

Under both scenarios, the tax increases would not take effect until 2013.

“We have delayed implementation of a revenue stream for three years, recognizing that the economy is struggling right now,” said state Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City.

The proposals also call for issuing $300 million in bonds to help cover projects over the next three years.

Any final plan would have to be approved by the Legislature.

Transportation advocates are pushing for a new comprehensive plan because the 10-year, $13 billion plan that was adopted in 1999 is winding down.