The Associated Press
April 24, 2015

Projects included in the state’s 10-year highway program could be threatened if the Kansas Legislature continues to use State Highway Fund money to pay for other state expenses, according to a nonprofit research group.

However, Kansas Department of Transportation remains confident the projects in the highway program, called T-Works, will be completed, although they acknowledge some “preservation projects” meant to prevent costlier repairs in the future might be delayed, The Lawrence Journal-World reported.

The Kansas Legislature has used hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Highway Fund to pay from general government expenses, including K-12 education, since Brownback took office in 2011.

“This shell game is unsustainable and not without costs — the money we borrow must be repaid with interest, and the projects we are delaying indefinitely will be costlier to address as maintenance issues go unaddressed year after year,” The Kansas Center for Economic Growth said in a report released Thursday.

Transportation department spokesman Steve Swartz said Thursday about $445 million usually is set aside each year for preservation projects but recent “sweeps” of highway funds will reduce that amount next year to $177 million.
But Kent Olson, the agency’s director of fiscal and asset management, said the agency is delaying only scheduled preservation projects.

“Some may be moved out to the later years of T-Works,” Olson said, adding that the statewide highway system will continue to exceed the agency’s benchmarks for road and bridge safety.

The center’s report was more pessimistic.

“While we’ve maintained a commitment to the scheduled expansion plans — the projects that result in new bridges, roads, etc. — we have fallen behind on taking care of the roads and bridges that lead to the new expansion projects,” the report said.

The research group, which has been a frequent critic of Brownback’s tax cuts, is led by Annie McKay, a former research analyst with Kansas University’s Institute for Educational Research and Public Service and the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

The transportation department says that since 2011, more than $1.3 billion has been transferred out of the highway fund into the state general fund. Of that, about $550 million has been for routine transportation-related expenses, with the remainder used for the state general fund. Lawmaker approved using $103 million out of the fund to help fill a projected $280 million budget gap for the current fiscal year. And for each of the next two fiscal years, Gov. Brownback has proposed using another $139 million.

Read more from the Parsons Sun here.

ClayPARSONS SUN: Group worries over highway funding