TOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: Industry group protests Bank of KDOT transfer

By Tim Carpenter
July 31, 2015

The Brownback administration’s top transportation department official heaped praise on the agency’s latest multimillion-dollar contribution to Kansas’ general operating budget.

Others weren’t so enthusiastic.

Mike King, secretary at the state Department of Transportation, dropped $8 million in the lap of his boss Thursday to help respond to a legislative directive that Gov. Sam Brownback reduce spending by $50 million in the current fiscal year.

King said the cash emerged from savings in salary, contract services and other operational areas within the agency. He said it didn’t come from the T-Works highway construction fund that has been nicknamed Bank of KDOT. The label reflects frequency lawmakers drink from the agency’s dedicated funding stream when confronted with revenue shortfalls.

“I am proud that we were smart in how we spent money,” King said. “As a result, we can make this reduction without layoffs or cancelling or delaying projects.”

Johnnie Koger, co-chairman of the transportation industry coalition Economic Lifelines, objected to the $8 million gift unveiled Thursday by Shawn Sullivan, the governor’s budget director. The move followed a decision by lawmakers in June to claim $300 million from the department for general government services over the next two years.

“Year after year, the state takes from the highway fund to balance the budget,” Koger said. “Enough is enough.”

He said withdrawals jeopardized projects in the state’s 10-year, $8 billion transportation program. Since passage of T-Works in 2010, he said, an estimated $2.1 billion has been diverted. These transactions have forced delay of $300 million in road maintenance projects.

“When T-Works was passed, so was a revenue package to fund the program. That money has continually been swept into other areas of the budget as a detriment to T-Works,” Koger said.

The governor reduced state expenditures by $38.4 million, including replacement of $17.6 million for a child health insurance program with federal funding. Brownback transferred of $24.1 million from other areas of the state budget to the general treasury. The largest transfer was $8 million surrendered by KDOT. He also swept $3.8 million from state regulatory boards that collect fees.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said influx of federal dollars into the State Children’s Health Insurance Program┬ádid nothing to mask damage to Kansas children by the Brownback administration.

“While the full impact of Governor Brownback’s latest budget cuts are not yet clear,” she said, “it is clear Kansas children and families continue to foot the bill for an unsustainable tax plan.”

She was speaking of 2012 and 2013 state income tax reductions for individuals and elimination of state income tax on owners of 330,000 companies. The result was a steep drop in Kansas government revenue. Budget cuts have been cobbled together with tax increases to fill the hole.

“It’s difficult to believe that access to children’s health coverage won’t be put at risk or limited,” Cotsoradis said. “We know Kansas’ youngest children have been dropped off the state’s Medicaid rolls at an alarming rate since 2012.

Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, lamented comments about the governor’s budget tweaks by Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, and House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City.

“Senator Hensley and Representative Burroughs demonstrated clearly why Democrats are the minority party and will continue to be for a long time,” Arnold said. “While Kansas Republicans have been working to promote economic growth … Democrats continue to do nothing but sit on the sidelines and toss rhetorical bombs.”

Hensley said he found irony in Brownback’s past complaints about unreliability of federal funding and the governor’s decision to meet the call for reduced state expenditures by escalating federal aid to programs in Kansas.

Ongoing amendments to the state budget indicate the governor’s supply-side economic tax cuts have yet delivered substantive business expansion and job growth, Burroughs said.

“This is a continuation of Governor Brownback’s failed fiscal policies,” Burroughs said. “Once again, the governor is relying on one-time funds and fee sweeps. For the state to return to firm financial footing, we need a responsibly balanced budget accompanied by sustainable revenue.”

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