Agency seeking funding solutions
KDOT likely to face expected declines in aid, state fuel tax.
By KEN STEPHENS
Special to The Telegram
The two largest components of Kansas highway funding have been based on federal aid and the state's motor fuel tax. But with those resources expected to decline, the Kansas Department of Transportation has been surveying local government and community leaders around the state about what they think the state should do to maintain funding for highway improvements.
KDOT put the question to government and community leaders at regional "local consult" meetings in Salina, Hays, Dodge City and Hutchinson last week.
At each of the meetings, KDOT has passed out a survey listing nine specific short- or long-term solutions and asking for other suggestions.
The top three picks at each of the four meetings thus far, including Hutchinson, have been the same — increase the motor fuels tax; levy a tax on alternative fuels such as methanol, compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, hydrogen, electricity and biodiesel; and an extra annual registration fee for cars that run on alternative fuels or electricity, said Lindsey Douglas, KDOT's chief of governmental affairs.
Four more local consult meetings are coming up in Olathe, Topeka, Chanute and Wichita.
After the last meeting on Oct. 11, KDOT plans to analyze the results and present the findings and other research to the Legislature in January.
The last long-term federal highway funding law expired in 2009. Since then, Congress has passed 10 short-term extensions. The latest, passed in late June, extends highway funding into Fiscal Year 2014. However, Douglas said that unless Congress comes up with a solution, federal highway aid to states could drop from about $40 billion to $4.2 billion in 2014.
State and federal fuel tax revenues also are being affected by improving fuel economy, Douglas said.
The better mileage your car gets per gallon, the less fuel you buy and the less fuel tax you pay. Federal rules mandate that new cars average 34.1 miles per gallon by 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025.
"That's good for people, but bad for infrastructure investment," Douglas said.
Alternative fuels also are having an impact. Electric cars don't burn gas, so their owners don't pay fuel tax, but their cars have the same impact on highway maintenance as gas-burning cars, she said.
Of the top choices identified during the local consult meetings, the simplest and most popular was an increase in the current motor fuel tax. Douglas said a 1-cent increase in the tax would raise about $18 million more per year. A 5-cent increase would raise an extra $88 million a year.
Other options presented included a dedicated sales tax on auto sales, an increase in vehicle registration fees, linking future fuel tax rates to the Consumer Price Index or some other index, local option taxes such as a city or count sales or property tax to pay for local road projects, toll roads, and a tax on the number of vehicle miles driven.
At the Hutchinson meeting, opinion was divided on the fourth and fifth options for short- and long-term solutions. A dedicated sales tax on auto sales was the No. 4 short-term solution, followed by indexed fuel taxes.
For the long-term, the Hutchinson group had a tax based on vehicle miles traveled at No. 4 and indexed fuel taxes at No. 5.