As Kansas struggled through budget woes caused by a policy blunder, highway maintenance and improvements were derailed.

Deep income-tax cuts pushed in 2012 by then-Gov. Sam Brownback fueled severe budget shortfalls and numerous bad outcomes for state-funded core services, to include a significant toll on roads.

And now, with income-tax revenue restored and the state’s fiscal situation starting to improve, lawmakers are considering ways to pay for stalled infrastructure work.

The Legislature’s transportation task force recently discussed unfinished projects in the 10-year, $8 billion T-Works program approved in 2010. Specifically, 21 projects totaling $535 million were shelved as the state diverted funds intended for infrastructure to help balance the state budget.

To fund remaining T-Works projects and as much as $500 million annually for road preservation, task force members floated such ideas as authorizing toll roads to pay for new construction or incentivizing local governments to contribute to transportation projects. Eliminating some state sales tax exemptions, raising the state’s 24-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline and hiking vehicle registration fees also were discussed as ways to generate new revenue.

Some task force members thought a “lock box” policy was needed to keep transportation funds beyond the reach of the Legislature and governor. While the money grabs are an understandable concern, lawmakers should proceed with caution on such drastic change.

Watching more than $2 billion drained from highway funding to address a self-inflicted budget crisis on Brownback’s watch was painful. But other Kansas governors — Republican and Democrat — used highway dollars for reasonable reasons such as uncontrollable economic downturns.

For now, state lawmakers must focus on all possible ways to finish T-Works projects designed to enhance safety and aid in economic development. One of particular interest in Topeka that warrants a green light would be reconstruction of the deteriorating Interstate 70 viaduct passing through downtown near the Capitol.

As pressing needs exist statewide, T-Works incorporated projects for every county. Kansas Department of Transportation officials regularly travel the state discussing possible infrastructure improvements; citizens always should take advantage and offer input.

Policymakers still have work to do in figuring out how to adequately support roads, highways and bridges. For now, it’s encouraging to know there’s been progress in a sincere desire to resuscitate T-Works initiatives Kansas needs.

 

GateHouse Kansas