TOPEKA — Frustration with inability to properly finance Kansas water programs prompted consideration of a bill Thursday earmarking $8 million in state lottery proceeds for research, testing and remediation projects.
The legislation would require appropriations to the State Water Plan to be drawn entirely from the Economic Development Initiatives Fund, which captures revenue from lottery ticket sales. Passage of House Bill 2528 would repeal a mandate the water plan rely primarily on general state tax revenue.
Existing Kansas law directs $6 million in general fund revenue to the water plan and stipulates $2 million be taken from EDIF for the same purpose. These earmarks were suspended by the Legislature for the current and next fiscal year. The bill would simplify the math by taking the entire $8 million from EDIF.
“I was simply looking for a more successful route for funding,” said Rep. Tom Sloan, a Lawrence Republican and sponsor of the bill.
Sloan, chairman of the House Water and Environment Committee, said the bill would specify how half of the $8 million would be spent. In all, $3 million would be used by Kansas Geological Survey, Kansas Biological Survey and Kansas State University to conduct research that reflected importance of maintaining a reliable supply of quality water.
He said legislators in Kansas must reaffirm protection of the state’s water supply to be the highest economic development priority.
David Pope, who represents the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers, said previous raids on water funding demonstrated the state should aggressively consider alternatives or risk erosion of water infrastructure.
“Designated sales tax revenue for water funding appears to be a non-starter,” he said. “Other user fees fail to gain support either.”
Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office and secretary of the Kansas Water Authority, said he wasn’t convinced adjustments contemplated by Sloan improved chances of gaining full funding. He questioned wisdom of placing in state law the division of 50 percent of budget outlined in Sloan’s bill.
“Establishing research priorities in statute limits the state’s ability to flexibly address emerging issues,” Streeter said.
Currently, $42.5 million annually in lottery revenue flows into EDIF, which supports a range of economic development objectives. Competition for those budget dollars in the Legislature has produced sharp confrontations.
Rep. Shannon Francis, R-Liberal, said the legislative budget process in the past had diluted interest in the proper financing of water policy agendas. Some legislators on budget committees seem deaf to the need of communities to sustain water resources for commercial and residential use, he said.
“We talk about the importance of water every year and they quit listening,” Francis said.