The battle over funding for roads in Kansas escalated this week over this question: Have Gov. Sam Brownback and other officials harmed the state highway fund by diverting hundreds of millions of sales tax dollars from it in recent years, all to help balance the Kansas budget?
Richard Carlson’s answer was pretty much a shrug of the shoulders.
Carlson, the interim secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation, said high percentages of state-maintained roads were in “good condition” in the fiscal year that ended June 30. The numbers were 96.7 percent for interstate highway miles and 91.7 percent for non-interstate highway miles.
But Bob Totten, executive vice president of the Kansas Contractors Association, saw a bleaker picture.
He said that “we are still in a critical state with unsafe roads and bridges, drastic loss of construction jobs and a continuous depletion of transportation funding, the equivalent of $1 million a day, by our current administration.”
Brownback falls in the camp with the KDOT crowd, which says Kansas roads remain extremely safe and well-maintained.
Still, the war of words is starting to tilt more in favor of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who are concerned about how much money has been drained from highway repairs and maintenance.
Earlier this year, KDOT announced delays for 25 highway projects in the state. Other delays are expected if the state’s revenues remain sluggish, which has occurred in large part because of costly income tax cuts Brownback pushed through in 2012.
Putting off needed repairs for keeping Kansas roads in good condition will only push up the eventual price tag for this important basic public service.
Sweeping money out of the highway fund has been a short-term budget fix, but it is starting to create some long-term woes for the Sunflower State’s highways and the people who use them.