Kansas’ good roads hit funding pot hole

by John Carlin

Former Kansas Governor

Investments in our highway infrastructure are critical to economic development in Kansas. During my admin­istration in the early 1980s, we dedicated the sales tax paid on roadway products to the Kansas Depart­ment of Transportation for the purpose of funding necessary roadway maintenance.

This was followed by Gov. Mike Hayden’s comprehensive highway bill adopted in 1989. The commitment to our transportation system was reaffirmed again in 2010 when the state adopted T-Works, a multi-faceted plan that dedicated dollars for the preservation and modernization of our roads and bridges.

These decades of investment have created safe and reliable roadways throughout the state. But now our transportation system is in jeopardy.

Massive revenue shortfalls stemming from Gov. Sam Brownback’s failed tax experiment have forced state legislators to use KDOT funding as a “bank” in order to balance the state’s budget.

In fact, in the six years since passage of the tax experiment, $2.7 billion has been swept from transportation funding and moved to other parts of the government’s budget. That number will grow to $3.4 billion if highway fund sweeps are again used to fund other parts of state government.

As a result, regular road maintenance has slowed. Whereas we used to maintain 1,200 miles of roads annually, we’re now only able to fund maintenance of 200 miles, meaning a roadway that once received maintenance and overlays every eight years will now go 50 years without maintenance.

At that time, the cost to fix the road will be significantly more expensive because it didn’t receive necessary upkeep and needs total reconstruction.

The situation we find ourselves in is not beneficial to the safety of those driving across Kansas, or those who rely on Kansas’ roads and bridges to get their products to market.

Kansas businesses are competing in a global marketplace and need solid roads and bridges they can depend on to get their products to customers or for customers to come to their products.

One would believe that this well-established line between transportation infrastructure and our economic well-being would lead our legislative leaders to embrace the importance of proper funding for roads and bridges. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

Legislators can restore some funding to our roads and bridges through a constitutionally protected increase in the state’s gas tax.

Our state constitution protects gas tax revenues from being siphoned off to fund other parts of state government. Gas tax dollars can only be used to fund improvements to our state’s roads and bridges so they’re not at risk for sweeps.

By using a constitutionally protected method of funding for roads and bridges, we can ensure that Kansas has a solid transportation system to serve as the foundation of our economy. If we don’t put money in our transportation system now, the roads will continue to deteriorate and will cost even more to fix later.

Please encourage your legislators to support a fuel tax increase this session before our roads deteriorate into further disrepair. Thirty years of infrastructure investment will be for naught if we don’t maintain what we have and continue to recognize the role of highway investments in economic development and state vitality.

John Carlin served as governor of Kansas from 1979 to 1987. He later served as archi­vist of the United States from May 30, 1995, to Feb. 15, 2005. He currently teaches at Kansas State University.