Other highway program needed: sell funding

A new 10-year highway program — the third since 1989 — is in the works. Gov. Mark Parkinson and legislative leaders will be putting proposals together now so that the 2010 Legislature will have the whole session to complete the details and pass it into law.
“A highway program is key to economic development. It’s going to be part of our recovery,” said Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Re-publican.
Sen. Morris, Gov. Parkinson, et al, should quickly take the next step and propose ways to fund the program. They should do so with enthusiasm and confidence.
It is quite true, as Sen. Morris said, that good highways are essential to economic development. It may be true that a new 10-year plan will help Kansas leave the recession behind it — although there is every reason to believe that the national economy will be well on its way to recovery before a 2010 Comprehensive Transportation Plan will add its share of economic stimulation.
The over-riding reason to pass a 2010 CTP into law is to maintain the momentum created by the 1989 and 1999 CTPs and continue to keep the Kansas highway system in tiptop shape. Those two programs made all the difference. They gave Kansas a well-deserved reputation for good highways built and maintained at a low cost, compared to other states.
Mutli-year programs are essential in highway construction. The Kansas CTPs give the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) assured funding for a decade which allows its planners and engineers time to do their jobs right.
It takes about five years to move a project from concept to completion. Multi-year programs make it practical to keep KDOT staffed to do the work without the added expense of outsourcing.
The CPTs also assure highway construction companies, such as Se-Kan Asphalt of Iola, that there will be a continuous flow of highway projects on which they can bid. As a consequence, more state highway projects can be done by Kansas companies — one of the reasons why Kansas can keep its highway construction and maintenance costs relatively low and keep Kan-sas dollars in Kansas.
(Needless to say, deep recessions like the current monster bite chunks out of highway funds, too. But Kansas has fared better than most states because its legislatures and governors Mike Hayden and Bill Graves were so forward-looking,)

FUNDING A NEW Comprehensive Transportation Program next year will require the large Republican majorities in both the Senate and House to modify their deeply ingrained anti-tax attitudes. A new CTP will cost money best raised by jacking up highway fuel taxes and making more sales tax money available for highways by raising the tax or eliminating exemptions.
An increase in the fuels tax at both the national and state levels would be appropriate and should be welcomed by motorists and truckers as the necessary price of good, safe highways.
Raising the needed revenue should be looked at for what it would be — an investment in the state’s future.
There will be those who warn that any tax hike for any purpose will worsen the recession and add to inflationary pressures. The argument is hard to make.
Highway fuel prices have jumped all over the place for years now. Motorists would never notice an increase in the gallonage tax after it had been in place a month. They would, however, notice if Kansas highways began to fall apart and Kansas highway workers were laid off.
Gov. Parkinson and the leaders of the Legislature should be working just as hard at making the case for adequate funding as they do at building a good transportation program as the days narrow down to January 1, 2010.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.