Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has appointed a construction company owner as the state’s Secretary of the Department of Transportation.
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) Gov. Sam Brownback appointed a construction company owner March 23 to lead the Kansas Department of Transportation, describing the new Cabinet secretary as someone who loves the road-building industry, works hard and “has the blisters to prove it.”
Mike King, from McPherson, is taking over the department as it winds up the second year of a 10-year, $8.2 billion program of highway, bridge and other transportation projects. Both he and the governor said they’re committed to the program, and Brownback promised to protect it from raids on its funding.
King has worked more than three decades in construction, starting by pouring concrete pavement. He’s owned the family business, King Enterprise Group Inc., since 1991.
“He’s a person who understands the meaning of hard work, and he has the blisters to prove it,” Brownback said during a Statehouse news conference. “His family has had sweat equity put in these roads in the state of Kansas. He knows and loves this business.”
King will replace Barb Rankin, who became acting secretary in December following the resignation of Deb Miller, who stepped down after nearly nine years as secretary to take a private-sector job. Rankin, who’d served as KDOT’s top attorney, will return to that job.
“From a young age, I’ve had a passion for construction,” King said. “As a child growing up in Hesston, I dreamed of building large projects.”
King already holds a part-time position as chairman of the Kansas Lottery Commission, having been appointed last year by Brownback, a fellow Republican. However, King will give up his spot on the commission for the secretary’s job.
King said his construction company isn’t involved in any state highway projects and concentrates on projects for the oil and gas industry, but he will put his interests in a blind trust. He also plans to sell another, 9-month-old alcohol and drug testing business, Assured Occupational Solutions.
Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said King should begin working as secretary within a few weeks, when his financial arrangements are completed. King’s appointment also must be confirmed by the state Senate.
King said his construction company has about 70 employees. KDOT has about 2,800 employees and a total budget of $1.6 billion, making it one of the state’s largest agencies.
Over the past two decades, when the state has faced financial problems, governors and legislators have repeatedly diverted funds from highway projects to education, social services and other government programs. Brownback himself helped balance the budget last year by shifting $200 million from highway projects to the state’s Medicaid program, which covers health care for the poor, elderly and disabled.
But Brownback has promised that he won’t support such a move again to ensure that the projects promised under the current 10-year program are completed.
“I want to get us out of the business of the state needing to raid KDOT all the time for the rest of the operations,” he said.