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KDOT Projects in Limbo Over Federal Gas Tax

Wed September 14, 2011 - Midwest Edition
John Milburn - ASSOCIATED PRESS



TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) Kansas could be forced to halt, delay or cancel transportation projects if Congress doesn’t reauthorize a federal gasoline tax for highways, a state transportation official said Aug. 30.

The 18.3 cent federal gasoline tax is set to expire on Sept. 30 unless Congress votes to renew it. The money is the main federal revenue source given to states to help pay for transportation projects.

Deputy Secretary Jerry Younger said Kansas has enough cash on hand in its highway program to keep existing projects going for 16 to 24 weeks. After that, the state would be forced halt work on projects, delay awarding bids for new projects or cancel them.

Many of the projects were part of a 10-year program that started in 2010.

“If funding doesn’t get authorized then there’s really no mechanism for the Federal Highway Administration to make disbursements to the states,” Younger said. “We’ve kind of had this on our radar screen for some time and have made contingency plans.”

There is no real sense of when — or if — Congress will vote on the tax once recess ends after Labor Day. Fiscal conservatives including Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, have increased pressure for the levy to be dropped altogether.

Younger said Kansas historically has paid about $8 million per week on ongoing projects. State taxes collected on the sale of gasoline in Kansas and registration fees provide funds for the state’s share.

Most of the new projects in the 2010 transportation program were designed to preserve the state’s road system, Younger said. If the federal money dries up, Kansas would scale back expansion or new construction projects and focus dollars on preserving other roads and bridges.

Younger said the state has already made changes in policies regarding snow removal and mowing, looking to change practices to save money. But he said those changes didn’t save the state enough money to complete all the projects scheduled over the next several years.

Proposals in Congress range from shifting a greater share of the burden to states for road projects to keeping revenues for the national highway trust fund flat.

“Obviously, Congress has its work cut out and not a whole lot of time,” Younger said. “It’s our hope and belief that something will be done. We can’t see anyone letting something this important going by the wayside.”