TOPEKA, KS (AP) The State Finance Council approved issuing $210 million in additional bonds in March to ensure completion of the state’s 10-year highway improvement program.
The 8-1 vote was the final step needed for the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) to remain on track with its planned projects.
The committee consists of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, House and Senate leadership and the chairmen of both chambers’ budget committees.
House Appropriations Chairman Melvin Neufeld said the state could find other ways to finance the program without increasing debt. He proposed approving $150 million now and the remainder later, citing the earliness of the legislative session and state revenues are running ahead of estimates.
After his proposal was rejected, Neufeld, R-Ingalls, was the lone dissenting vote on the overall package.
Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt said if the state could find an additional $60 million in the budget, it could avoid the interest payments on the bonds and save roughly $34 million over 20 years.
“If there is a better way, it’s worth exploring,” said Schmidt, R-Independence, calling the approval of the entire bonding package “a missed opportunity to be frugal.”
Sebelius and KDOT Secretary Deb Miller agreed that state finances were improving, but felt communities needed assurance that the planned projects would be completed on time.
Miller said with the new bonds, all the projects should be completed as planned, but acknowledged “perhaps on fumes.”
Since 1999, $995 million in bonds have been sold to finance highway construction.
The 10-year, $13.2-billion highway program began in 1999, but soon after ran into financial problems and legislators were forced to restructure it in 2004.
When they did, they contemplated issuing the bonds, but much more slowly than KDOT now wants to issue them.
Lawmakers had expected the bonds to be issued between July 2006 and July 2008.
The Senate Transportation Committee approved the $150 million in bonds and the House Transportation Committee endorsed the plan.
A joint committee had approved the other $60 million.
The department began pushing for the bonding authority after it concluded the state wouldn’t receive enough federal highway dollars to sustain the program.