TOPEKA — A plan to partially fold the independent Kansas Turnpike Authority into the Kansas Department of Transportation with more accountability to the governor has been pushed forward by the Senate.
Lawmakers softened Gov. Sam Brownback’s initial proposal by ensuring that no turnpike toll money could be used elsewhere, which opponents feared under the original plan.
But the Senate’s 26-14 vote Thursday would require the two transportation groups to avoid redundancies and it makes KDOT Sec. Mike King CEO of the turnpike with authority to shift personnel and equipment between the separate entities.
Some lawmakers say that will save money and make both entities more efficient. Others say it’s an unnecessary power grab that the state will regret.
The Turnpike Authority is one of the best-run organizations in the state and provides great value by collecting in- and out-of-state money and using it to maintain one of the best roads in the country, said Wichita Republican Sen. Les Donovan.
“We’re going to take a well-run entity and merge it into a government entity that may or may not be well run,” he said. “For all the folks in here that tout themselves and hold themselves up to be small-government individuals, moving a non-governmental, so to speak, entity into a government entity, flies in the face of that claim. This is a sad day in the state of Kansas.”
Brownback’s administration projected the merger, in its initial form, could save $15 million a year by eliminating redundancies and sharing in more contracts. Brownback included the projected savings in his proposed budget.
But details of where, specifically, that savings would come from never surfaced.
The bill has been approved by the House but the House would have to concur with changes made in the Senate before it goes to the governor.