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Parkinson axes Kansas highway repair projects

TOPEKA | Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson ordered the cancellation of nearly all highway maintenance projects for the rest of the year in order to bail out the state budget.

“The roads will not be in as great a condition as they would be," Parkinson acknowledged.

"Beyond stunning" is what state Secretary of Transportation Deb Miller called the cuts.

"Considering the winter that we’ve had, Kansans are going to see rougher pavement and more potholes, and we’re going to be very limited in our ability to address them," Miller said.

Road maintenance projects already under way will continue, as will projects that involve federal or local funding, but all new state-funded projects slated to begin in the next 15 months will be delayed.

The move will save $28 million in the current fiscal year. It’s part of a $85 million plan to balance the state’s current-year budget, now about $106 million in the red.

Parkinson – who has presided over more budget cuts than any other Kansas governor - avoided more cuts to schools, social services and public safety programs, all services which he said can take no further cuts.

The Democratic governor made Friday’s announcement after February tax revenues came in $71 million below estimates. Parkinson and the Legislature already cut the current year budget by nearly $1 billion, but it wasn't enough.

Part of Parkinson’s plan to re-balance the 2010 budget assumes that lawmakers will pass a tougher seat belt law. If they do, the state will gain $10 million in additional federal funds. But while the Senate has endorsed the seat belt bill, the House has yet to consider it.

Even with earlier cuts the state faces a deficit of nearly $470 million in the budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Parkinson, in remarks that grew spirited at times, said tax breaks to wealthy individuals and corporations are as much to blame for the state's fiscal crisis as the recession. He called on lawmakers to review past decisions to eliminate the franchise tax, estate tax and business machinery and equipment tax.

"It's all been given to special interest groups," he said. "...And yet what have we done for the average person? Virtually nothing.... If we don't do something we're going to have a long-term problem."

But he said he doesn't have much hope lawmakers will listen.

"I don't think they can do it," he said. "I hope I'm proven wrong."

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