Politics & Government

New 10-year roads plan proposed

If you listen carefully, it will sound a lot like President Obama.

Create jobs. Ignite the economy. Improve roads.

But this isn't Obama selling a new stimulus plan. It is advocates pushing a new $8.2 billion Kansas transportation plan that would raise sales tax and vehicle registration fees.

Awaiting lawmakers as they return to work Wednesday will be a new 10-year transportation plan that moved out of a key Senate meeting just before the Legislature adjourned for a short break last month.

The proposal calls for a 0.3-cent sales tax increase. It also asks for a $20 increase in car registration fees and a $100 increase in registration fees for big trucks.

The plan is intended to replace the transportation program that expired last year, leaving the state without money for big-ticket highway projects.

The new plan would provide about $1.8 billion for major projects. That's not a lot of money given the state has about $5 billion in major projects on its to-do list.

Plan supporters are traversing the state to drum up support for highway projects that foster economic development.

"What we're trying to get communities to think about is: What's that going to do to you? How far is that going to set you back and for how long?" said Pat Hurley, who leads Economic Lifelines, a group that lobbies for transportation funding.

Hurley met last week with a group of local elected leaders and business executives in Lenexa, where he pitched the transportation plan.

"The state can't afford to do any of the projects that are so critical to the growth of this county," Hurley told the group.

The Kansas Department of Transportation also has chipped in with a four-minute YouTube video explaining how cuts in transportation funding affect roads. The video has been viewed more than 4,000 times.

"We need a revenue increase to preserve the investment that Kansans have made in their infrastructure and spur economic development across the state," Kansas Transportation Secretary Deb Miller said in the video.

A lot of big numbers are being tossed around about what new transportation projects would produce in terms of jobs. But some lawmakers are hesitant about raising taxes in this economic climate.

Rep. Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said many lawmakers might be wary of an expensive transportation plan this year.

"A lot of us support good highways and a good transportation infrastructure, but this is just a really tough time to consider it (the plan) in light of what else we're dealing with."

Other leaders in the House agreed.

"I just don't think the timing is right," said House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, who has opposed any tax increase proposal this year.

He and many other conservatives say raising taxes during a recession will only worsen the economy.

Even if the Legislature did vote to raise taxes, O'Neal said, the revenue should go to social services or education.

Rep. Ron Worley, R-Lenexa, sits on the House Transportation Committee and is optimistic that a new transportation plan will pass this year.

Worley said he's comfortable with the bill the way it came out of the Senate committee. He said the bill "has good possibilities," adding that it is a "good start on a program that will get us through the next couple of years."

Senate Transportation Chairman Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer, said he was optimistic about the plan's chances. He noted that Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson and the Senate's GOP leaders had agreed on the need for a tax increase to balance the budget. And all support using some piece of that tax package to fund transportation projects.