Gov. Laura Kelly introduced the state’s next 10-year, $9.9 billion transportation plan this week.
The plan, Forward Kansas, will lead to hearings in the Senate Ways and Means and House Appropriations committees next week.
Rep. Richard Proehl, a Parsons Republican, said Appropriations will take up Forward Kansas on Tuesday through House Bill 2588. The plan offers $500 million for road preservation work that’s been ignored in recent years because of budget issues. Money in the Kansas Department of Transportation’s budget earmarked for highway improvements was transferred to shore up other budgets in the wake of the state’s budget crisis.
“The last few years we haven’t kept them up like we should,” Proehl said of the state’s roads. “We need to get back to the point that we’re putting about 500 million dollars a year into preservation.”
Forward Kansas will complete projects scheduled in the last 10-year plan, T-Works, but not completed because of the budget transfers. One of those projects is underway in Southeast Kansas now near Independence, Proehl said. The junction of U.S. 160 and U.S. 169 is being improved. Once T-Works projects are done, Forward Kansas will move into modernization and expansion projects around the state.
Proehl said the major difference between T-Works and Forward Kansas is that there is not a list of projects included upfront for the 10-year cycle. Potential projects will be reviewed every two years during Forward Kansas so the work can adjust to changing needs or priorities.
Proehl said the Secretary of Transportation Julie Lorenz will be at Tuesday’s House hearing.
“I’m just glad since it’s going to Appropriations and I’m on Appropriations that I will have a voice in making some changes and getting the 10-year plan passed out and to the House floor,” Proehl said.
He hopes the bill will move quickly.
“I know I will be visiting with the majority leader and asking his cooperation in bringing it above the line so we can have the debate on it on the floor.”
Sen. Dan Goddard, a Parsons Republican, serves on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and will be part of hearing the Forward Kansas plan in the Senate next week. He’s pleased with what he’s seen in the plan.
“I’m just hoping we can get back to some normal business here and get some work done on the floor so we can get some of these bills debated and moved out,” Goddard said.
Goddard is referring to a standstill in the Senate enacted by Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, and others after a constitutional amendment failed last week in the House.
Some supporters of the amendment, led by Wagle, promised to block any debate on Medicaid expansion until the proposed amendment is approved for the ballot. If approved by voters, the amendment would overturn a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision declaring access to abortion a fundamental right under the state’s Bill of Rights.
“We’re still stuck on this thing about the constitutional amendment not passing in the House. The Senate president’s pulling all the House bills and any bill that could be amended to include Medicaid expansion and returning those bills to committee,” Goddard said. “We’re just not hearing anything. Apparently we’re waiting for the House to do something with the constitutional amendment.”
He thinks the Legislature needs to work through both the constitutional amendment, which he supports, and Medicaid expansion.
“We need to get down to business and get a lot of these other issues on the floor debated and either into law or not,” Goddard said.
Proehl said the clock is ticking on the 2020 session. Next week is the last week for committee meetings and the halfway point is coming soon after that.
So far the count of bills that moved out of the House is pretty small, he said.
“Let’s hope that we do work some bills next week,” Proehl said.
Proehl said his committees have been busy this week.
“It’s just kind of a busy time going through and tying everything together for our budget. That’s kind of where we’re at,” Proehl said.
Transportation has heard several bills, one about specialty license plates for firefighters. The firefighters’ association has created a fund to help with training, equipment and maintaining firefighter memorials. A bill considered in Transportation would add a $10 fee to those license plates that would go into this fund. There are 9,652 specialty license plates for firefighters on vehicles in Kansas.
Other bills reviewed this week in the House:
— HB2538 would raise the standard deduction for state income tax filers. The deduction for single filers would go from $3,000 to $4,000, for married filers $6,000 to $8,000, for heads of households from $4,500 to $6,000. The bill would affected about 80% of Kansas filers and would cost the state about $38 million, Proehl said. This bill is separate from HB2005 that would allow the state to decouple from the federal tax code and allow Kansans who didn’t itemize on their federal returns to itemize on the state return. If HB2538 and decoupling pass, Proehl said taxpayers would have to choose which to use as they could not benefit from both. Proehl will review these bills when they get to the House floor to see if he supports them. He agreed to advance both out of committee.
— HB2441 allows community historical museums to apply for implementing a one mill tax to help with expansions. This bill originated in McPherson County. The tax levy would be added to a city or school budget and given to the museum and approval of the new tax would require a public vote.
Goddard was busy in his Senate committees this week as well. He’s on subcommittees on Ways and Means reviewing agency budgets. Once the subcommittees get the budgets done, they present them to the full Ways and Means Committee.
Other bills reviewed this week in the Senate:
— SB321, which would re-amortize KPERS, was heard but it has not moved out of committee. Senators are concerned about the cost of this process that would push the so called get well date of the state employee retirement system from 2033 to 2044 and cost the state $4.4 billion.
— SB255 would create the Cancer Research and Public Information Trust Fund at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The hospital wants $5 million from the state to leverage grant funds. Goddard said KU has built a reputation of having one of the better cancer centers in Kansas.
— SB305 would increase the bond amount for vehicle dealer licenses from $30,000 to $50,000.
— SB326 would increase the age of eligibility to renew a driver’s license online to 65. This bill passed out of the Transportation Committee.
— SB342 would allow drivers who wish to get electronic notifications for their driver’s license renewal instead of the cards the state sends out now. This moved to the Senate as well.
— SB267 would require trucks used for agriculture to better secure their loads. This bill was prompted by trucks hauling silage in western Kansas making a mess on highways. The bill would make a violation a traffic infraction subject to a fine.
— SB273 would allow people to appear before the State Board of Tax Appeals electronically by phone or video instead of having to drive to Topeka for the hearings. This bill is headed to the Senate.
— SB242 would allow for tax abatements on buildings damaged in a natural disaster but only if the governor declared a disaster.