- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A House panel has proposed scaling back the governor’s plan to strip $724 million from transportation projects, arguing that such a large cut would delay road repairs and drain a budget too often tapped to help fill gaps in other state spending.

The House Transportation Budget Committee unanimously approved an amendment Thursday that would allow about $444 million to be transferred out of the state’s infrastructure budget during fiscal years 2016 and 2017. That’s about $280 million less than what Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed.

Kansas transportation officials have said Brownback’s plan would cause delays in resurfacing and maintenance projects.

Republican Rep. Russell Jennings of Lakin said he proposed the budget amendment for two reasons: because the state has too often diverted money from infrastructure funding, and that doing so is dishonest to taxpayers because transportation funding mostly comes from taxes specifically approved for road projects or other infrastructure needs.

“If we’re taxing for a specific purpose like fuel taxes, or sales tax for highways, then that’s where it should be used,” he said. “The second is if we don’t have enough revenues to support the things that are set as priorities, then we need to take a look at the revenue.”

Democratic Rep. Annie Tietze of Topeka added that infrastructure spending was vital to the state’s economy, saying “businesses will want to move here if our highways are high quality. You just can’t put off maintenance.”

But the panel’s chairman, Republican Rep. J. R. Claeys of Salina, said the recommendation was primarily designed to generate discussion in the House Appropriations Committee, which is taking recommendations from various House committees while working on the chamber’s version of a state budget proposal.

Claeys said the Appropriations Committee would have to make cuts to other government agencies, notably education, if it were to accept the recommendation.

“I think we jeapordize education funding when we do things like this and the dollars have to come from somewhere,” Claeys said. “The governor’s recommendation protects higher education and K-12 education in the state of Kansas, this maneuver does not.”

The amendment will be reviewed Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee.

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