Sunday, April 7, 2013

House, Senate send bill to Brownback that would make KDOT secretary in charge of operating turnpike

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

After a monthslong battle, Republicans sent to Gov. Sam Brownback a bill that would put Brownback's secretary of transportation in charge of operating the Kansas Turnpike.

Supporters of the bill said it would create efficiencies between the turnpike and Kansas Department of Transportation, while opponents said it was a power grab by Brownback.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said the effort was aimed at getting rid of KTA President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Johnston, whom she described as one of the last Democrats in Kansas holding a high-ranking position.

"I personally don't appreciate being asked to be the hatchet person," Kelly said. Brownback's office denied Kelly's assertion.

In his budget, Brownback said bringing KDOT and KTA together would save $30 million over two years, but KDOT Secretary Mike King, a Brownback appointee, told a legislative committee he didn't know where those savings would come from.

Even some allies of Brownback balked at the proposal.

Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, called the Kansas Turnpike the "crown jewel" of the state, and said it was vastly more efficient than any state agency.

"I still think this is a bad bill," Donovan said. "But I understand the train is on the track," he said.

Under the bill, Secretary King would also serve as director of operations of the turnpike and would be responsible for the daily administration of the toll road. The legislation included a provision that tolls from the turnpike could only be used operation of the 236-mile road.

The bill would expire July 1, 2016, which supporters said would give the Legislature time to see if the new system was working well.