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He Said, She Said Erupts Over KDOT Bonding Limit

Kyle Palmer

Did Kansas lawmakers know about the state's controversial decision to lift the borrowing limit for the Department of Transportation? 

This PowerPoint slide seems to suggest they did, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle along with transportation insiders whom KCUR has talked to all say they were surprised to see KDOT borrowing at record levels in December. 

The issue played out in a heated Twitter back-and-forth Wednesday, with at least one lawmaker maintaining she was never told. And an official in Gov. Sam Brownback's administration marshaling evidence to say the opposite. 

For years, KDOT's borrowing was capped at 18 percent of its revenues. But a little-noticed provision in this year's budget lifted that cap for two years. In December, KDOT issued $400 million in new bonds, which equals 19 percent of department revenues. 

Over the past few years, the state has raided KDOT of more than $1 billion to use on other state services hit hard by Kansas's declining tax revenues. Critics worry this latest move is intended to give KDOT more funds to then re-appropriate elsewhere, something KDOT officials dispute. 

Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) sits on the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee and has been outspoken in her contention that lawmakers were never told during the 2015 session that the state wanted to lift the cap. 

In a Twitter conversation last night that included other lawmakers, bloggers, Kansas Budget Director Shawn Sullivan and  KCUR's Sam Zeff, Rooker maintained her position.  

Soon after, state Budget Director Shawn Sullivan responded, tweeting out a specific slide reference. 

Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park), who also sits on the Transportation Public Safety Budget Committee, came to her GOP colleague's defense. 

Earlier this week in an exclusive interview on KCUR, House Appropriations Chair Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) refuted the notion that lawmakers didn't know about the KDOT move. 

"We've been transparent and consistent with this request from KDOT from the very beginning."

He said he remembered having the debate and doesn't understand why other lawmakers would say otherwise, but he also promised to "improve on transparency going forward". 

All this comes less than a week before lawmakers are set to return to Topeka for the 2016 legislative session. This spat over KDOT's bonding limit may only be a precursor to larger budget fights. 

Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
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