Some lawmakers in Topeka have alleged a backroom deal was made without debate when the Kansas budget passed last session temporarily removed limits on how much the Kansas Department of Transportation can borrow. But the chairman of the Kansas House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., from Olathe, says that’s untrue.
KDOT’s total bond debt had for years been capped at 18 percent of the department’s annual revenue. But, a provision in the budget bill passed in June removed that limit for two years.
In December 2015, KDOT sold $400 million in bonds, about 19 percent of its revenues.
That is also when many state lawmakers say they found out about the change.
Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Republican form Fairway, sits on the House Committee on Transportation and Public Safety Budget. She said in December this provision was never mentioned in the committee's discussions on the budget.
"I don't know how it went on or where it went on," she said. "But it should have come up. It was buried. Through this process we did not get to see the full measure."
That same concern was echoed by other members of the committee, both Democrats and Republicans, and also lobbyists who follow transportation issues.
Ryckman says the provision was never hidden. “We've been transparent and consistent with this request from KDOT from the very beginning.”
He says it was in the budget early on, starting with Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget recommendations, and was talked about in both the House Appropriations and Transportation and Public Safety Budget committees, on which Rooker serves.
“Those are two that I've reviewed the notes and have recollection of conversation, especially in appropriations,” says Ryckman “I do remember the debate and when we did vote on the governor's recommendation and did concur with it.”
He also says it was put in the budget bill’s explainer. Although he feels this was discussed openly, Ryckman says there is room for improvement.
“I think we always could do better, strive to be more transparent and more open.”