By STEPHEN KORANDA
President Donald Trump unveiled a $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal on Monday built on plans that would more heavily rely on state and local dollars being matched with money from Washington.
For Kansas, that poses both challenges and opportunities. The state is short on funding for new construction work, but it’s already begun looking at other options to pay for roads, bridges and the like.
Trump’s plan would include $200 billion in federal funds. That money would be used for matching funds, loans and incentives for state and local governments to raise money in other ways.
The limited federal dollars would mean states and local governments would have to provide more money for projects. The plan is aimed at driving new funding strategies such as tolling and public-private partnerships.
That requirement for states to provide more funding could be tough for Kansas. State lawmakers and the governor have repeatedly dipped into the highway fund in recent years, diverting billions of dollars to help balance the state budget.
Republican Sen. John Skubal said lawmakers are already looking for ways to make sure Kansas can meet current matching fund targets. That could get more difficult if the state has to provide more money.
“I don’t want to be on the outside looking in if there are federal dollars that are going to come potentially to the state of Kansas,” Skubal said. “I want to have whatever match we’re going to have to have.”
Skubal has been pushing a bill that would form a task force to study Kansas transportation and long-term funding issues.
Part of the goal would be to consider new options to help diversify road funding, such as charging drivers to access express lanes on busy highways. Lawmakers could also look for partnerships where projects are jointly funded by the state, local governments and private organizations that would benefit from the new roads.
“I want to leverage all of our resources as much as we possibly can so we can continue moving our state forward,” Skubal said.
Those types of proposals are likely in line with the goals of Trump’s policy outline.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer hailed the proposal for another provision, a promised $50 billion investment in rural areas.
“Investing in infrastructure is key to jump-starting economic development and job growth, and we are excited to see this much-needed investment in rural America,” Colyer said in a news release.
The rural spending would largely be sent to states in block grants. Colyer said that would give flexibility to local leaders.
“Kansans know what Kansas needs more than bureaucrats in Washington,” the governor said in the release.
Trump’s infrastructure plans now go to Congress, where lawmakers will consider the options and likely make changes.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for KPR a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.