TOPEKA — When Gov. Jeff Colyer invited Michael White to join him for a meeting this week in Washington, D.C., the executive director of the Kansas Contractors Association welcomed the opportunity to talk about the state’s infrastructure needs.
Just two years ago, the lobbying group expressed its view on the state’s policy of transferring $1 million per day from the Kansas Department of Transportation by launching a Save Kansas Roads campaign that featured a “highway robbery” billboard over Interstate 70 in downtown Topeka.
White took over leadership of the contractors association in July, following years of the group’s pointed statements about crumbling roads, deficient bridges and job losses. Now, he said, the group is embracing the opportunity to work with the governor.
“We have an opportunity to set a new vision,” White said. “You can’t do that if you’re always looking in the rear-view mirror.”
Colyer and White met Monday with the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, where they asked for support of Kansas projects and pledged support for President Donald Trump’s plan to stimulate $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending with a $200 billion offering of federal cash.
The plan earmarks $50 billion for rural investments.
“I appreciated the opportunity to discuss future plans for infrastructure development in Kansas with our partners at the U.S. Department of Transportation, especially in our rural areas that provide a vital link in delivering agricultural products to the rest of the world,” Colyer said.
Trump’s plan needs approval from Congress, which also has the responsibility of determining how to pay for it.
Economists at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School concluded the actual increase for infrastructure spending is likely to be between $20 billion and $230 billion, including the federal contribution. States have a history of qualifying for matching funds within existing programs, the study found, while shifting money to other state spending, debt reduction or lower taxes.
Without unprecedented additional state investments, the plan is expected to have no impact on the economy.
Kara Fullmer, a spokeswoman for Colyer’s office, declined to say whether the governor supports increased spending on infrastructure. Colyer supported development of a new transportation plan in his joint address to the Legislature last month, and Fullmer said he looks forward to working with lawmakers and others to develop a plan in the coming months.
“Gov. Colyer has tremendous respect and appreciation for contractors in Kansas,” Fullmer said. “He appreciates the opportunity to work with them on building a vision for Kansas transportation moving forward. More broadly, Gov. Colyer has been humbled by the willingness of the Kansas Contractors Association, and others, to put old fights behind them and plot a new, brighter path forward.”
In D.C., Colyer solicited support for specific programs while White shared his thoughts on repairing an infrastructure that presents safety concerns throughout Kansas.
White called it a good meeting and expressed optimism for a requirement that states submit rural investment plans before receiving federal funding, which he said will force states to identify priorities and guarantee spending in rural areas. Every dollar invested in infrastructure has an economic impact of $5 to $8, White said.
“Anything we can do to invest more dollars in infrastructure is good for Kansas and good for the economy,” White said.
At this point, KDOT has “no idea” how much money the plan could unlock for Kansas, said spokeswoman Nicole Randall. The agency is excited about the potential to help fund projects in rural areas, she said, but it would take months to assess the overall effect.
“Once it passes and we get a full, clear picture of how the plan is going to work, we’ll be able to sit down and figure out what it means for KDOT,” Randall said.