Efforts to fund Kansas' long-term water plan stalled amidst state budget issues

Mar 16, 2017

Credit www.k-state.edu

Efforts to fund Kansas’ long-term water plan are at a standstill, at least for now, as legislators face massive revenue shortfalls, as well as a Supreme Court order to increase school funding.

As The Lawrence Journal-World reports, a new committee tasked with dealing with water and environmental policy has made little progress and has come to a virtual standstill, at least for now.

“There is agreement among all the committee members and the stakeholders – I mean the ag groups, the municipal representatives, conservation districts, everybody – that we need to be investing more in protecting the water supply and water quality,” said Rep. Tom Sloan – R. Lawrence, who chairs the committee.

He said the problem is that the funding plan originally offered by Gov. Sam Brownback’s “Blue Ribbon Task Force” on water issues called for funneling one-tenth of one cent of the state’s existing sales tax to water projects, something Sloan said cannot pass the House and which House leaders won’t even consider with an estimated $755 million revenue shortfall facing the state over the next two years.

Sloan said the only funding plan that would stand a chance of passing is increasing fees stakeholder groups all now pay into the State Water Fund, something stakeholders won’t agree to until the state resumes paying $6 million in State General Fund money, which hasn’t been contributed for several years even though it is required under law.

Kent Askren, director of public policy with the Kansas Farm Bureau agreed with Sloan’s assessment.

“It’s really tough to try to sell any type of a fee or new tax to folks when the state hasn’t been living up to its share of the obligation for many years, and many tens of millions of dollars,” he said.

The State Water Fund was established in the 1980s to fund projects addressing water quantity and water quality issues in Kansas.

People who use municipal water systems pay a fee of $3 a month into that fund. There are also fees on farm chemicals and fertilizers, livestock facilities and a variety of other things that affect water in Kansas.

The fees generate about $12 million per year, but the fund is supposed to receive $6 million from the State General Fund and $2 million from state Lottery proceeds, which the state has not been contributing.

The money is used for a variety of projects such as water conservation programs, stream-bank stabilization and wetlands management that are aimed at preserving the state's supply of water or protecting water quality.

Sloan said this past week that he and other committee members will urge the Appropriations Committee to restore the $6 million annual payment from the general fund into the water plan, but he is not optimistic, despite the fact that it's such a tiny portion of the state's $6 billion general fund budget.