Archive for Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Gasoline tax error discussed in Topeka

October 29, 2008

Leavenworth County officials Monday were in Topeka to discuss a gas tax error that affects counties in the state.

Leavenworth County Administrator Heather Morgan and County Commissioner Clyde Graeber met with state officials to discuss the error in which Leavenworth County was shorted at least $196,000 because of an error in calculation of state gasoline tax reimbursements to counties.

“With money so tight any little bit helps,” she said Tuesday. “Even $200,000 to us is a big deal. That’s three jobs we could have saved. We could have built another road. It makes a very big difference in the grand scheme of things.”

Earlier this year, state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins notified state leaders that an error was discovered in the disbursement that led to an incorrect distribution of funds to counties.

Morgan said she recently became aware of the error because the note was overlooked by the Leavenworth County Treasurer’s Office.

Some counties received too much, and some not enough. Douglas County received $340,000 too little, Shawnee County got $1 million too little, and Leavenworth County was shorted $196,000.

The question now is if the county will get its money back and how much it will get back.

State Treasurer general counsel Scott Gates said reimbursement would require legislation when lawmakers start the 2009 session in January.

At that point, Morgan said she was willing to testify to state legislatures with other county leaders on getting the money refunded.

“I want to stress the importance of the money — and I hope we get it — but I know the state budget picture is bleak,” she said.

Morgan thinks the likelihood of the county getting all of its money back isn’t very high because of the state’s financial difficulties and because it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get money back from counties that were overpaid.

Gates said the formula for calculating the counties’ share of gas tax equalization payments was changed in 1999 by state law, but it wasn’t adjusted at the treasurer’s office. The miscalculation was also exacerbated in Douglas County’s case because vehicle registrations, also a part of the reimbursement formula, that were made at satellite offices were not counted by the Kansas Department of Revenue.

Morgan said the county’s shortfalls came from the gas tax equalization payments and not from vehicle registrations. She said because the vehicle registration numbers haven’t changed much in recent years the county could have been shorted roughly around $196,000 since 1999, but no official calculations have been made.

The error has become an issue in the 2nd District House race because Jenkins, the Republican candidate, is responsible for disbursing the gas tax to counties.

Jenkins is challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda for the district, which includes Leavenworth County.

Boyda raised the issue during a recent debate.

The dispute is about Jenkins’ responsibility for disbursing highway equalization funds to Kansas counties under a formula the Legislature established.

Jenkins’ office said the error was programmed into the system in 1999 — three years before she was elected state treasurer. Jenkins has praised her staff for discovering the problem.

Democrats, however, say that the issue undermines Jenkins’ assertion that as a certified public accountant she would be able to rein in the federal budget. She should have caught the mistake earlier, they say.

“Now she’s saying it isn’t her job to make sure 15 million in taxpayer dollars goes to the right counties, despite those funds being specifically under her control,” said Mike Gaughan, Kansas Democratic Party executive director. “For an accountant, Lynn Jenkins seems to have zero interest in accountability.”

— Reporter Scott Rothschild contributed to this story.

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