Road crew staffing spotlighted in Kansas budget debate

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -

Kansas has a 100 percent annual turnover rate among entry-level equipment operators on highway maintenance crews.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has pointed to Department of Transportation staffing woes as a prime example of where she found worse-than-expected problems before she took office last month.

But some Republican legislators are skeptical that KDOT faces a crisis. They believe Kelly is overstating state government's problems to push the GOP-controlled Legislature into higher spending.

Kansas has had a national reputation for good highways because of its commitment to big, multi-year transportation programs since the late 1980s.

But the department says it needs nearly 1,200 equipment operators to drive trucks and only 640 of those jobs are filled. KDOT officials say low pay causes many operators to leave for other jobs.