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City seeks legislature’s help to expand service at airport

By Paul Harris

With the 2012 session of the Kansas Legislature wrapping up its first week, area officials say they hope to see a variety of issues in 2012.

For the city, top priorities are efforts to facilitate expansion at the Manhattan Regional Airport and infrastructure projects. Local legislators also feel tax reform and school finance will be leading issues.

Jason Hilgers, assistant city manager, described the airport as the city’s “no.1 priority.” Hilgers noted the city received funds from the state previously in the form of a $2 million minimum revenue guarantee. In essence, if Manhattan’s air service was not profitable the city could draw upon funds from the state.

However, Hilgers said air service to Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago, through American Eagle Airlines, has been so successful that the city didn’t utilize those funds, and they were turned back to the state.

“We’re looking for the state to recognize our potential to grow the airport,” Hilgers said. Demonstrations of support from the state could be leveraged to attract airlines with the ultimate goal of expanding air service.

The city’s “2012 State Legislative Program” states that city officials have approached another airline about expanding service to a new destination under a similar minimum revenue guarantee program. It further states, “Additional routes will only enhance the economic potential of the state of Kansas and this region, particularly as it relates to the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF), Kansas State University and Fort Riley.”

Infrastructure projects will also be important. Hilgers pointed to the K-18 construction in particular. He noted it is the primary route for traffic from Manhattan to Fort Riley, making it critical to the region.

“We’re always encouraging the state to continue its level of funding for those types of projects,” Hilgers said.

The city supports the Governor’s T-LINK task force and the special legislative committee on a new comprehensive transportation plan recommendation for the renewal of the comprehensive transportation plan that expired in 2009. The new plan, T-WORKS, is a 10-year program approved in 2010, which ensures funding for highway preservation, expansion projects to accommodate economic development and safety improvements.

State Sen. Roger Reitz and State Rep. Sydney Carlin anticipate tax reform and education being contentious as well.

Gov. Sam Brownback has favored reducing the state income tax with the goal of eventually eliminating it. However, Reitz feels that plan has not been thoroughly vetted.

“It is unsettling to me to hear the things that are being thought off,” Reitz said in regard to tax reform.

He said some members of the legislature are eager to implement a plan to reduce income taxes, but they haven’t articulated exactly how that income for the state would be made up. Reitz said he finds that offensive.

Carlin said education and school finance will be important in 2012. K-12 education would maintain its level of funding under Brownback’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal unveiled last week. His school finance proposal would take effect in fiscal year 2014.

Carlin objects to the Brownback proposal, which would eliminate the current balancing formula. The proposal includes the base state aid per pupil being set at a statutory amount of $4,492 and removal of formula weightings, restrictions on how to spend money and the cap on the local option budget. She said that will be detrimental to students.

“It’s taking away all of the things that made it possible for every school to have quality education level,” Carlin said.

Carlin added that, in general, school finance hasn’t been funded appropriately. Reitz agreed, saying the money just isn’t being put into the current formula.

He said the state has to “find a way to get the money to make it an effective program.”

Carlin said if the Brownback proposal is implemented, school districts would likely attempt to raise revenues through property tax increases. She believes it could lead to inequity among school districts. She said property taxes in western Kansas or smaller counties will not support schools in the same way as in Johnson County.

Carlin noted the Democrats are working on an alternative education plan. Essentially, the plan would use half the fiscal year’s tax surplus until state aid per pupil reached $4,492.

Carlin and Reitz will pursue other interests as well.

Carlin said House Democrats will introduce a plan on jobs soon. She described it as a reasonable.

“We want to be sure Kansas people are hired for state jobs if they’re qualified,” Carlin said.

Carlin said she will have more information on the plan in the coming weeks, but specified that it will involve introducing 14 new bills. She said they will focus on job training and preferences for contracting and hiring Kansas residents first.

She added that the bills will also include efforts to grow more positions for minorities and women.

Reitz said he is still interested in salvaging the Kansas Arts Commission. Last May, Brownback eliminated the Arts Commission’s budget by utilizing a line-item veto. It made Kansas the only state in the nation not to fund a state arts commission.

After criticism from opponents noting that Kansas could lose more than $1 million in matching federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, Brownback proposed a $200,000 subsidy for a privately funded Arts Commission.

Last week, he made a new proposal to roll the arts and film commissions into one entity, the Creative Industries Commission, under the Kansas Department of Commerce. The new organization would be funded at $200,000 with the condition it drive economic growth.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen there,” Reitz said.

He said the beauty of the previous program was that it established a process for communities to come to the state and get a grant for “what they needed to make their little program go.”

He said now smaller towns are going to miss out.

“That’s the tragedy,” Reitz said.









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