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Eagle editorial: Don’t target NCAT

  • Published Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 12 a.m.

As revenues ebb under the income-tax cuts, state leaders are looking at everything as a potential place to cut spending. But why look at the National Center for Aviation Training, which is the sort of business-driven educational facility the state’s economy will need to grow and Wichita will need to remain a planemaking powerhouse?

When Gov. Sam Brownback held his first economic summit two years ago, he chose to do so at NCAT, returning last year to sign his bill enabling high school students to take technical courses at Kansas tech schools and community colleges.

It’s especially mystifying why Wichita-area legislators would take the lead in targeting NCAT for a $2 million cut next fiscal year, given that the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce’s legislative agenda advocates continued funding for NCAT “as part of ongoing workforce development critical to the aviation manufacturing cluster.” Jason Watkins, the chamber’s director of government relations, confirmed Monday the chamber does not support cutting NCAT.

Wichita has enough trouble persuading lawmakers elsewhere in the state to support its interests. Wichita-area lawmakers should not be leading a fight at the Statehouse against one of the city’s prime economic development initiatives.

Yet Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, introduced the cut and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, supports it. Masterson contends that NCAT can handle a cut because it has money left over – an argument disputed by NCAT officials, who say the carried-over funds are committed for machinery purchases.

Conservative Republicans like Masterson and Wagle can be critical of schools and others that strategically spend down tax dollars as a budget year ends. Why dock NCAT now for banking money for future needs?

It’s similarly bizarre that Masterson is finding fault with the Wichita Area Technical College, which acts as the management company for the Sedgwick County-owned NCAT. According to The Eagle’s Brent Wistrom, Masterson wants to see a broad reorganization of NCAT that would shift control of operations to Wichita State University. Why?

Under president Tony Kinkel, WATC has a fast-growing enrollment and fine reputation nationally and locally, including among members of the Sedgwick County Commission.

As Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan said Monday: “The WATC board is comprised of our industrial and business leaders. I believe the board has the right people to provide vision, leadership and oversight for technical training. We support the board’s request for $5 million for equipment.”

Watkins said “the chamber is supportive and appreciative of the great job WATC has done with NCAT.”

State lawmakers have tough fiscal choices to make before the 2013 session finally ends. But cutting NCAT’s funding would not serve the state’s economic rebound, and the proposed reorganization of NCAT’s management sounds like a solution to a nonexistent problem.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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