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House speaker: State won’t help pay to rename Wichita airport

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, at 6:38 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, at 10:06 p.m.

Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick says Wichita shouldn’t expect any financial help from the state if it renames Mid-Continent Airport in honor of former President Dwight Eisenhower.

Merrick, R-Stilwell, also projected on Friday that the Legislature will soon repeal state standards requiring utility companies to get some of their power from wind.

In response to a question during a luncheon speech at the Republican Wichita Pachyderm Club, Merrick vowed no state money would go to help pay for changing signage for the airport if the City Council carries through with a proposal to rename it Dwight D. Eisenhower International Airport.

Estimates of the cost of the name change have ranged from less than $175,000 to as much as $700,000.

“My take on it is, if they want to change the name, go for it, but you pay for it,” Merrick said. “We don’t have that kind of money laying around.”

Merrick said since Gov. Sam Brownback took office in early 2011, the state has gone from having an $800 ending balance to a $500 million ending balance this year.

“We didn’t get there by spending money like that,” Merrick said. “I think if a city wants to change something, it ought to be on their dime.”

Wichita Airport Director Victor White said his department has not envisioned using any state money in its ongoing project to build a new terminal, parking garage and rental-car facilities. The only state involvement is that the Kansas Department of Transportation has estimated the cost of changing state highway signs at $140,000 if the airport is renamed.

“It may not cost that much” to replace the 18 existing highway signs, White said. “That was the estimate.”

Regardless, KDOT has made it clear that the state agency would not pay for that and would have to be reimbursed by someone for the cost, White said.

White said federal rules don’t allow use of airport funds to pay for off-site signage. However, the money could come from city coffers or private donations from name-change supporters, he said.

Merrick also said he expects the Legislature to repeal the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard in the upcoming session.

“It’s a mandate on the power companies that needs to go away,” Merrick said to wild applause from the Pachyderm members.

The standard requires electric companies to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources – in essence, from wind – by 2020.

The standard was a major priority of the last two Democratic governors, Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. But Merrick said meeting the wind standard “is costing the utility ratepayers, all of you.”

“The utility companies aren’t doing it for free,” he said. “You see it reflected in your bill, and we hope to get that taken care of.”

The renewable energy standard was part of a grand bargain between the Legislature and Parkinson in 2009 to clear the way for a major expansion of a coal-fired power plant near Holcomb in western Kansas. The coal plant project hasn’t been built and last month, the state Supreme Court invalidated air-quality permits the plant was issued by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The court ruled KDHE had misinterpreted federal anti-pollution laws and would need to start over and hold the plant to more stringent emission standards.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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