The Wichita City Council will oppose any plans by the Kansas Legislature to restrict local control of taxation or elections during the 2014 legislative session.
Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner previewed the councils legislative agenda before the Wichita Pachyderm Club on Friday. The agenda, which will be finalized at a council meeting Tuesday, seeks support from the state for city water and aviation issues but also asserts city control on other concerns.
Among the issues included in the working version of the agenda is the councils objection to legislation that would combine city government elections with state and federal elections.
Meitzner said such a change would make it too costly for local candidates to run for office.
Im not excited about trying to buy radio time or billboard space and compete against Gov. Brownback, Congressman Pompeo and Senator Roberts in a November election, he said.
I dont want the yards to have to look like a NASCAR auto with all the signs, Meitzner added.
Sen. Michael ODonnell, R-Wichita, who attended the luncheon and previously served on the City Council, said bringing all elections together would increase voter turnout and save money.
County government is in the fall with state and federal. Why wouldnt you have the city and schoolboards, school elections with the county and state elections? ODonnell said.
Meitzner said combining the elections could make local politics more ideological.
This is a local thing. Its nonpartisan. Theres not a Democrat or Republican way to make a turn lane or fill potholes, he said.
ODonnell said local elections have had unacceptably low voter turnout, and that a single election date would be simpler for voters and increase engagement.
I dont think anyone values an election with 6 percent voter turnout, he said. Only 6.19 percent of eligible voters in Sedgwick County voted in city and school elections last April; Wichita voters considered council races but there was no citywide vote for mayor.
It affects your life more, I would argue, than the state Legislature where youre getting 60-plus turnout, ODonnell said. A city council and school boards going to affect your life daily.
Turnout for the 2012 statewide elections, which included voting for president, was 66.8 percent statewide and slightly higher than that in Sedgwick County. Turnout statewide in 2010 was 49.7 percent.
The City Council also plans to oppose any attempts by the state to restrict the citys ability to set its own taxes.
If the value of a property grows because theyve taken an old building and turned it into something, then it grows and thats for the betterment for the city, Meitzner said, explaining the councils objection to any efforts to cap tax revenues.
I want to be able to grow and not have the city be penalized for true growth.
ODonnell dismissed the citys concerns about taxation, saying it controlled its mill levy and ability to establish a sales tax.
State support of Wichitas business infrastructure also factors heavily into the City Councils legislative priorities, with a focus on the citys water supply and aviation.
The council calls on the state to restore $2 million cut from the National Center for Aviation Training during the 2013 legislative session.
Gov. Sam Brownbacks intent to develop a 50-year plan for the states water resources has the councils support, as does his plan to continue state funding for the Equus Beds Aquifer Storage and Recovery project.
Additionally, the council recommends that the state adopt the similar protections for the Equus Beds aquifer, an underground reservoir northwest of Wichita, that it has for above-ground reservoirs.
Meitzner said water sustainability is crucial to growing local businesses and attracting new ones to the city.
ODonnell agreed that the city and state need to collaborate on multiple solutions to water concerns.
Were never going to be able to grow our city or our state if people are concerned about long-term water shortages, ODonnell said.
Several members of the Pachyderm Club bristled at what they called a liberal agenda from the City Council. One target was the councils recommendation that the state move forward with an environmental study of a passenger rail line connecting the Wichita area with Oklahoma City, which could potentially open the door for state and federal funding.
If somebody could make money on that they would do it. So why should the government lose money on it? said Dan Heflin, a member of the Pachyderm Club and owner of NoMar Self Storage in Wichita.
Meitzner, a Republican, dismissed notions that the agenda was liberal or progressive, and said the councils priority was to set up the infrastructure to allow entrepreneurs to thrive.