The Sedgwick County Commission's 3-2 vote Wednesday nixing an application for a $500,000 federal grant to help regional planning may not hurt regional planning, especially if another government or agency steps up to sponsor the application before the Aug. 23 deadline.
But the "no" votes by Chairman Karl Peterjohn and Commissioners Kelly Parks and Gwen Welshimer were a slap in the face to the county's partners in the community and region, especially to the good work of the Regional Economic Area Partnership and Visioneering Wichita.
As strategic and effective as they can be in boom times, partnerships across geographical and political lines are even more important in hard times.
REAP, a group of 34 cities and county governments throughout south-central Kansas, has transcended old urban-rural barriers and helped great things happen on air service, water management and more. It's been working since May on the complicated grant application, part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's new $100 million Sustainable Communities Planning Grants Program.
Though the initial grant request is $500,000, the local consortium might seek as much as $2 million to guide regional planning on issues spanning housing, transportation, water infrastructure, economic development, air quality, public health and more. No county staff would be added to handle the grant.
Yet hearing the details, Peterjohn and Parks reacted negatively to coordinating planning across government lines and to having even a tangential role in federal spending — inexplicably even linking the grant to possible "cap-and-trade" legislation and land-use restrictions.
Oddly, just the day before, Parks had been part of the 9-0 vote for the grant application as a member of the Transportation Policy Body for the Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization — another worthy regional effort.
True, Washington-bashing is in fashion, with polls showing Americans increasingly fed up with federal spending and budget deficits. The public demand for fiscal discipline is a welcome change that might actually change politicians' behavior. And it's understandable that local leaders want to reflect the discontent any way they can in their votes and statements, especially if they are up for re-election.
But the commissioners' go-it-alone vote ignored the reality of how federal funding works. Standing on principle doesn't save taxpayers a dime in this case. It only sends $500,000 elsewhere.
Words spoken in another down economy, in 1991, by Kansas Sen. Bob Dole apply today: "I think we have to cut back spending. But as long as they are dividing up federal dollars, I want to see that Kansas gets a fair share of those dollars."