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County expects request for funding if Hawker Beechcraft stays

Sedgwick County commissioners said they expect they'll have to spend some money to help keep Hawker Beechcraft here, if the company and its union can overcome their stalemate and come to terms on a contract.

And apart from pursuing an investigation to determine whether Louisiana is illegally using federal aid to draw the planemaker to Baton Rouge, Rep. Todd Tiahrt said he doesn't plan to inject himself into the dispute.

Although Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture told The Eagle on Monday that there are no plans to reopen negotiations with the union, city and county officials said they think talks will occur at some point.

"That (Boisture's statement) didn't surprise me," said Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer. "The vote just happened this week. They have to go back and re-evaluate their position, what they're doing and what they have to offer and make a determination whether they want to continue to make an offer."

County Commissioner Dave Unruh said Tuesday that if the company and union settle their differences, he would expect the state to request some funding from county government to help the company.

County money would be part of an as-yet-undisclosed financial incentive package that Gov. Mark Parkinson worked out with Boisture and union leaders in an attempt to keep the company here. The deal was contingent on the company and the Machinists union negotiating a contract.

The Parkinson package remains in limbo since Saturday, when Machinists voted down a contract that would have triggered it. About 55 percent of the workers balked at give-backs in the proposed contract, which included a 10 percent pay cut and larger insurance costs for employees.

Hawker Beechcraft employs 6,000 in the Wichita area — 2,600 of them Machinists — and Parkinson has said his package would have protected about two-thirds of those jobs.

Unruh and Commissioner Kelly Parks said Sedgwick County has always worked to be a good partner with Hawker Beechcraft.

Since 1986, the county has issued $1.33 billion in industrial revenue bonds to help the company financie its plant and expansion, county records show.

The money was not direct government aid but did include substantial property and sales tax breaks on improvements to facilities that were paid for with the money.

Unruh noted that industrial revenue bonds do not come out of the county treasury, but he said he thinks the state would request "direct financial support" from the county in the effort to keep Hawker Beechcraft in Kansas.

"I'd be surprised if they don't," he said, adding that the commission would carefully consider any such request. "We're going to have to see what the details are.".

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said he and Commissioner Gwen Welshimer met with Parkinson and Lt. Gov. Troy Findley before Saturday's contract vote, but didn't get any financial details on the incentive package.

Peterjohn said Parkinson did tell them that keeping Hawker Beechcraft in Wichita would be his top priority between now and when his term ends in January.

"We've tried to stay in the loop and do what we can ... without being obtrusive in the process," Peterjohn said of the county.

Brewer said he's been in contact with the governor's office "each and every day" and "the City Council and myself, we are prepared to do whatever is necessary to pull those two entities (management and the union) back together for at least another try at a vote or something of that nature."

If nothing changes, the Machinists' current contract will expire in August.

Tiahrt, R-Goddard, said he plans to try to use the upcoming lame-duck session in Congress — his last session in the House — to push for an investigation of where Louisiana is getting the money to try to lure Hawker Beechcraft to that state.

He said money provided to the state in the federal stimulus act and in post-Hurricane Katrina relief could be being misused.

Apart from that effort, he said he does not yet see a way to try to improve the situation, which he compared to trying to intervene in a fight between bickering spouses.

"I think if I got in the middle of it, both of them could be mad at me," he said.

"I'm trying to be helpful in some way," he added. "There's not a whole lot I can do immediately."

He said the long-term solution for Kansas is to cut taxes and reduce regulations on businesses, to take away the incentive for companies to move jobs to low-tax states or other countries.

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