Politics & Government

Wichita projects part of budget

TOPEKA — After rounds of cuts where many programs have been scaled back or eliminated, most of south-central Kansas' top priorities were included in the governor's proposed budget.

"This is just the first step," said former lawmaker Jason Watkins, who now lobbies for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. "An encouraging step, but the first step nonetheless."

In previous years many of Wichita's projects have not been initially included in budget proposals so area lawmakers had to fight to get the money added for items such as aviation research, technical training or doctor training.

Their inclusion this year showed that Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, recognized that the projects were important statewide not just locally, Watkins said.

Dale Goter, lobbyist for the city of Wichita, warned that it was all predicated on the Legislature passing a 1-percentage point sales tax increase.

Among the priorities recommended to receive money in the $5.8 billion budget:

* Equus Beds Aquifer recharge project: $563,561

* National Institute for Aviation Research: $5 million

* National Center for Aviation Training: $5 million

* Wichita Center for Graduate Medical Education: $2.4 million

"It's a good and bad scenario," said Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita. "It's good because Wichita's projects were included in the budget. It is bad because the only way they would get funded is if the tax increase were put into effect."

Schodorf sits on the Senate Ways and Means Committee which was briefed on the budget by state Budget Director Duane Goossen on Tuesday morning. The House Appropriations Committee also started work on the budget Tuesday.

The 2011 budget year, which begins July 1, faces a $400 million short fall. Parkinson in a proposed budget unveiled Monday evening recommended filling in most of the shortfall with about $380 million in increased taxes. The majority of the funds would come from a three-year, 1-percentage point sales tax increase. Many Republicans have come out against the proposed sales tax increase, as have some Democrats.

Watkins said the projects' inclusion in the proposed budget reflected on the fact that the requests were investments in economic development that helped put money back into state coffers.

"The budget situation will be worse next year without the investment in these programs," he said.