As the Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission consider their legislative agendas today and Wednesday, respectively, here’s hoping the region’s goals will prevail in Topeka over GOP primary politics and state budget pressures.
Recent legislative sessions have raised expectations for how the region might fare in 2012.
So did The Eagle editorial board’s meeting last week with Gov. Sam Brownback, who said he would continue to support one of the key priorities of both local governments: the affordable airfares initiative known as “Fair Fares.” Since 2006, the state has dedicated $5 million a year to helping the county and city keep low-fare carriers at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.
In addition, the city’s proposed legislative agenda includes $1 million for the Equus Beds Aquifer Storage and Recovery Project and continued state funding for the National Institute for Aviation Research and the National Center for Aviation Training — all three vital to the region’s economy for the long term.
To its credit, the city’s proposed agenda also advocates against “illegal immigration measures that place unreasonable burdens on local government” and advises: “Changes in state tax policy should not occur at the expense of local governments by shifting responsibilities and fiscal obligations from the state to local taxpayers.”
The good ideas on the county’s proposed legislative agenda include more funding for juvenile-justice prevention and other corrections programs, and measures to help the county manage its jail population and deal with nonviolent, low-level offenders with underlying mental health needs. In addition, it accurately warns that state budget cuts are putting the state community mental health center system “at a breaking point” and says the state “must define the future role of the state hospital system, develop a system of regional state-operated inpatient units and insure adequate reimbursement for inpatient units.”
Where the county’s agenda threatens to veer off course is in proposed core principles, sought by County Commissioner Richard Ranzau, that would undermine the county’s use of economic development incentives, oppose implementation of the federal health care reform law, and encourage Kansas to pass the same burdensome and legally suspect legislation that has targeted illegal immigration in other states.
The proposed agendas also create some potential conflict over tax-increment financing. It will be regrettable if the city and county end up airing their TIF differences in Topeka.
Indeed, as the session looms, city and county leaders should join school district officials and the business community in trying to align their priorities and talking points as much as possible.
History teaches that the best way to make the case for the Wichita area in Topeka is with a clear voice and unified message.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman