Daily Archives: Feb. 9, 2011

Opponents of voter ID bill testify it would disenfranchise thousands

TOPEKA — Opponents of a bill that would require all voters to provide photo ID and new registrants to prove their citizenship claimed today that the measure would virtually shut down registration drives in Kansas.

Kevin Myles, president of the Wichita and state branches of the NAACP, said the proposal by Secretary of State Kris Kobach would put potential voters in a position where they would probably decline to register rather than provide the citizenship documents that would be required under the bill.

Myles was one of several bill opponents who testified in a hearing before the House Elections Committee. Proponents, including Kobach, testified last week.

Also opposing the bill were representatives of the National Organization for Women, the League of Women Voters, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Civil Liberties Union — and a transgendered person who lives as a woman but whose birth certificate says male.

As one who had gone door-to-door registering voters, Myles asked the committee members to consider what they would do if a stranger showed up at their house with a registration form and asked to make copies of their personal documents to complete the process.

“Would you be comfortable giving me a copy of your driver’s license?” he asked.

Myles contended that while there have been fewer than 10 documented fraudulent votes in the past 14 years, Kobach’s bill would disenfranchise thousands of legitimate voters.

The denial of voting rights would fall hardest on the poor, who move twice as often as more affluent voters and have a harder time keeping their documents up to date, Myles said.

“In 2008, the Wichita NAACP partnered with KDGS 93.9 radio station, Sunflower Community Action, Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and Outback Steakhouse to host a community registration forum in a popular Wichita Park,” he testified. “We were joined in the park by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.”

“We gathered more than 350 registrations in just a few short hours,” he said. “But had this proposed bill been in effect at the time, all 350 legal registration applications would have been rejected by the secretary’s office.”

In his testimony last week, Kobach said he thinks the disruption to the voting process would be minimal because current voters wouldn’t have to prove citizenship to re-register or change addresses.

Also, he said state records show there are already more drivers’ licenses and non-driver IDs in circulation than there are registered voters, so people who wouldn’t have the proper documents to cast a ballot would be few.

Kobach, a nationally prominent opponent of illegal immigration, has said he believes illegal voting is far more common than the number of investigations and prosecutions would indicate.

Rep. Bill Otto, R-LeRoy, said he thought Myles raised a valid point about requiring copies of documents to be provided with registrations.

He said that could raise identity theft issues and wouldn’t provide any information that state officials couldn’t access with just a driver’s license number.

Otto also was sympathetic to Stephanie Mott, of Topeka, the transgendered person who testified.

Mott recounted running into trouble registering once before because her ID documents said male and had her given name as Steven.

Not only did she have to reveal she was transgendered, she said, “I had to describe for everyone in the room what that was about.”

After the hearing, Otto, a self-described “redneck” Republican, talked with Mott about possible changes in the law to allow transgendered people to amend their birth certificates to reflect their new identity.

Voter photo ID bills have passed both houses of the Legislature before.

Two years ago, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed such a measure and its supporters did not have enough votes in the Legislature to override.

Gov. Sam Brownback has indicated he will sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.

State audit: Wichita-area officials overstated benefits from subsidized airfare program

TOPEKA — A program that subsidizes low-cost airline service to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport generates only about a third as many jobs as regional officials have claimed, according to a state audit.

The Legislative Division of Post Audit report also said that the Affordable Airfares Fund generates less than half as much overall economic benefit as was estimated in a 2008 Wichita State University study commissioned by the Airport Authority.

Officials of the Regional Economic Area Partnership, which administers the program, immediately questioned the audit findings, claiming that the auditors had made errors in methodology that understated both jobs and economic impacts.

A spokesman for Wichita, which owns the airport and launched low-fare service with its Fair Fares program, said even the lower level of benefits found by the audit is still enough to justify continuing the program.

The audit was presented today to the joint House-Senate Legislative Post Audit Committee, as the Legislature prepares to decide whether to continue contributing $5 million a year to the program.

The audit did credit the program with helping to increase traffic at Mid Continent and reduce the cost of flights in and out of Wichita.

According to the audit, the average price of a round-trip ticket dropped from about $390 to about $325 between 2006, when the state funding began, and 2009, the most recent year studied.

In 2006, Wichita airfares were more than 20 percent above the national average. By 2009, that gap had been trimmed to 5 percent, the audit said.

The audit also said passenger traffic at Mid-Continent increased 30 percent from 2000 to 2007 — a substantial number but less than the WSU study showed for the same years.

The audit criticized REAP for “numerous inconsistencies and inaccuracies” in reporting program results to the state.

“Overall, the economic impact of the state Affordable Airfares Fund has been significantly overstated,” the report said.

Almost all the money in the Affordable Airfares program goes to a single airline, Airtran Airways, which was allocated $4.875 million in the latest round of annual funding, said Dale Goter, the city of Wichita’s lobbyist. Frontier Airlines got $125,000.

The state’s $5 million contribution is matched by $1 million each from the city and Sedgwick County.

The WSU study had estimated Airtran’s presence at Mid-Continent accounts for an average 9,720 jobs in Wichita. That includes direct jobs, such as the airline’s own employees, plus indirect jobs attributed to increased airport traffic.

The audit said that only 3,178 direct and indirect jobs were created.

The biggest factor in the difference, according to the auditors, was that WSU incorrectly applied a formula for calculating jobs that was derived from a study by University of Illinois economist Jan Brueckner.

“This methodological error almost doubles the (jobs) estimate,” the audit said.

In addition, the WSU study understated the airport’s passenger count in 2000, the base year it used for comparisons, thus inflating growth in passenger traffic for each subsequent year, the audit said.

The inflated passenger traffic number also affected the calculation of overall economic benefits, the audit said.

REAP, a consortium of south central Kansas cities and counties, had calculated the state got back $5.25 in additional revenue for every dollar invested.

The audit estimated that the real impact is about $2.32 per dollar invested.

Jeremy Hill, director of the WSU economic research center, said “there are a lot of incorrect assertions in the post audit.”

For one thing, he said the auditors used an unjustifiably low figure to calculate how increased airport activity translates into jobs created.

He said using the state’s methodology with a more reasonable figure would have shown about 5,700 jobs were created — about midway between the original WSU study and the new audit.

Rep. John Grange, R-El Dorado and chairman of the audit committee, said he thinks the affordable airfares program will survive this session.

“I’m sure we’ll go ahead and authorize it for one year,” while working to resolve issues of oversight and evaluation of the program, he said.

Augusta Mayor Kristey Williams, the president of REAP, said she thinks it would be disastrous for the region to cut the program during the current economic slump. In the past, the high cost of air travel depressed Wichita’s convention business and forced local corporations to move headquarters elsewhere.

“It’s going to take everything to hold what we have in place,” she said.

Additionally, she said Airtran is in the process of merging with Southwest Airlines and ending the subsidy would virtually guarantee Wichita wouldn’t be served by Southwest once the deal is finalized.

Despite the audit, “The important thing to remember is that there are still positive economic outcomes,” Goter said. “There’s still a positive job-creation number … and tremendous convenience and value to the people who fly out of Mid-Continent Airport. That ought to be enough to sustain it.”

Intrust Bank Arena nets more than $2 million in its first year

Intrust Bank Arena netted more than $2 million in its first year, Sedgwick County assistant manager Ron Holt told commissioners this morning.

There were 119 performances at the arena last year, Holt said.

Gross building income was just more than $7 million. Expenses were nearly $5 million.

SMG will get the first $450,00 of profit, the county the next $450,000. Money above that will be split 60/40 with the county receiving 60 percent and SMG, which manages the arena, 40 percent.

Intrust Bank Arena December 2010 report