Daily Archives: May 10, 2011

Senate accepts House position on Kansas Affordable Airfares

TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate has accepted the House’s offer to fund the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program at $5 million, which Gov. Sam Brownback had recommended.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said she thinks budget negotiators are getting close on how to spend taxpayer dollars next year.

After two week of gridlock, she said there appears to be progress this week.

Legislators are scheduled to go home on Thursday, but that is looking unlikely as the budget still needs to be approved and sent off to the governor.

Budget conferees return to committee at 4 p.m. today.

Council approves WaterWalk sculpture in 4-3 vote

Here's a rendering of the scupture. What do you think? Hit the comment section below.

Mayor Carl Brewer today said art is in the eye of the beholder. And so was the worthiness of the $350,000 sculpture at WaterWalk the city council approved in a 4-3 vote.

Several members of Wichita’s art community applauded the sculpture — a 38-foot abstract piece made from Cor-Ten steel and bronze that will act as an entrance to the public-private project just north of Kellogg on the Arkansas River. But three council members said the sculpture isn’t the right thing, right now.

Council member Michael O’Donnell opposed the Albert Paley sculpture because he felt the city should send a message to taxpayers that they won’t spend money — even if it can’t be spent elsewhere — at a time when the city is struggle to keep basic services intact. Council member Jeff Longwell opposed the sculpture because he felt the project should involve water — as was originally envisioned when WaterWalk received its initial support years ago. And council member Pete Meitzner said he simply didn’t like how the project surprised him on the agenda late last week, forcing him to make a quick decision on an expensive sculpture that he said he doesn’t know much about.

Council member Janet Miller supported the project. She noted that the sculpture has been discussed publicly at council meetings and committee meetings for months, and she said the city will soon talk about the Waltzing Water fountains and public gathering place next to the river.

“There are lots bigger items in this agenda that we’re voting on today that have not had 18 months of public discussion,” she said.

The sculpture is being paid for with tax increment finance money, which has a wide range of uses but must be used inside the district. The district runs along the river and includes WaterWalk, giving the city a lot of potential options. But more than a year ago the council agreed to spend the money to hire a nationally-acclaimed sculptor to create something at the corner of Waterman and Main. The corner will also have plants and other landscaping.

House budget negotiators increase education offer

By Brad Cooper

House budget negotiators returned this morning with new offers to settle its budget fight with the Senate.

Among other things, it has agreed to reduce the amount it wants to cut education so long as the Senate agrees to pass three other bills that would bring in additional funds.

The House also wants passage of a bill that would allow schools to access reserve funds to offset cuts in state aid — a bill that Kansas City area schools districts say might not help them a whole lot.

The House now is willing to fund elementary and secondary education at a rate of up to $3,780 per pupil, up from its original position of $3,762.

The governor originally had wanted to fund education at $3,780 per student, down from the $4,012 that schools received at the beginning of the year. The cut was because the governor chose not to replace federal stimulus funds.

The Senate has wanted to fund education at a rate of $3,786 per pupil.

The House and Senate return this afternoon for more talks.

House puts in $1.5 million for community corrections for DUI offenders

A Sedgwick County Sheriff's officer watches while a suspected drunken driver walks a line during a Sedgwick County Sheriff DUI check point on South Webb Road in 2005 in Wichita

TOPEKA — The House has agreed to put in $1.5 million for community corrections for DUI offenders, which is welcome news to the Kansas DUI Commission as well as six members of a conference committee pushing for passage of a bill that strengthens penalties for drinking and driving. Senate budget negotiators accepted the funding this afternoon.

Those dollars, combined with a $250 across-the-board increase in fines, should pay for community corrections, said Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood.

Members of the House corrections and juvenile justice and Senate judiciary conference committee agreed Monday on the final details of the DUI bill, which will require interlock devices for first-time offenders and will set up a central repository to track DUI offenses across the state.

Colloton said the committee’s statute revisor is working on the bill, and it will go to legislators on Thursday.

Mary Ann Khoury, president and CEO of the DUI Victim Center of Kansas in Wichita, said she was pleased with many components of the proposed bill, although she wished the state would make it a crime to refuse a breath alcohol test. She said the repository “is very important” and said Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, was “sold on interlock devices for first-time offenders.”

Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, said Monday that it’s time for Kansas to get tough on people who drink and drive. Owens chairs the DUI commission, which began meeting after a drunken driver crashed into a 4-year-old Wichita girl and her mother in 2008 while they were crossing the street to school.

Gov. Brownback, Senate and House applaud Wichita State University basketball team

Gregg Marshall cuts down the net in Madison Square Garden

TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback this morning congratulated the Wichita State University men’s basketball team for winning the National Invitation Tournament in March in New York City. The Kansas Senate and House  followed with accolades from the floors of their chambers.

The Shockers and coach Gregg Marshall were at the Capitol for the recognition.

“Congratulations to Coach Gregg Marshall, his coaching staff and his players for a great season,” Brownback said. “Not only were the Shockers crowned NIT champions, they also won more games than any other WSU team in history.”

The team’s victory over the University of Alabama on March 31 marked WSU’s first NIT title.

“Their hard work and success this season is reflective of the Kansas ‘can do’ spirit,” Brownback said. “They started the year off strong – ran into a bit of a dry spell – and then showed the country how hard work, determination and teamwork pay off.”

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High school student asks city council for $10 million to renovate Joyland

Alex East, a 17-year-old junior at Northwest High School, asked the city council this morning to give his upstart nonprofit organization, Restore Hope, $10 million to help purchase and renovate Joyland Amusement Park.

The funding seems unlikely given the city’s financial struggles. But city council members applauded his effort.

“We don’t get very many individuals your age that come to city council with a plan that you’re working on,” Mayor Carl Brewer said.

East says he already has substantial support — more than 5,300 “likes” on Facebook. Some TV stations are interested in his story, and he told council members that Inside Edition has even contacted him about doing a story on it. It’s a lot of attention for a 17-year-old who is still trying to establish a nonprofit entity that could begin to accept donations. But he has sought help from a few businesspeople and teachers at his school — and now city hall. He remains confident.

“Joyland is really only going to come back with the support of the community,” he said after talking to council members during the public comment portion of their meeting.

Brewer asked council members to give East a chance to present his idea in one-on-one meetings. East said he’s glad the council at least expressed interest in the idea.

Vice Mayor Lavonta Williams said she’s glad to see East’s passion and wished him success.

“Maybe Oprah will give you some money,” she said.

Side note: The Daily Mail (www.dailymail.co.uk) recently wrote a story about the abandoned amusement park suggesting photographs of it look like the “aftermath of a warzone, or a ghost town left behind from the Chernobyl disaster.”

Also: Take a trip down memory lane in a gallery of Joyland photos.

Elections committee proves that if you reserve a room, legislators will show up

TOPEKA — On a riff of “If you build it, they will come,” legislators on an elections conference committee learned this morning that if you reserve a room, people will show up.

Legislative staff sent out a note this morning that the elections conference committee would meet at 9 a.m. in room 159S of the Statehouse.

Sen. Terrie Huntington, R-Fairway, chair of the Senate’s ethics and elections committee, said she had reserved the room but hadn’t called a meeting this morning.

She apologized to her fellow legislators and to staff as well as spectators.

House approves Kansas Affordable Airfares Program as part of a package

TOPEKA — House budget negotiators this morning said they would go along with $5 million for the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program as part of a package of budget items.

The Senate’s position has been to fund the program, which returns $2.32 to the state for every $1 it spends, according to an audit.

Sedgwick County and Wichita officials have been watching this issue closely as they say keeping airfares competitive is key to the local economy.

Budget negotiators either approve funding for programs as stand-alone items or as part of a package. When an item is packaged with others, such as airfares is,  the other chamber either accepts or rejects the entire package. Legislators use packages as a way to sweeten the pot for programs they want to fund. It’s akin to “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

The budget conference committee is scheduled to meet again at 1:15 p.m.

Stay on Kansas.com for more details.