Kansas City Council Delays Approval Of Language For KCI Ballot

Aug 17, 2017

Kansas City Councilwoman Jolie Justus and Councilman Quinton Lucas have been key players in the debate over the new airport.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

The Kansas City Council put off a decision Thursday to finalize ballot language for a vote on a new airport.

The council split seven to six in favor of the delay.

Third District Councilman Jermaine Reed argued the council should delay the vote until more of the members could agree on how it should read.

“I think it sends the wrong message,” Reed said. “We all want to see a new airport. If we don’t have unity amongst this council how can we be leaders in front of our entire city?”

Mayor Sly James was among those who wanted to take the vote Thursday.

“If we only lead when we have unanimous consent, we aren’t leading,” James said. He said there have been months of debate during which opponents could get answers to their questions.

The council has been sharply divided on whether to finance the airport with General Aviation Revenue Bonds or some form of private financing. Measures in support of both have been proposed.

Taxpayers wouldn't be liable for a new airport regardless of the financing package. Funds from airport revenues —  including user fees, parking and concessions — will pay for the $1.1 billion project. Still, a number of polls show the public is generally opposed to public financing for the new airport, including airport bonds. 

Before Thursday afternoon’s vote, Councilwoman Jolie Justus said she fears waiting will only confuse voters more in a process that has already become a web of arcane finance and political maneuvering.

Justus fears using public funds will doom the project before it gets started.

“If we decide to go with public financing ... you have to put the dollar amount before voters,“ Justus said. “All the polling says when voters see the price tag, (they vote) not to pass it.”

Justus has an alternative proposal that allows some form of private financing but focuses on the question of whether voters want a new terminal at KCI.

Meanwhile, a special committee is reviewing four engineering and construction proposals for the project. That committee could make a choice by next week.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. Reach her on Twitter @laurazig or email lauraz@kcur.org