I’ve always been skeptical of big-ticket public improvement projects.
Expanding the Bartle Hall Convention Center made little sense to me. The bistate sales tax for Union Station rescued that aging structure, but the facility struggled for years before it could pay all the bills.
I don’t like taxpayer-funded downtown baseball. The Truman Sports Complex subsidies are dicey. The Power & Light District drains the general fund. The new Johnson County Courthouse is too expensive. The American Jazz Museum? Don’t ask.
Heck, I was the guy who said the $800 million bond package was too aggressive. Ditto for the East Side sales tax.
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Yet I’m all in for a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport. Why is that?
More importantly, why should Kansas City’s voters support a new terminal?
Some reasons seem obvious. KCI is a dark, crumbling mess. Flying in or out of the airport is roughly equivalent to queuing up for a field trip in a grade school basement. Passengers, the airlines, workers all say something has to be done.
Rehabbing isn’t always the answer, no matter what you see on TV. Does anyone now think tearing down the old Paseo High School and building a replacement was a mistake? No.
We rehabbed Kemper Arena, then discarded it for the Sprint Center. Again, the better choice.
Mostly, though, I think Kansas City voters should embrace a new terminal because most of them won’t pay for it.
You probably already know that the $1 billion project cost, plus interest, will be paid by airport users, not taxpayers. You may not know most of those users live outside of Kansas City.
How many? Estimates vary. One study says only 12 percent of the airport’s passengers live in the city. That would mean 88 percent of those paying for the new terminal actually live outside the city limits.
Other estimates are a bit higher, but the point remains: Kansas City’s voters can finally approve a major regional project while forcing non-residents to pay the biggest share of the expense.
This analysis isn’t perfect, of course. Kansas Citians who don’t fly may pay a few extra pennies for parking when they pick up a friend at the airport. And non-residents pay part of the costs in Kansas City already, through sales and earnings taxes.
But the airport equation is simple and compelling: A new terminal, hundreds of local jobs (many from north of the river) and the bill likely paid by an outsider in a business suit. Sweet.
In my 33 years covering Kansas City, I’ve always been amazed at how wise its voters turn out to be. Kansas City has challenges, but it’s a much better place today than it was 20 years ago, and a smart electorate is the reason why.
Now those same voters are called on again. First, they’ll have to reject the misleading noise from airport opponents.
Some are pushing “extensive renovations” at KCI. The airlines don’t want that, and no one knows how it would work, but we do know this: If renovations were on the ballot, the same goofballs would be opposed.
They’re not anti-tax; they’re anti-government. They won’t stop until the streets are bad, the airport is bad, the schools are bad — you get the idea.
Kansas Citians can reject the nonsense with a yes vote on Question 1. I think they’re smart enough to do so.