Poll: Private financing idea gives boost to support for a single-terminal KCI

A poll of Kansas City voters suggests that support for a single-terminal Kansas City International Airport remains thin, but it improves when respondents hear details about a private financing concept put forth by Burns & McDonnell.

Remington Research Group released a poll Monday taken over the weekend that tabulated responses from 1,021 likely Kansas City voters. Remington Research Group is the polling subsidiary of political campaign firm Axiom Strategies. Burns & McDonnell has had Axiom Strategies on retainer.

The poll indicates that support for a single terminal at KCI is at 38 percent, about the same level it was in a poll more than a year ago when Kansas City Mayor Sly James put a stop to the city’s vote in 2016 on the terminal project. That poll, taken at the end of April 2016 by Global Strategy Group, said 39 percent of respondents would vote in favor of a new single terminal funded with airport revenue bonds. Progress KC, a campaign committee funded by local business and civic figures, funded the Global Strategies Group poll.

The latest poll by Remington said 40 percent opposed the single-terminal idea, while 22 percent were unsure.

Those results ticked upward by double-digit percentage points when respondents were told about a Burns & McDonnell plan to privately finance, design and build a new single terminal. Support on that basis grew to 55 percent favoring the proposal, compared to 23 percent against and 22 percent unsure. The polling suggests that respondents warm to a local firm’s involvement in the project as well as a private financing model.

Last month, James announced that Burns & McDonnell proposed to design, build and arrange private financing for KCI. Under the original proposal, Burns & McDonnell would have exclusive rights to the project. Since then, the city has opened the project to competitive proposals.

Ron Coker, a senior vice president for Burns & McDonnell, said the poll shows a path to victory among voters compared to past polling efforts that consistently showed lukewarm support for a single terminal. He said private financing resonated with potential voters, compared to financing the project through the issuance of public bonds.

“There’s just no support for that type of effort,” Coker said of public financing proposals.

Taxpayers face no risk on funding airport projects, whether it’s financed publicly or privately. City Manager Troy Schulte said he welcomed the private financing model, like the one proposed by Burns & McDonnell, because it helped eliminate perceived risk among voters who think their local taxes will somehow be involved.

Katheryn Shields, a Kansas City councilwoman who last week introduced an ordinance offering a public financing alternative to the airport project, questioned the validity of a poll published by a firm with ties to Burns & McDonnell. Her public financing ordinance is scheduled for debate this week.

“I’m astonished that a company with the reputation of Burns & McDonnell would continue to needlessly interfere with the bid practices of this city,” Shields said. “And what they have to gain from having private financing, that still has to be worked out.”

Shields said public financing would save costs. Private financing proponents say that model will get the project done faster.

Coker said Burns & McDonnell did not attempt to sway the poll results.

“It’s not to our advantage to skew results in our favor,” he said.

Steve Vockrodt: 816-234-4277, @st_vockrodt