Government & Politics

Gov. criticized over KC Wizards incentives

TOPEKA — Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson is suggesting that critics who think his administration isn't trying hard enough to lure thousands of jobs away from Missouri are pushing him to be fiscally irresponsible.

The Democratic governor is drawing fire from some key Republicans for saying publicly that Kansas won't offer more than $230 million in state and local incentives to lure a corporate office complex and major league soccer stadium to Kansas City, Kan.

The state hadn't heard Monday whether its offer was acceptable to owners of the Kansas City Wizards and Missouri-based medical software maker Cerner Corp.

Neither Cerner nor OnGoal officials would comment Monday about the status of the offer.

Leaders of the GOP majority in the Kansas House said they're not so much concerned with the amount of incentives being offered but by Parkinson insisting the proposal is the best Kansas can do. They contend Parkinson and his administration should be more flexible because the Cerner-Wizards project would bring 9,000 jobs to Kansas.

Cerner and OnGoal LLC, the Wizards' owner, propose a $414 million development near NASCAR's Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan. The project includes an office complex for 4,500 Cerner employees, an 18,500-seat stadium for the Wizards and two dozen soccer fields for amateur teams.

"Those that are advocating that we should have offered more money are simply saying that we should offer more than what makes sense," Parkinson said on Friday. "How much more do they want us to offer?"

House GOP leaders have long questioned whether Parkinson and Commerce Secretary Dave Kerr were being aggressive enough in trying to lure Cerner and the Wizards to Kansas. Their concerns were heightened last week when Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced that Kerr would become director of that state's Department of Economic Development, starting Nov. 9.

Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said he has sensed "a reluctance to getting the deal closed" by Parkinson's administration. And Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, said he's worried more about the administration's approach.

"We're playing hard to get as if jobs are falling out of the sky in this economy," Yoder said.

Not all Republican legislators are critical. Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said Kerr "put his heart and soul" into trying to attract jobs.

Kansas' proposal for the Cerner-Wizards project includes $85 million from the state in cash incentives, tax credits, training funds and sales tax exemptions. It also would allow Wyandotte County to use almost $145 million in sales tax revenues collected from the area around Kansas Speedway to back bonds that would finance the soccer stadium.

"If we lose the Cerner deal, it won't be because we have failed to make a great offer," Parkinson said. "It'll simply be because it is a very complex situation that, within the current laws and current restraints that we have, we couldn't make it work."

O'Neal acknowledged that he can't say specifically how the package could be improved, only that Parkinson and his administration should be willing to change it to close a deal.

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