Government & Politics

KC organized labor collecting signatures, petitioning to put KCI vote on November ballot

Pat "Duke" Dujakovich, Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO president, wants a November vote on a new airport.
Pat "Duke" Dujakovich, Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO president, wants a November vote on a new airport. Star file photo

Union clout, eager for the jobs that would come in building a new airport, wants to make sure voters weigh in on a privately financed plan for a single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

Pat Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO, and others are gathering signatures for a petition initiative that would put a generic proposal for a privately financed airport to a vote in November. Dujakovich said his committee is about halfway to the 1,708 signatures needed for a valid petition.

“There have been too many delays and too much discussion,” Dujakovich told The Star. “The people of Kansas City are ready to see some action and have this move forward.”

Dujakovich’s petition comes as Kansas City has invited competitive proposals for a $1 billion single terminal project at KCI. City Hall issued a solicitation after engineering and construction firm Burns & McDonnell initially proposed designing and privately financing the long-sought single terminal project in May.

The first round of proposals is due later this month.

Dujakovich said his petition is meant to ensure that voters can have a say on a privately financed airport proposal in November in case the Kansas City Council doesn’t select one of the proposals through the solicitation process, or opts to finance the project through aviation bonds.

Dujakovich said a November vote is critical because he thinks time is of the essence for modernizing KCI, in part because of the possibility of an economic downturn souring the prospects of a new terminal at KCI.

“If this doesn’t go on the November ballot, I think I’m done talking about airports in Kansas City,” he said.

Labor leaders have pushed for a new terminal at KCI; the prospect for construction jobs is alluring for their members. Dujakovich said he favors a privately financed project because he thinks voters prefer it to funding it publicly through aviation bonds.

A poll done by Remington Research Group, a subsidiary of Republican consulting firm Axiom Strategies, indicates the chances of voters approving a new KCI improves when a private-financing model is on the table. Axiom Strategies is a client of Burns & McDonnell.

“I think the private-financing model has a lot of promise here in Kansas City,” Dujakovich said. “It moves the needle for voters.”

Dujakovich’s petition makes no mention of any specific private companies. He does support Burns & McDonnell’s idea to design, build and privately finance the construction of the airport. On June 19, Dujakovich and Alise Martiny, president of the Greater Kansas City Building and Construction Trades Council, sent a letter to Kansas City Mayor Sly James informing him that both the local AFL-CIO and trades council endorsed Burns & McDonnell for the airport project.

So far, Los Angeles-based AECOM has also made its interest known in formulating a proposal for the Kansas City Council to consider. AECOM’s team includes Fentress Architects, Oaktree Capital Management and Turner Construction.

Dujakovich has also said he would run for Kansas City Council to try and unseat Teresa Loar. Loar, a skeptic of the push for a new KCI terminal, was described in Dujakovich’s council announcement as an obstructionist. Dujakovich, however, has not formed a campaign committee, according to Missouri Ethics Commission records.

Kristi Widmar, a spokeswoman for Burns & McDonnell, said the firm was not involved in Dujakovich’s petition effort.

“Our focus now is on the RFP and building a strong hometown team that will put Kansas Citians to work,” Widmar said in an email to The Star. “As you know, we are strong proponents of privately financing a one-terminal airport and believe that is the only path to getting the proposal passed on the November ballot.”

Katheryn Shields, a Kansas City Councilwoman, introduced an ordinance that proposes funding the airport publicly through aviation bonds. Shields said private-finance proposals should be compared to public finance to see if one or the other could produce cost savings.

“I introduced that ordinance so the public and my colleagues can be aware of the public option and the possibility of it having substantial cost savings over private financing,” Shields said.

She said she saw no need for a petition initiative seeking private financing, particularly after the Kansas City Council established a process to solicit proposals for a privately financed airport terminal project.

“It seems that there’s individuals or forces there that are opposed to that orderly process and somehow want to hijack it before it’s even completed,” Shields said. “I don’t think they’re going to be successful.”

Steve Vockrodt: 816-234-4277, @st_vockrodt