A committee of petitioners is now on Kansas City’s streets, seeking to force a November vote on a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport — paid for only through privately-obtained loans.
The petition drive is dangerous and unnecessary. It jeopardizes voter support for a new terminal by needlessly complicating an already-confusing debate.
It also illustrates the travesty Kansas City’s petition process has become.
The petition committee is led by Pat Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO. He and other union leaders firmly believe in the private lending plan first offered in May.
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They reject the idea of using standard public airport revenue bonds to pay the $1 billion cost.
Most Kansas Citians roll their eyes at the debate over public vs. private financing. For good reason: The cost for travelers and airport users is the same either way. And taxpayers aren’t on the hook under either approach.
There are differences, though, in overall construction costs and terminal design. That’s why we’ve repeatedly urged the City Council to study both ideas.
No sensible home buyer would seek a mortgage without first considering the pros and cons of fixed-rate and adjustable-rate loans. That’s essentially what Kansas Citians should want in the airport financing debate.
The petition, on the other hand, seeks to preempt that comparison before it even starts.
That’s misguided in two ways. If private lending is forced on the November ballot, and later study shows the public option is cheaper and better, voters will be justified in opposing the terminal. Dujakovich doesn’t want that outcome, and neither do we.
It’s also possible the City Council will put a public financing option on the ballot even if the private-financing petition drive succeeds. That would mean two airport questions on the November ballot, almost certainly dooming both to failure.
The City Council and Mayor Sly James are fully capable of comparing the financing options. They’re doing so now. We expect them to finish in time for a November vote.
The people of Kansas City have repeatedly shown they’re up to the task of understanding ballot issues and reaching informed decisions. We’re supremely confident voters will study the airport question carefully and reach the right conclusion.
The petitioners do not share that faith. They seek to obstruct careful consideration of the financing plan, substituting their judgment for the City Council’s.
They’re able to do that, by the way, because of Kansas City’s absurdly flawed initiative petition process.
It will take about 1,700 valid signatures to place the Dujakovich plan before voters — signatures that can be obtained over a couple of weekends. It’s now far too easy to reach beyond elected leadership and govern by plebiscite.
That’s the antithesis of republican government, where citizens elect their neighbors to make decisions.
We support the initiative petition process. But the signature threshold must be raised to make citywide decisions meaningful, not a reflection of the whims of special interest groups.
And we support a new terminal at KCI. The Dujakovich petition puts that terminal in jeopardy, and we urge Kansas Citians to reject it.