The bad ideas for building a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport keep rolling in.
The latest head-scratcher comes courtesy of City Hall, which is now considering an ordinance that could authorize a loan of millions for up-front costs at the airport.
The city may or may not need that much money. But there’s talk of borrowing the cash from the Water Department, or other non-airport funds the city has in the bank.
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The city promised that only airport money would be used at KCI — a commitment made repeatedly and clearly when voters were asked to approve the terminal project. The new deal that’s now on the table would provide the loan from the so-called enterprise funds, either the Aviation Department or the Water Department.
Aviation has the money but claims the cash is earmarked for specific expenses and therefore not available. Guess what? Water Department money is dedicated, too — to providing water.
Kansas Citians have complained for years about spiking water and sewer bills. The optics of diverting that cash to the airport, even for a couple of months, are horrible.
It is true that City Hall often borrows from itself to smooth out bumps in cash flow. In fact, a few years ago, the city borrowed from Aviation to supplement the general budget. That money was repaid over time.
But the airport terminal project is different. Voters were assured time and again that airport users and the airlines would pay the cost of building a new terminal. That should remain an irrevocable guiding principle for all spending at KCI.
If the project is delayed for a few months until airport bonds are sold, so be it.
It’s hard to ignore the airlines’ complicity in this mess. They’ve refused to sign an agreement to finance the new terminal, for reasons that remain obscure. While that delay continues, the city is unable to issue airport improvement bonds. That’s why the possibility of a bridge loan remains on the table.
The situation is frustrating. But this problem should not be solved by diverting money from water bills to the airport for any reason, even for a short time.
If a loan is needed, the Aviation Department should provide it. Then the department and the city should ramp up the pressure on the airlines to either accept the current deal or say publicly what they want.
Kansas Citians will come to resent being held hostage by private airlines that can’t make up their minds. They’ll resent it even more if their water bill payments are used to paper over problems at the airport.