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Vote Expected On Bill To Boost Aviation Employment, But Cost A Concern

Stephen Koranda
KPR/File photo

A Kansas House Committee is expected to vote Monday on a bill aimed at helping to revitalize the Kansas aviation industry.

House Bill 2036 would provide tax credits to graduates of accredited engineering programs who go to work in the Kansas aviation industry. Companies that hire them also would qualify for credits.

Jason Watkins, a lobbyist for the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, says the incentives could help reverse a steady decline in aviation jobs that has lasted more than a decade. He says employment has dropped by 17 percent since 2005.

“The conventional wisdom has been that we lost these aviation jobs during the Great Recession and that because of a sluggish economy and low demand for airplanes, they haven’t come back,” Watkins says. “Well, that’s not correct. These jobs have come back. They just haven’t come back to Kansas.”

Many of them landed in Oklahoma, he says, after lawmakers there approved tax credits similar to those proposed in the Kansas bill.

“Aviation firms are growing employment, but they are growing employment in states with better incentives and programs more inviting of their capital investment,” he told members of the Kansas House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development in testimony last week.

Several members of the committee said while they supported using targeted tax credits to create jobs they were concerned about taking a piecemeal approach that could lead to “picking winners and losers.”

Many also expressed concerns about the bill’s estimated $8 million cost at a time when lawmakers are scrambling to cover a projected shortfall of more than $310 million in the current fiscal year and of more than $500 million next year.

“There are a number of things that we can do to create jobs in Kansas through targeted stimulus of one type or another, and this bill is an example of that,” says Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat. “But what I want to see us do is take a much broader look at the Kansas economy.”

That broader look, Carmichael says, should include rolling back the tax income cuts that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through the Legislature in 2012.

Brownback says the tax cuts are helping small businesses create jobs. But Carmichael is among a growing group of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who blame the tax cuts for crashing the state budget.

“The sad truth of the matter is if in 2012 we hadn’t given the wealthiest Kansans a cut in their taxes and Kansas business owners an exemption from paying any income tax at all, we would have the resources to try to do real job development in this state,” he says. “But at this point, the state is flat broke.”