Archive for Thursday, April 5, 2001

Olathe senator deals blow to Sunflower legislation

April 5, 2001

Sen. Karin Brownlee, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, dealt a further setback to Oz Entertainment Co.'s proposal to redevelop the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

Brownlee announced Wednesday her committee would not work legislation extending by one year legislation that makes public financing available for Sunflower redevelopment. The legislation expires July 1.

Brownlee's decision, which prevents the measure from going to the Senate floor, is an added hurdle to Oz. The company's Sunflower redevelopment plan makes use of state-issued sales tax revenue bonds and tax increment financing bonds available through the legislation.

Last month, the Johnson County Commission deadlocked 2-2 over the Oz redevelopment plan. The commission then asked the Legislature to extend the deadline on the Sunflower redevelopment legislation so that the county could fund a feasibility study of Oz's financial plan.

Brownlee made her decision at the end of a Commerce Committee hearing on the extension request.

"Proponents spoke for it, and opponents spoke against it," the Olathe Republican said. "At the end, I announced I would not work the bill. Based on the tremendous amount of e-mails and contacts I've had, I don't think there is public support for this project.

"On the morning it came out in the papers that the bill would be in my committee, I received 41 phone calls or e-mails during the first 90 minutes my office was open. Forty of those were opposed to Oz, and one was in favor."

To prepare for the hearing, Brownlee said she read a thick stack of newspaper articles on the Oz proposal.

"I couldn't justify the extension," she said. "I read a newspaper article from September, 1999, in which the Johnson County Commission talked about conducting a feasibility study. They have been heard in Topeka for many, many years."

Brownlee said the extension might yet get to the floor of the Senate.

"There are so many ways to reincarnate a bill," she said. "I fully expect it to surface elsewhere.

"There are a number of maneuvers that can be used. They (Oz) have strong backing. The labor unions support the project."

The committee granted the county a favor by scheduling the hearing, Brownlee said.

"It's so late in the session that it's no small thing we're even having a hearing on it," she said. "It's hard to get all the members together for 45 minutes with so much going on."

Although Oz has been successful in getting proposed legislation through both bodies in recent years, there has been more opposition in the House than in the Senate. However, the extension request was approved by the House last week.

A third of the Senate's members are freshman with three months of experience, Brownlee said. Many came over from the House, but others have no experience with Oz.

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