Several times host Gene Countryman referred to Wichita theater owner Bill Warren and his assessment of Layton as “best city manager the city’s ever had,” calling Warren’s assessment “high praise.” Warren has good reason to heap praise on Layton. He and his partners have benefited handsomely from actions the Wichita City Council has taken at Layton’s recommendation. Most recently Warren escaped paying property taxes on a new movie theater, and negotiated a deal in where the property tax on an existing property will increase at an agreed-upon rate that is likely lower than what would happen otherwise. Before Layton’s arrival in Wichita, the council heaped subsidy on Warren too, once bailing out the failing Warren Old Town Theater with an interest-free loan.
Layton also said criticism causes him to “bristle a little bit,” but dismissed his critics as a small minority, although he said he doesn’t discount it.
On the possible arrival of Southwest Airlines to Wichita, Layton said he feels “pretty good” about Wichita’s chances in receiving service from the popular discount airline. He said that we need to keep the Affordable Airfares Program to keep Southwest interested in Wichita. But later he said “The Southwest business model doesn’t require subsidies over a long period of time.”
But as I wrote in 2006, we’ve been told before that the airfare subsidies were meant to be temporary: “From the beginning, we in the Wichita area have been told each year that the AirTran subsidy was intended as a temporary measure, that soon AirTran would be able to stand on its own, and there will be no need to continue the subsidy.” History has shown, however, that the subsidy has grown to the point where the entire state funds the subsidy for Wichita. It appears to be a permanent part of the state’s economic program, with Governor Brownback expressing support for continued funding for the program.
On downtown, Layton said that the city doesn’t want to place businesses in downtown who will be on tax breaks or tax exempt for ten years. If the city is to achieve this goal, it will take a 180 degree change in the mindset in city hall where the mayor and vice-mayor Jeff Longwell complain that we don’t have enough “tools in the toolbox” to incentive businesses. In his State of the City address last week, one of the achievements Mayor Carl Brewer was proud of was the decision by Cargill to locate a facility in downtown Wichita. According to city documents, “The City has also offered a 100% five-plus-five year tax abatement on the new facility.” This is precisely the type of tax break Layton spoke against. Cargill, by the way, received many other forms of subsidy — let’s be clear — corporate welfare — for its decision.
On the plan for how to handle Wichita’s trash, Layton said his intent was to start a community dialog on the subject, and that has happened. Layton praised Iowa’s bottle bill, which adds five cents to the price of items sold in bottles. He said it makes it easier for people to recycle.