You gotta wonder just how this Tyson chicken processing plant uproar is going to spread to the Kansas Legislature next session, when lawmakers who desperately want more jobs in Kansas and more markets for Kansas goods are going to face rejection of one of the biggest eco-devo moves the state has seen in a while.
It just got more complicated Monday morning when the Leavenworth County Commission voted 2-1 to rescind a proposed industrial revenue bond issue that would have firmed up financing of the $320 million new chicken processing (well, more like chicken dismantling) plant. Oh, and that county action came after a big rally last weekend against the plant south of Tonganoxie in Leavenworth County — near but not in tiny Lawrence in Douglas County and, well, upscale Johnson County.
The plant’s future might or might not hinge on Tyson’s ability to receive (extort?) that bond issue which triggers other tax breaks that would build the plant that might create up to 1,600 jobs.
Now, how often does the state get a deal like that? Jobs, construction and a market for scores of chicken plucking-related jobs and services. For a governor, and essentially a state government, that is searching for jobs for Kansans to grow the state, it doesn’t get much better.
Of course, the vast majority of those jobs are going to be relatively low-paying. But they’re jobs, and will at some point produce revenue for the state and hand farmers a new use for their land, essentially becoming child-care workers for chickens.
The locals weren’t enthusiastic, because they believe the negotiations for the plant have been secret or because they might live down-wind or down-stream from the plant or because, well, it’s just not what they are used to in the cattle-heavy ag community of northeast Kansas.
The Leavenworth County Commission? Is that bond issue vote the end of it? Probably not. At some point, you have to figure the Legislature, or at least the Kansas Department of Commerce, is going to get involved. And so far, the three lawmakers who ginned up a public rally to talk about the deal all agreed they don’t want the plant in or near their legislative districts.
But that is a lot of jobs, and who doesn’t get a warm, comforting feeling from being able to open the refrigerator door and see a couple pounds of chicken wings vacuum-packed by Kansans on the shelf?
So far, the county commission’s vote appears to be based on “local control.” And for many lawmakers, “local control,” which up to now generally has meant local units of government pay for something the state won’t pay for anymore, has become a political mantra.
Is there a point where that “local control” is ignored by the state? Or just pecked at until it can be averted when a certain number of jobs is offered? Will some decide either to figure a way to override the Leavenworth officials, while other lawmakers start figuring how to herd that flock of jobs to other legislative districts.
It’s the jobs, and whatever mechanics the state needs to use to get them to Kansas, probably by offering up some alternative finance/bond deal that essentially leaves the local officials to consider the smaller issue of maybe just plowing the road to and from the chicken plant.
Best bet? We haven’t heard the last cluck on this one yet.
Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report.