‘Why are street maintenance fees connected to gaming commission appointment?’ former Mission mayor asks

“It’s disappointing,” former Mission Mayor Laura McConwell said of her rejection by the Kansas Senate to appointment to a full term on the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commssion.

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Laura McConwell

McConwell said she had not been contacted by any of the Senate members who opposed her nomination. “I would have been happy to be there and answer their questions,” McConwell said. She did receive a call from Gov. Sam Brownback, who made the appointment, since the vote.

McConwell said it has been shared with her that the opposition group is concerned she is going to run for a state-wide office and the denial is a pre-emptive strike. Largely the vote split by moderate Republicans and Democrats supporting the nomination and more conservative Republicans, with some exceptions, voting against it.

The reason for the opposition, cited by Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee, was McConwell’s support of Mission’s Transportation Utility Fee (TUF) that generates about $750,000 per year in street maintenance funds for Mission.

“As mayor of Mission, Laura McConwell publicly supported and pushed for an excise tax, known as the “driveway tax,” that was forced on Mission real estate owners that was ruled to be illegal by the Kansas attorney general,” Pilcher-Cook said in an explanation of vote. “The ordinance stipulated that churches, non-profits and charities typically exempt from property taxes under state law, would be charged a fee calculated by estimating the average number of trips vehicles make on and off a property. The advocacy for this tax after information was acquired about the illegality of the tax is an indication of poor judgment.” Seven other senators, including four others from Johnson County, attached their names to the statement.

“I have no idea what the transportation utility fee has to do with an appointment to the gaming commission,” McConwell said. The number one priority in Mission for years was repairing and replacing streets, McConwell said: “Looking back it has been good for us.” The TUF has been renewed in several city budgets since its initial approval. It also has been upheld in the courts, although an appeal is pending. McConwell pointed out that the attorney-general, whose opinion was non binding, did not intervene in the court case. McConwell left the mayor’s office one year ago.

The only senator who has constituents affected by the TUF, McConwell said, is Sen. Kay Wolf, who supported the nomination. Nothing had with the TUF changed, McConwell said, since her appointment to an unexpired term last August.

The roll call vote:
Yeas: Bowers, Bruce, Denning, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Haley, Hawk, Hensley, Holland, Kelly, Kerschen, King, LaTurner, Longbine, McGinn, Pettey, Schmidt, Wolf.
Nays: Abrams, Arpke, Baumgardner, Donovan, Fitzgerald, Holmes, Knox, Love, Lynn, Masterson, Melcher, O’Donnell, Olson, Petersen, Pilcher-Cook, Powell, Pyle, Smith, Wilborn. Present and Passing: Ostmeyer, Tyson, Wagle.