The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 3, 2001 · Page 9
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 9

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Salina, Kansas
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Thursday, May 3, 2001
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Page 9
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THURSDAY MAY 3, 2001 THE SALINA JOURNAL Great Plains A LOOK AHEAD / B2 DEATHS / B3 FUN / B4 BRIEFLY Goodland to give Vignery key to city GOODLAND — Goodland will give its own Lt. j.g. Jeff Vignery the key to the city during a ceremony Saturday to honor the co-pilot of the surveillance plane that collided with a Chinese fighter jet, triggering an international incident. The ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Max Jones Fieldhouse, located at the intersection of 12th and Arcade streets. Vignery, a member of his family member and US. Rep. Jerry Moran, R- Hays, will speak. Several people in Vignery's past, including classmates, his football coach, church pastor and college roommate, also will speak. Dale Schields, Goodland, will be master of ceremonies. Singers, a color guard and a patriotic skit will be part of the ceremony People who attend are asked to wear yellow ribbons, which will ceremoniously removed. , Some ribbons will be provided at the event. ' Vignery and another pilot were at the controls of the EP- 3E turboprop plane when it was struck April 1 over the South China Sea and forced to land on Hainan island. The 24 crew members were detained 11 days before being allowed by Chinese officials to return to the United States The plane is still on the island. Abilene man killed in tractor-trailer crash RAMONA, Okla. — An Abilene man was killed Tuesday afternoon in a tractor-trailer explosion two miles south of Ramona, Okla. Jerry D. Kohman, 46, was driving a semi north about 2:15 on U.S. Highway 75 when a pickup truck driving beside his semi went off the road, came back onto the highway and struck the semi. The semi, carrying hydrogen cylinders, overturned and exploded, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Kohman was dead at the scene. Pickup driver Leota S. Allen, 69, Ramona, Okla., was treated for leg injuries at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Okla., where she was in fair condition. From Staff Reports CORRECTIDIVIS Because of a Journal error, a reference to First Bank Kansas, 235 S. Santa Fe, was incorrect in a story in Wednesday's edition about the bank's plan to acquire an Emporia bank. ••••• The Journal wants to set the record straight. Advise as of errors by calling the Journal at (785) 823-6363, or toll free at 1-800827-6363. Corrections will run In this space as soon as possible. MOTE TO REAPERS Because of rising and erratic gasoline prices, the Journal today is bringing back its daily check of local gasoline retailers to find the lowest posted price. The feature, begun last year during a period of price volatility, will appear daily in this space. Prices, of course, are subject to change at any time. If you see a lower price, call the newsroom at 823-6363, Ext. 150. Salina's lowest gasoline price found yesterday by the Journal. Call us at 823-6363, Ext. 150, if you find a lower fuel price in town. T LEGISLATURE Price from The Corner Store, 842 N. Santa Fe Budget negotiations to resume Funding for schools at center of debate to finish business By JOHN HANNA The Associated Press , The Associated Press Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, sits next to Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutcliinson, whiile the Senate debates school finance Wednesday. Oleen wants more taxes, while Kerr opposes increased taxes for school funding. School finance gets new life Senators working to build support for new education package By JOHN MILBURN The Associated Press TOPEKA — Senators breathed new life into the 2001 school finance debate, holding true to the Kansas political adage that nothing ever really dies in the Statehouse. Led by Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen, a group of senators courted support Wednesday for a new package for increasing spending for elementary and secondary education. Leaders said the plan — yet to be divulged — has become the "key that turns the lock" on fixing the state budget and ending • WILSON the 2001 session. "Is there a working plan at the moment? No," said Oleen, R- Manhattan. Negotiations on a budget bill halted Tuesday night when senators said some coUeagiies wanted to 'revisit school finance. Legislators must close a $206 million hole in already-approved spending in the state budget for fiscal 2002, Vvfhich begins July 1. Kansas spends $2.26 billion on schools. Oleen said the suspension of budget talks was not about education, but about the differences between House and Senate budget plans. "This is a sideline to what they are doing," she said, adding the Legislature cannot leave until that final spending bill is approved. Senate Education Chairman Dwayne Umbarger said several issues, including expansion of legal gambling and additional money for social services, were in the mix. "We've had the door kicked open' all session, willing to talk," Umbarger said. "Now they're starting to come alive." A bipartisan group met in private throughout Wednesday to build a plan and count noses. Urnbarger, R-Thayer, said he does not want the education budget to be held hostage, but he would not promise to deliver votes for expanded gambling as a trade-off. However, support for another run at school finance may be ebbing. Republicans showed their growing frustration Wednesday morning, asking openly how many votes it takes to block consideration of legislation. It would take 14 of 40 members — one more than one-third — to hold back debate, said Oleen, who has her detractors in her own caucus. "We are at a complete standstill because the majority leader is not representing the majority party," said Sen. Nancey Harrington, R-Goddard. "We are being held hostage." Republicans, who hold a 30-10 majority in the Senate, held a closed caucus Wednesday afternoon to set a deadline for debating a plan and maintaining party unity An e-mail circulated by the conservative Kansas Republican Assembly quoted Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler: "They are at it again. The tax-and- spend crowd will not give up." TOPEKA — Budget negotiators were prepared to jump back into talks Wednesday as their frustrated colleagues swapped rumors about plans to increase taxes and expand gambling. "Until the final gavel sounds, everything is in play," said Sen. David Adkins, R-Leawood, one of the budget negotiators. "The smell of desperation is in the air." Adkins, two other senators and three House members began meeting Saturday to draft the final version of a bill closing a $206 million gap between expected revenues and spending already approved for the fiscal year that starts July 1. But they broke off Tuesday night because some senators, led by Majority Leader Lana Oleen, wanted another chance at passing tax increases and raising more money for public schools. Legislators speculated Wednesday that proposals to expand legalized gambling also were being considered, as a. possible way to attract support for a significant increase in education funding. At the same time, other legislators were saying leaders should end the efforts so that the Legislature can adjourn. "We're trying to push the education group to get a plan on the table," Senate President Dave Kerr, R-kutchinson, said Wednesday. "They need to finish something tonight." Legislators said the latest school finance plan would add about $60 million to a $67 million increase already approved by lawmakers. Details of how the money would be, raised weren't settled. Also unsettled was how gambling fit. Some legislators said it was a part of the package; others insisted it wasn't and that a vote was only designed to buy support for a tax increase. Sen. Chris Steineger, D- Kansas City, a supporter of efforts to legalize slot machines at dog and horse racing tracks, said one idea is to combine a .slots plan with a proposal to allow video lottery games at American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars halls. "It does pick up votes," Steineger said. Czechs to celebrate Opera House at 100 Peppy Joe Vocasek headed restoration of building in the 1980s By CLARA KILBOURN The Hulcliinson News WILSON — The best of Czech foods, accompanied by polka music "like it's supposed to be played," will highlight Sunday's celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Czech Opera House. The celebration begins with a hog roast, sauerkraut and all the trimmings from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Opera House basement. • WESTERN RESOURCES The event moves to the upstairs ballroom for a 2 to 6 p.m. dance that features the music of Nebraskan Dean Hansen. ' Czechs from miles away are expected to make the pilgrimage to Wilson for the anniversary of the Opera House, built in 1901 out of native Dakota limestone. Wilson native Peppy Joe Vo­ casek headed up a restoration in the 1980s that brought the old building back to life. The Opera House has played host to decades of wedding dances, lodge meetings, operettas, spring and fall festivals, and St. Nicklaus Christmas par- • Wilson to restore Midland Hotel / Page B3 ties. "That building has seen happy times," Vocasek said. The 87-year-old Vocasek and his father, Joseph, served as the town barbers for 90 years. Joseph started in 1910 and continued until he retired in the 1970s. Peppy Joe returned to Wilson from California at that time and became one of the town's most loyal boosters. He retired last year. Larry and Donna Ptacek, Claude and Georgina Jordan, and Peppy Joe Vocasek's late wife, Dorothy, also served on the committee that restored the century-old structure. "I remember my folks used to come to Wilson once a year from where we lived between Bison and Timken to a Czech play at the Opera House," said Albina Mattas, 89. "There would be a group of local people who put on the show." Mattas recalled the early days when the building was used as a theater. Admission was 15 cents for children and 35 cents for adults. "If you bought popcorn, you didn't spend much more than $2," she said. The Czech immigrants who settled in Wilson came through Ellis Island, migrated to Chicago and traveled to Kansas, said Vocasek's caretaker, Jean Kingston. Among the immigrants were musicians, artists, tailors, bakers and other craftsmen who escaped the poverty and persecution of their native Bohemia and Austria for a better life in America. See CZECHS, Page B3 Legislators, consumer advocates question offer Western promises to apply Westar profits to regulated utilities By KATRINA HULL The Associated Press TOPEKA — An offer by Western Resources to reduce some of its utilities' debt drew a wary response from some legislators, and a consumer advocate said the offer changes nothing. Western owes its regulated electric subsidiaries — KGE and KPL — about $2 billion, according to the Citizens' Utility Ratepayers Board. The offer Western made late Tuesday would initially reduce the debt by about $100 million, company spokeswoman Kim Gronniger said. CURB'S lead attorney, Walker Hendrix, said the $2 billion represents profits Western unfairly shifted from the utilities to its unregulated businesses. Western maintains the utilities' debt stems from the cost of new power plants and inflation. Western announced an internal agreement Tuesday that promises to apply profits from Westar Industries, the unit of unregulated businesses that it plans to spin off, to its regulated utilities. Key lawmakers asked the Kansas Corporation Commission last week to investigate whether Western had shifted profits from its ratepayer-supported utilities to its unregulated ventures, such as its finan­ cially troubled security firm, Protection One. McClure has questions Rep. Laura McClure, ranking Democrat on the House Utilities Committee, said Wednesday she still has questions about Western's business practices. McClure, Committee Chairman Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, and Vice Chairman Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, met with Western officials Tuesday McClure had initially said the agreement addressed most of her concerns, but she said she reviewed it further and talked to the KCC's staff. "The main thing is, we want to make sure there is energy," said McClure, D-Osborne. "It is crucial to Kansas to make sure Western Resources is healthy" Hendrix said Western's offer still leaves the utilities with an unhealthy debt and Western executives with more than healthy salaries. "If they can propose a plan that would restore the $2 billion of equity they've taken out of the utilities, it might restore my faith in the overall approach the company is taking," Hendrix said. Western has said it plans to offer shares of Westar Industries to its current shareholders as soon as May 9. The company still needs federal Securities and Exchange Commission approval. An initial public offering of Westar stock could follow the offering to Western shareholders with further SEC approval. The goal is to make Westar a separate company. The agreement reached Tuesday also outlines a plan to reduce more of the utilities' debt, but Hendrix said once Westar and Western have separated, those plans will be hard to follow. And all plans affecting KGE and KPL customers hinge on approval by state regulators, who are in the midst of hearings on Western's request for a $151 million rate hike. Sloan said Western should put at least $1.5 billion back into the utilities, although he declined to say if Tuesday's agreement could do that. "It's subject to all kind of reviews and approval," Sloan said. SUGGESTIONS? CALL BEN WEARING, DEPUTY EDITOR, AT 823-6363 OR 1-800-827-6363 OR E-MAIL AT sjbwearing@saljournal.com

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