Tim Norton: Saving farms from people and their preferences

In the campaign for Sedgwick County Commission, the incumbent Tim Norton touts his experience, judgment, “intellectual stamina, thirst for data and feedback,” and his efforts in economic development. Following, from January 2013, an example of how uninformed he is. You also see his preference for government regulation over economic and personal freedom.

Tim Norton: Saving farms from people and their preferences

Last week at a meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission, Commissioner Tim Norton spoke in favor of the need for comprehensive government planning. In support, he cited the commonly-held belief that humans — especially with their desire for large suburban home lots — are depleting the stock of farmland to the point of being detrimental to agribusiness.

Here’s part of what Norton said (video below):

Now I know people don’t like the idea of sprawl and growth rings and all that, but the truth is there is a balance between where people live and preserving our good agricultural lands and how do you make that work. And that’s being able to sustain part of our economy. Agribusiness is the third largest economic driver in our community, in our region, and to say that we’re okay with every five acre tract being taken up by somebody’s rural residence sounds really good if you’re talking only property rights. But if you’re talking about preserving and sustaining agribusiness you gotta have the land and it’s got to be set aside for that enterprise.

Farms and ranches being driven out of existence by homeowners — that sounds like a problem that might threaten our food supply. But what are the facts?

First, there is an overabundance of farmland in America. There is so much farmland that we pay farmers billions each year to refrain from planting crops. We pay corn farmers billions in subsidies each year and then use their crops for motor fuel, instead of for making fine Kentucky bourbon and taco shells, as God intended.

Considering Sedgwick County, as that is what Norton represents: Despite being the second-most populous county in Kansas and home to its largest city and surrounding suburban communities, Sedgwick County ranks fourth among Kansas counties in the number of farms, thirty-fourth in farmland acres, seventh in total harvested cropland acres, thirty-third in market value of harvested crops, sixty-sixth in market value of livestock, and eighty-seventh in pasture acres. (Data from Kansas Farm Facts 2011, reporting on 2007 farm statistics.)

There’s something else that might ease Commissioner Norton’s concern, if he would only believe in the power of markets over government: That is the price system. If we were truly running short of farmland, crop prices would rise and farmland would become more valuable. Fewer people would be willing to pay the price necessary to have a five-acre home lot.

In fact, if crop prices were high enough, farmers would be buying back the five-acre lots, or perhaps paying homeowners to rent their yards for planting crops or grazing livestock.

In either case, markets — through the price system — provide a solution that doesn’t require politicians and bureaucrats. There are many other areas in which this is true, but government nonetheless insists on regulation and control.

From Pachyderm: Congressman Mike Pompeo

Voice for Liberty radio logo square 02 155x116From the Wichita Pachyderm Club: Congressman Mike Pompeo delivered an update on the issues of the day and answered questions. Over 100 Pachyderm Club members and guests attended. This audio presentation was recorded on October 21, 2016.

Congressman Mike Pompeo at the Wichita Pachyderm Club.
Congressman Mike Pompeo at the Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback on myths and reality

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback addressed a luncheon gathering at the Wichita Pachyderm Club to set the record straight on what he called myths. Recorded on October 14, 2016.


  • The Kansas tax plan is failing.
  • Kansas schools have been cut.
  • State employee pensions are severely underfunded.
  • Kansas highways are crumbling.
  • Welfare numbers are down because we are kicking people off.
  • Vulnerable Kansans aren’t being served.
  • Kansans are fleeing to Missouri.

View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

In Wichita, developer welfare under a cloud

A downtown Wichita project receives a small benefit from the city, with no mention of the really big money.

Today the Wichita City Council approved a subsidy for a project in downtown Wichita.

The city will lend the developer of a project at 303 S. Broadway $620,000 to improve the building’s facade. The property must repay this amount through an assessment on its property tax. The benefit to the property is that the city is able to borrow money at a lower interest rate, and this reduces the cost of borrowing for the project.

The agenda packet for this item states: “The Office of Urban Development has reviewed the economic (“gap”) analysis of the project and determined a financial need for incentives based on the current market.” This stems from the city’s policy on facade improvement projects, which is that the project would not be feasible except for this loan.1

Upon inquiry to the city, I was told that the facade improvement program would increase the developer’s return on investment from 7.06 percent to 8.35 percent. This seemed a stretch; that a small savings on interest costs on a small portion of the project cost could have such a large effect on profitability.

I asked the city for supporting documents that hold the figures used to calculate these amounts, but the city believes the Kansas Open Records Act does not allow it to release the records. In the past, however, I have received this information on request.

So, we’ll have to trust the city on this matter. I’m not comfortable with that. This is another example of the city conducting business within a cloud of secrecy.

Here’s the real money

The cost savings on borrowing $620,000 is just a small portion of subsidy this project will receive. Through tax credits, this project likely will receive over two million dollars in a form equivalent to cash.

The property was listed on the Register of Historic Kansas Places in August. This entitles the project to a tax credit of 25 percent of qualified expenses.2 With a project cost of $5,000,000, according to city documents, this tax credit could be worth $1,250,000.

From the National Park Service, a credit of 20 percent may be awarded.3 With a project cost of $5,000,000, according to city documents, this tax credit could be worth $1,000,000. It is not known at this time whether this project has qualified for this tax credit.

Together, the tax credits are worth potentially $2,250,000. Not all citizens may be aware of the mechanism of tax credits. In the case of the state of Kansas, the Department of Revenue will — figuratively — print a certificate that says the holder of this certificate may use it to pay $1,250,000 of state tax liability. It costs the state nothing to create this certificate. When the Department of Revenue receives the certificate instead of cash, the state gains nothing of economic value. The net economic effect is that the holder of the tax credit has been enriched by $1,250,000, and the state misses out on the same amount of revenue.4 Unless the state reduces its spending by the amount of the tax credit, the taxpayers have to make up the lost revenue.

This is not all. The project may apply for Industrial Revenue Bonds. This is a mechanism whereby a project may avoid paying property taxes and sales taxes.5 This property is located within a TIF district, so it is ineligible for property tax abatements. But, a sales tax exemption could be possible, if the developer applies.

That application is likely, as this developer did just that on another downtown Wichita building, also located in a TIF district, but eligible for sales tax exemption on purchases related to the redevelopment.6

Of note: This developer actively campaigned for the proposed 2014 Wichita city sales tax, offering free office space to the effort.7 Should he apply for a sales tax exemption on this property, this is another example of low-income families in Wichita paying sales tax on groceries, but well-off developers escaping paying that same tax.

The council meeting

At the council meeting, a citizen remarked how this project is good for the tax base. But, being in a TIF district, the incremental property taxes from this property will go to the TIF district, not the city, until the TIF debt is retired.

Council Member Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita) noted that the city is not contributing to the project, that the developer pays all the costs of the facade improvement loan. But of a direct contribution to the project, she said “Although I wouldn’t probably complain if that was a request.” I’d suggest that Miller read up on the economics of tax credits, and of a possible sales tax exemption. She might be surprised to learn how much cash this project is receiving.


  1. “Owner shall provide financial information that substantiates the need for the City’s facade loan in order to complete the redevelopment project, including the overall sources and uses of funds and pro forma cash flow analysis that shows a reasonable return on owner’s investment.” City of Wichita. Facade Improvement Program Policies and Procedures. Available at www.wichita.gov/Government/Departments/Economic/EconomicDevelopmentDocuments/Facade%20Improvement%20Program%20Policy.pdf.
  2. Kansas Historical Society. State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. Available at www.kshs.org/p/tax-credit-basics/14673.
  3. National Park Service. Tax Incentives for Preserving Historic Properties. Available at www.nps.gov/tps/tax-incentives.htm.
  4. Sometime the tax credits are sold to someone else. In this case the seller usually receives less than the face value of the credit.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. The Lux in Wichita: Taxpayer funding of lifestyle choices. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/the-lux-in-wichita-taxpayer-funding-of-lifestyle-choices/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, pro-sales tax campaign group uses sales tax-exempt building as headquarters. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-pro-sales-tax-campaign-group-uses-sales-tax-exempt-building-headquarters/.

Kansas school fund balances

  • Kansas school fund balances rose significantly this year, in both absolute dollars and dollars per pupil.
  • Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these funds to offset cuts they have contended were necessary.
  • The interactive visualization holds data for each district since 2008.

As Kansans debate school funding, as the Kansas Supreme Court considers ordering more school spending, and as school spending boosters insisting that school spending has been slashed, a fact remains constant: Kansas schools don’t spend all the money they’ve been given. Fund balances grew in many years, and rose rapidly this year.

Fund balances are necessary for cash flow management. The issue is what levels of balances are necessary. Based on recent data from the Kansas State Department of Education, fund balances rose rapidly after 2008, remained largely level from 2011 through 2015, and rose for 2016.

For the school year ending in 2015, total cash balances were $1,745,557,046. (This total does not include non-school funds like museums and recreation center funds.) For 2016, the figure was $1,871,026,493. This is an increase of $125,469,450, or 7.2 percent.

Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these funds to offset cuts they have contended were necessary.

I’ve gathered data about unspent Kansas school funds and presented it as an interactive visualization. You may explore the data yourself by using the visualization. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Kansas school fund balances, all districts. Click for larger.
Kansas school fund balances, all districts. Click for larger.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Radio host Andy Hooser

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Radio show host Andy Hooser visits the KGPT studios to talk about upcoming elections in Kansas and the presidential campaign. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 130, broadcast October 16, 2016.

Hooser’s radio show is The Voice of Reason with Andy Hooser. Its Facebook page is here, and the podcast is here.

Kansas revenue estimates

Kansas revenue estimates are frequently in the news and have become a political issue. Here’s a look at them over the past decades.

A favorite criticism of liberals and progressives across the nation is that in Kansas, actual revenues to the state’s general fund have fallen short of projections, month after month. Reading most newspaper reports and editorials, one might think that these negative variances are a new phenomenon, and one relished by the Left. As many as a dozen articles on this topic have appeared in the New York Times in the past two years.

The revenue estimates in Kansas are produced by a body known as the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group. It consists of one member each from the Division of the Budget, Department of Revenue, Legislative Research Department, and one consulting economist each from the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Wichita State University.

As described: “This group meets each spring and fall. Before December 4th, the group makes its initial estimate for the budget year and revises the estimate for the current year. By April 20th, the fall estimate is reviewed, along with any additional data. A revised estimate is published, which the Legislature may use in adjusting expenditures, if necessary.”1

The estimates are important because the legislature and governor are required to use them when formulating budgets and spending plans. If the estimates are high, meaning that revenue is less than expected, it’s possible that the legislature or (more likely) the governor will need to make spending cuts. (The other alternative is that leftover funds from prior years may be used, if available.)

If, on the other hand, the estimates are too low, meaning that revenue is higher than expected, the state has collected too much tax revenue. In this case, the state should refund the excess to taxpayers. Some states do that, notably Colorado, although residents may vote to let the state keep the excess.

Some states have true rainy day funds, and the excess revenue might be used to build that fund’s balance. In a true rainy day fund, the fund’s balances can be spent only under specific sets of circumstances.

But in Kansas, the excess revenue is simply called the “ending balance” and is available to spend at the legislature’s whim. That’s what happened in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, when the state spent $340 million and $308 million, respectively, of the ending balance rather than cut spending.

What has been the history of the revenue estimates compared to actual revenue? First, know that making these estimates is not easy. Some of the inputs to the process include the inflation rate in future years, interest rates in future years, and the prices of oil and natural gas in the future. If someone knew these values with any certainty, they could earn huge profits by trading in futures markets.

The state makes the revenue estimates available.2 I’ve presented the results since 1975 in a chart at the end of this article. For each year, two numbers are presented. One it the difference from the Original Estimate and actual revenue. The other is the difference from the Adjusted Final Estimate and actual revenue.

We can see that in fiscal years 2014 and 2016, the variance of the estimates is negative, meaning that revenue was lower than the estimates. The magnitude of these variances, however, is not out of line with the magnitude of the variances of other years, either positive or negative.

In fact, the negative variances — revenue shortfalls, in other words — in 2002 to 2003 and 2009 to 2010 were generally much larger in magnitude than those of recent years. This is of interest as Duane Goossen, who was budget director during these periods, is a prominent critic of the recent revenue shortfalls. Evidently he has forgotten the difficulty of creating these estimates.

While Goossen along with newspaper reporters and editorialists use the negative revenue estimate variances as a political weapon against the governor and conservatives, it is in the interest of the people of Kansas that revenue estimates be as accurate as possible. In an effort to produce more accurate revenue estimates, Governor Brownback created a commission to study the issue. That group released its report in October.3

Kansas revenue estimate errors. Click for larger.
Kansas revenue estimate errors. Click for larger.


  1. Consensus Revenue Estimating Group. Available at budget.ks.gov/cre.htm.
  2. Kansas Division of the Budget. State General Fund Receipt Revisions for FY 2016 and FY 2017. May 2, 2016. Available at: budget.ks.gov/files/FY2017/CRE_Long_Memo_April2016.pdf. Also Kansas Legislative Research for 2016 figures.
  3. Governor’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Working Group. Final Recommendations. Available at budget.ks.gov/files/FY2017/cre_workgroup_report.pdf.

Topeka Capital-Journal falls for a story

The editorial boards of two large Kansas newspapers have shown how little effort goes into forming the opinions they foist upon our state.

Here’s a quote from a recent opinion piece in the Topeka Capital-Journal, the second-largest newspaper in Kansas: “If the past year is any indication, Totten is right about the harmful effects of KDOT sweeps on the construction industry in our state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between July 2015 and July 2016, Kansas lost 4,400 construction jobs — a 7.3 percent decline. This means Kansas ranked 49th in the country for construction job growth.” 1

Here, the newspaper argues that transferring money from the state’s highway fund has led to a loss of construction jobs in the state. Fortunately, there are some institutions and people in our state that will actually look at statistics to see what they mean. And if the editorial board of the Capital-Journal had done this, they would have realized they were fed a line of hooey by a self-interested lobbyist. You see, the “Totten” the newspaper cited as an authority is Bob Totten, Executive Vice President of Kansas Contractors Assocation.2 His job is to agitate for as much spending as possible to benefit his members. It matters not if the spending is wise or needed. The members of Kansas Contractors Association would happily build the proverbial bridge to nowhere, as long as they were paid.

The Capital-Journal was not alone in believing what Totten told them. The editorial board of the Wichita Eagle did, too. It wrote a similar editorial, telling Kansans “Over the past six years, Brownback and the Legislature have taken $2.7 billion in transportation funding to help pay other state bills, Totten said. The loss of this funding has meant fewer projects and fewer jobs.”3

The statistics that are cited deserve further investigation, which is what Kansas Policy Institute did in its article Media and highway contractors mislead again. KPI’s Dave Trabert reported this:

Had the Eagle bothered to examine Mr. Totten’s claim, they would have learned that only 2 percent of the construction job decline was attributable to highway construction and that the loss of 100 jobs is less than 1 percent of total highway jobs.

In addition to learning that Mr. Totten was grossly exaggerating, they would have learned that employment for construction of new homes and non-residential buildings showed very nice growth and the real problem is in specialty trade contractors for non-highway projects.

I verified these statistics and reported them in my article Kansas construction employment. I built an interactive visualization that anyone can use to explore this data.

The upshot is that Kansas highway construction jobs declined slightly, but the bulk of the job loss in construction was in other types of construction. Not in highway construction, as the highway construction lobbyist told Kansas editorial writers.

This is a sad episode in Kansas newspaper journalism. The editorial boards of two newspapers — one the state’s largest — accepted as true the claims of a lobbyist, apparently without spending a moment in verification. Both newspapers have staffs of reporters, some of which I’m sure are capable of accessing the Bureau of Labor Statistics to gather a few statistics and perform an independent investigation.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, it appears that these two newspapers accepted the claims of the Kansas Contractors Association at face value because it fit the editorialists’ world view — that view being that Sam Brownback is bad, state spending on everything has been slashed, and the only thing to do is raise taxes.

That’s an opinion, which is what newspaper editorial boards produce. Now Kansans know just how uninformed are these opinions.


  1. Topeka Capital-Journal. Editorial: KDOT sweeps continue to harm our state. September 13, 2016. Available at cjonline.com/opinion/2016-09-13/editorial-kdot-sweeps-continue-harm-our-state.
  2. Kansas Contractors Assocation. Meet the Staff. Available at www.kansascontractors.org/aboutthekca/professionalstaff/.
  3. Highway fund raids affecting jobs. Wichita Eagle. August 31, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article98922052.html.

Kansas, a frugal state?

Is Kansas a frugal state, compared to others?

frugal-kansas-on-facebook-2016-10-12-excerptOn Facebook, a person wrote “We were already a frugal state …” (I’ve obscured the name to protect the uninformed.)

Is this true? What is the state and local government spending in Kansas, on a per-person basis? How does it compare to other states?

Every five years the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a census of governments. In its own words: “The Census of Governments identifies the scope and nature of the nation’s state and local government sector; provides authoritative benchmark figures of public finance and public employment; classifies local government organizations, powers, and activities; and measures federal, state, and local fiscal relationships.”1

I’ve gathered data from the 2012 census of governments — which is the most recent — and made it available in an interactive visualization. Nearby is a snapshot from the visualization, showing Kansas and nearby states, and a few others. (Using the visualization, you may select your own set of states to compare.)

In the visualization, you can see that Kansas spends quite a bit more than nearby states. Of special interest is Minnesota, which is often used as an example of a high-tax state, and a state with excellent schools and services. But Minnesota spends barely more than Kansas, on a per-person basis.

What about Colorado? It seems that Kansans often look to Colorado as a state full of bounty. But Kansas outspends Colorado. Same for New Mexico, Wisconsin, Texas, and — especially — Missouri.

So: Is Kansas a frugal state? It doesn’t seem it is.

Click here to access and use the visualization.

State and local government employment and costs, selected states. Click for larger.
State and local government employment and costs, selected states. Click for larger.


  1. U.S. Census Bureau. Census of Governments. Available at www.census.gov/govs/cog/.

Video in the Kansas Senate

A plan to increase visibility of the Kansas Senate is a good start, and needs to go just one or two steps farther.

The Kansas Republican Senatorial Committee has released a plan to make Kansas better. One plank concerns transparency, specifically this: “Under our plan, legislative meetings and Senate proceedings will be public and streamed live online for public viewing.”1

This is a good idea, and one that should have, and could have, been implemented long ago. But it doesn’t go quite far enough. The problem is that many people who might want to watch the proceedings can’t do so at the time the Kansas Senate meets. We need to have archived video.

This would require the Senate to capture the video rather than simply streaming it. Then, the video must be made available somewhere. YouTube is an obvious choice, and it is free.

Then, to make the experience complete, the Senate needs to make documents available to the public as they are made available to legislators. An example is an amendment to a bill that the chamber is debating.

A related matter is the availability of testimony in the Kansas Legislature. Specifically, the written testimony and informational presentations provided to committees would be of interest and value to citizens. Most committees — perhaps all — require conferees to supply a pdf or Microsoft Word version of their testimony in advance of the hearing. These electronic documents could be placed online before the committee hearing. Then, anyone with a computer, tablet, or smartphone could have these documents available to them.

On the Kansas Legislature website, each committee has its own page. On these committee pages there are links for “Committee Agenda,” “Committee Minutes,” and “Testimony.” But in most cases there is no data behind these links. In February 2015 I investigated and found that only about one-third of standing committees in the Kansas Legislature were providing written testimony online.2

Since then, several committees have used the commercial file-sharing service Dropbox to make testimony and documents available to everyone. This is a reasonable way to accomplish an important goal.


  1. betterkansasplan.com. Transparency in Government. Available at betterkansasplan.com/better/#1475545628382-66e77cef-bde5.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Availability of testimony in the Kansas Legislature. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/availability-testimony-kansas-legislature/.

GDP by state and component

An interactive visualization of gross domestic product by state and industry.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, a unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce, gathers data about economic output, known as gross domestic product. The visualization presented here presents this data in tabular and graphic form.

The GDP figures are real, meaning adjusted for inflation. They are annual numbers through 2015.

BEA industry classification, showing subtotal and total classifications
BEA industry classification, showing subtotal and total classifications
As illustrated below, the visualization has three tabs, meaning three different views of data. By using the controls at the right of the visualization, you may select one or more states, and one or more industries. By clicking on entries in the legend, you may highlight one or more series. (Use Ctrl+click to select more than one.)

As indicated in the nearby table, some of the “industries” are actually subtotals of several industry components. The industry “All industry total” is the total GDP of all industries.

Source of data is Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce. Click here to access this visualization.

GDP by state and components. Click for larger.
GDP by state and components. Click for larger.

Populations of the states

An interactive table and charts of populations in the states and regions, starting in 1929.

How have the states grown in population since 1929? Growth varies greatly.

In the accompanying visualization, one chart of the growth of population uses a logarithmic scale. This better shows a wide range of values. On this scale, negative values can’t be shown. The example shown in this article highlights Kansas against the other states.

Click here to access this visualization.

Source of data is Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce.

Population growth in the states, Kansas highlighted, using logarithmic scale. Click for larger.
Population growth in the states, Kansas highlighted, using logarithmic scale. Click for larger.

Kansas government spending

Kansas government spending, starting in 1967. Total spending and per capita spending, adjusted for inflation. Also spending as percent of Kansas GDP.

Sources of data:
* Kansas Fiscal Facts 2016
* 2016 and 2017 are approved figures, not actual spending
* 2015 and beyond population are my estimates
* CPI is Consumer Price Index – All Urban Consumers, CUUR0000AA0
* 2016 and later GDP is estimated

Click charts for larger versions.




GDP by metropolitan area and component

An interactive visualization of gross domestic product by metro area and industry.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, a unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce, gathers data about economic output, known as gross domestic product. The visualization presented here presents this data in tabular and graphic form.

The GDP figures are real, meaning adjusted for inflation. They are annual numbers through 2015.

BEA industry classification, showing subtotal and total classifications
BEA industry classification, showing subtotal and total classifications
As illustrated below, the visualization has three tabs, meaning three different views of data. By using the controls at the right of the visualization, you may select one or more metropolitan areas, and one or more industries. By clicking on entries in the legend, you may highlight one or more series. (Use Ctrl+click to select more than one.)

As indicated in the nearby table, some of the “industries” are actually subtotals of several industry components. The industry “All industry total” is the total GDP of all industries.

Source of data is Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce.

Click here to access this visualization.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.
Example from the visualization. Click for larger.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Lawrence Reed of Foundation for Economic Education

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV. Lawrence W. Reed, who is president of the Foundation for Economic Education. Topics include free markets, education, trade, and arts.

View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 129, broadcast October 9, 2016.


Kansas and Arizona schools

Arizona shows that Kansas is missing out on an opportunity to provide better education at lower cost.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau tells us this:1

Total Spending Per Pupil:
Arizona: $7,528. Kansas: $9,972.

Spending on Instruction Per Pupil:
Arizona: $4,091. Kansas $6,112.

This data is from the school year ending in 2014, which is the most recent data from the Census Bureau that includes data from all states in a comparable fashion.

So how do Arizona and Kansas Students compare? A nearby table holds data from the 2015 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” This is a snapshot of a larger interactive visualization.2

For each state, I show the data for traditional public schools and for charter schools. (As Kansas has very few charter schools, there is no data for this category.) Kansas scores exceed Arizona scores in only one instance.

Arizona embraces charter schools and other forms of school choice. In 2014, 17.8 percent of Arizona public schools were in charter schools. Kansas has a law that allows for charter schools, but it is designed to make charters difficult to form and run. Plus, the Kansas public school community fights against charter schools. As a result, only 0.5 percent of Kansas students are in charter schools.3

Can Kansas learn from Arizona with its lower costs and higher student achievement?

Kansas and Arizona test scores. Click for larger.
Kansas and Arizona test scores. Click for larger.


  1. U.S. Census Bureau. Public Education Finances: 2014. Table 8: Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by
    State: Fiscal Year 2014. Available at census.gov/library/publications/2016/econ/g14-aspef.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. The nation’s report card and charter schools. Available at wichitaliberty.org/education/nations-report-card-charter-schools/.
  3. Author’s compilation of data from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD). Available here.

Public school experts

Do only those within the Kansas public schooling community have a say?

In a letter to the Wichita Eagle, a longtime educator asks “Just how much confidence in the schooling community should taxpayers embrace?”1

The answer should be: Some.

The author’s primary topic in this letter was school funding. He writes that public school educators are best qualified to decide school funding issues, and we should trust their judgment.

The problem is that public school educators have a self-interest in this matter that goes beyond the achievement of Kansas schoolchildren. Teachers complain that class sizes are too large. At what level would teachers agree that their classes are not oversized? When making that decision, do they weigh the much larger expenditures that will be required to reduce class sizes substantially?

The success of class size reduction has a mixed record. For example, when the Brookings Institution surveyed the literature, it came to this conclusion: “Class-size reduction has been shown to work for some students in some grades in some states and countries, but its impact has been found to be mixed or not discernable in other settings and circumstances that seem similar. It is very expensive.”2

More importantly, do educators consider that smaller class sizes mean more teachers, and that if school districts have hired the best teachers first, then any additional teachers hired must be (by definition) less qualified than current teachers? This is important because teacher quality is known to be — by far — the largest factor in student achievement.3

Small classes are good. Most people like personalized attention. But teacher quality really matters:

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.4

Wichita school district student-teacher ratios. While not the same measure as class size, these ratios have generally improved or remained constant.
Wichita school district student-teacher ratios. While not the same measure as class size, these ratios have generally improved or remained constant.

Despite this, our state’s public school establishment tells us that we must have smaller classes.

Besides the obvious self-interest of public school educators, there is also this: They have lied to us. Blatantly. For years our state’s education leaders have told us that Kansas schoolchildren score well on the state’s achievements test. This should be good news, but the Kansas tests were much less stringent that other states’ test. The National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education, has published many studies over the years that documented the weakness of the Kansas assessments. For some years, only a handful of states had standards weaker than ours.5 6

Finally, last year Kansas adopted realistic standards. A presentation by the Kansas State Department of Education to the Kansas State Board of Education explained the relationship of the new standards to the former: “The Kansas College and Career Ready Standards are more rigorous than the previous Kansas Standards.”7

This admission came, however, after many years of telling us Kansas students were among the nations’ best. But Kansas students were taking easier tests.

Undoubtedly those who work in our public schools have much knowledge about their operation and what needs to be fixed. But they have an obvious self-interest, and we need others to look at schools, too.


  1. John H. Wilson. Trust judgment of school educators. Wichita Eagle, October 6, 2016. Available here.
  2. Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst and Matthew M. Chingos. Class Size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy. Brookings Instutition. Available at http://www.brookings.edu/research/class-size-what-research-says-and-what-it-means-for-state-policy/.
  3. “For instance, the median finding across 10 studies of teacher effectiveness estimates that a teacher who is one standard deviation above the average in terms of quality produces additional learning gains for students of 0.12 standard deviations in reading and 0.14 standard deviations in math.” Dan Goldhaber. In Schools, Teacher Quality Matters Most. EducationNext. Available at educationnext.org/in-schools-teacher-quality-matters-most-coleman/.
  4. Gladwell, Malcolm. *Most Likely to Succeed.* Available at www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/12/15/most-likely-to-succeed-malcolm-gladwell.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school standards evaluated. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-standards-evaluated/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school standards found lower than in most states. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-standards-found-lower-than-in-most-states/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. After years of low standards, Kansas schools adopt truthful standards. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/after-years-of-low-standards-kansas-schools-adopt-truthful-standards/.

Kansas tax receipts

Kansas tax receipts by category, presented in an interactive visualization.

The Kansas Division of the Budget publishes monthly statistics regarding tax collections. These figures have been gathered and are presented in an interactive visualization. In the visualization, there are these available tabs:

Table.s: A table of data. For each month the two data items supplied by the state are the actual value and the estimated. This table also holds the computed variance, or difference, between the actual value and the estimated value. A positive number means the actual value was greater than the estimated value.

Collections: Shows monthly collections for each component. Because monthly numbers vary widely, this data is presented as the moving average of the previous 12 months.

Annual Change: Shows the change from the same month of the previous year. A positive value means the value for this month is greater than the same month last year.

Estimates: The Governor’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Working Group provides monthly estimates. This chart shows the variance, or difference, between the actual value and the estimated value. A positive number means the actual value was greater than the estimated value.

Running Total Estimates: This is the cumulative sum of the estimate variances, reset to zero at the start of each fiscal year (July 1).

Running Total Change from Prior Year: This is the cumulative sum of the monthly changes from the prior year, reset to zero at the start of each fiscal year (July 1).

For the past two years, individual income tax collections have been relatively flat. There are variations each month, but overall the trend is slightly up. Corporate income tax collections are on a slight downward trajectory.

Retail sales tax and compensating use tax have been mostly rising for two years. A higher sales tax rate took effect on July 1, 2015, with the rate rising from 6.15 percent to 6.50 percent.

Cigarette taxes have risen rapidly since July 2015 when higher tax rates on these products took effect. The same trend is present in the tobacco products tax.

Severance taxes — tax collected on natural gas and oil as it is extracted from the ground — have been on a downward trend as prices for these produces have fallen. This is a sizable tax. In June 2014 collections of this tax were running at about $143 million per year. For September 2016, the rate is $22 million annually.

Click here to use the visualization.

Source of data is Kansas Division of the Budget.

Selecting judges in Kansas

Appellate court judges make new law, and Kansas has the most elitist and least democratic supreme court selection system in the country.

What is the substantive difference between these two systems?

A) A state’s chief executive appoints a person to be a judge on the state’s highest court. Then the state’s senate confirms or rejects.

B) A nation’s chief executive appoints a person to be a judge on the nation’s highest court. Then the nation’s senate confirms or rejects.

Perhaps there is a difference that I’m not smart enough to see. I’m open to persuasion. Until then, I agree with KU Law Professor Stephen Ware and his 2007 analysis of the way Kansas selects Supreme Court judges as compared to the other states.1 That analysis concludes that “Kansas is the only state in the union that gives the members of its bar majority control over the selection of state supreme court justices.”

Ware has made other powerful arguments in favor of discarding the system Kansas uses: “In supreme court selection, the bar has more power in Kansas than in any other state. This extraordinary bar power gives Kansas the most elitist and least democratic supreme court selection system in the country. While members of the Kansas bar make several arguments in defense of the extraordinary powers they exercise under this system, these arguments rest on a one-sided view of the role of a judge.”2

Judges, Ware says, make law, and that is a political matter: “Non-lawyers who do not know that judges inevitably make law may believe that the role of a judge consists only of its professional/technical side and, therefore, believe that judges should be selected entirely on their professional competence and ethics and that assessments of these factors are best left to lawyers. In short, a lawyer who omits lawmaking from a published statement about the judicial role is furthering a misimpression that helps empower lawyers at the expense of non-lawyers, in violation of basic democratic equality, the principle of one-person, one-vote.”3

Kansas exhibits a pattern of selecting governors from alternate political parties.
Kansas exhibits a pattern of selecting governors from alternate political parties.
For Kansas progressives and Democrats to oppose Kansas adopting the same system that has enabled Barack Obama to appoint two liberal justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, with perhaps more to come — don’t they realize that Kansas will (likely) have a Democratic governor someday? As Clay Barker noted, for the last 50 years, no Kansas governor has been followed by a successor of the same party (except for Mark Parkinson filling the remainder of a term after Kathleen Sebelius resigned). If that pattern holds — and there’s no guarantee that it will — the next Kansas governor will be a Democrat.

Superficially, it doesn’t seem to make sense for Kansas Democrats to oppose the governor making judicial selections while supporting the President of the United States having the same power. It does make sense, however, when we realize that Kansas Democrats are comfortable with the state’s bar selecting the judicial nominees that the governor may consider. (Which gives truly useful and enjoyable bars a bad name.) Lawyers, especially lawyers that take an active role in politics, tend to be Democrats, and progressive Democrats at that. If the Kansas bar was dominated by constitutional conservatives, would Kansas Democrats feel the same?

I’m not claiming that the motives of conservative Kansas Republicans are pure. Will they change their stance on the desirability of the governor appointing Supreme Court judges if there is a Democratic governor? I don’t know, but I have a suspicion.

Defenders of the current Kansas system claim that the system is based on merit, not politics. To which we must note that this year the Kansas Supreme Court was reversed by the United States Supreme Court. It wasn’t even close, with justices voting eight to zero that the Kansas court was wrong in its application of the law. (The other Supreme Court justice said “I do not believe these cases should ever have been reviewed by the Supreme Court.) If we’re relying on our state’s bar to select competent judges, we’re making a mistake.

  1. Ware, Stephen J., Selection to the Kansas Supreme Court. Fed-soc.org. Available at: http://www.fed-soc.org/publications/detail/selection-to-the-kansas-supreme-court.
  2. Ware, Stephen J., The Bar’s Extraordinarily Powerful Role in Selecting the Kansas Supreme Court (September 25, 2009). Kansas Journal of Law & Pubic Policy, Vol. 18, No. 3, p. 392, 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1478660.
  3. Ware, Stephen J., Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study (August 3, 2012). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2129265.

Individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas