Category Archives: Kansas news media

WichitaLiberty.TV: The Wichita Eagle fails the city and its readers

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: In its coverage of the recent election, the Wichita Eagle has failed to inform its readers of city and state issues. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

For more on this topic, see In election coverage, The Wichita Eagle has fallen short and For Wichita Eagle, no immediate Kansas budget solution.

Newspaper editorialists with an ideology? Not in Kansas, surely.

Caution, Kansas newspaper editorialists. Your ideology is showing.

Seeking to minimize the fallout from this week’s elections in Kansas, Kansas City Star editorialist Yael T. Abouhalkah warns the governor that this election didn’t really mean much, after all. (See No, Sam Brownback, Kansans didn’t give you a mandate for more tax cuts.)

This op-ed, like many others that appear in Kansas newspapers, are useful for exposing the ideologies of their writers. Here’s an example from Abouhalkah: “Already, the first round of tax cuts have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in anticipated revenues.”

The corollary of this is that Kansans have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. That’s money that has stayed in the productive private sector. For those who believe that government spends wisely and efficiently, I can understand how they think there’s a problem. Everyone else thinks it’s an improvement.

The only framework — ideology? — in which tax cuts are a cost to government is if we believe that government has first claim to citizens’ money. This is a difference in fundamental beliefs. There is an ideology expressed here, one that says government spending is more important than people and their property rights.

Here’s something else from Abouhalkah’s keyboard:

And things could get worse, because the state already is more than $40 million short of its expected revenues for the current fiscal year, which is one-third of the way over.

What does that mean? Budget cuts are ahead, and public education would top the list, given the large amount of spending provided by the state.

This is the standard plaint, also voiced by the editorial board of the Wichita Eagle. Because tax revenues are lower, budget cuts are ahead. Except by budget cuts, these advocates of government spending really mean to say that government services will be cut.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a plan — a policy brief — for balancing the Kansas budget immediately. This plan fully funds the increases in school spending and social welfare caseloads that the non-partisan official state agency Kansas Legislative Research Department projects for the future.

But there’s a problem.

As they lambaste conservatives for blind adherence to ideology, the editorial writers at the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle have their own ideological blind spots. In particular, they’re not likely to read anything produced by Kansas Policy Institute, much less give it the consideration it deserves.

Oh well. It’s all about the kids, after all.

The policy brief I referenced may be downloaded from KPI at A Five-Year Budget Plan for the State of Kansas: How to balance the budget and have healthy ending balances without tax increases or service reductions or alternatively from Scribd here (may work better on mobile devices). A press release from KPI announcing the policy brief is at 5 Year Budget Plan Outlines Path To Protect Essential Services and Tax Reform.

In election coverage, The Wichita Eagle has fallen short

Citizens want to trust their hometown newspaper as a reliable source of information. The Wichita Eagle has not only fallen short of this goal, it seems to have abandoned it.

The Wichita Eagle last week published a fact-check article titled “Fact check: ‘No’ campaign ad on sales tax misleading.” As of today, the day before the election, I’ve not seen any similar article examining ads from the “Yes Wichita” group that campaigns for the sales tax. Also, there has been little or no material that examined the city’s claims and informational material in a critical manner.

Wichita Eagle Building, detail
Wichita Eagle Building, detail
Someone told me that I should be disappointed that such articles have not appeared. I suppose I am, a little. But that is balanced by the increasing awareness of Wichitans that the Wichita Eagle is simply not doing its job.

It’s one thing for the opinion page to be stocked solely with liberal columnists and cartoonists, considering the content that is locally produced. But newspapers like the Eagle tell us that the newsroom is separate from the opinion page. The opinion page has endorsed passage of the sales tax. As far as the newsroom goes, by printing an article fact-checking one side of an issue and failing to produce similar pieces for the other side — well, readers are free to draw their own conclusions about the reliability of the Wichita Eagle newsroom.

As a privately-owned publication, the Wichita Eagle is free to do whatever it wants. But when readers see obvious neglect of a newspaper’s duty to inform readers, readers are correct to be concerned about the credibility of our state’s largest newspaper.

Citizens want to trust their hometown newspaper as a reliable source of information. The Wichita Eagle has not only fallen short of this goal, it seems to have abandoned it.

Here are some topics and questions the Eagle could have examined in fact-checking articles on the “Yes Wichita” campaign and the City of Wichita’s informational and educational campaign.

The Wichita Eagle could start with itself and explain why it chose a photograph of an arterial street to illustrate a story on a sales tax that is dedicated solely for neighborhood streets. The caption under the photo read “Road construction, such as on East 13th Street between Oliver and I-135, would be part of the projects paid for by a city sales tax.”

Issues regarding “Yes Wichita”

The “Yes Wichita” campaign uses an image of bursting wooden water pipes to persuade voters. Does Wichita have any wooden water pipes? And isn’t the purpose of the sales tax to build one parallel pipeline, not replace old water pipes? See Fact-checking Yes Wichita: Water pipe(s).

The “Yes Wichita” campaign group claims that the sales tax will replace old rusty pipes that are dangerous. Is that true?

The City and “Yes Wichita” give voters two choices regarding a future water supply: Either vote for the sales tax, or the city will use debt to pay for ASR expansion and it will cost an additional $221 million. But the decision to use debt has not been made, has it? Wouldn’t the city council have to vote to issue those bonds? Is there any guarantee that the council will do that?

The “Yes Wichita” group says that one-third of the sales tax will be paid by visitors to Wichita. But the city’s documents cite the Kansas Department of Revenue which gives the number as 13.5 percent. Which is correct? This is a difference of 2.5 times in the estimate of Wichita sales tax paid by visitors. This is a material difference in something used to persuade voters.

The city’s informational material states “The City has not increased the mill levy rate for 21 years.” In 1994 the Wichita mill levy rate was 31.290, and in 2013 it was 32.509. That’s an increase of 1.219 mills, or 3.9 percent. The Wichita City Council did not take explicit action, such as passing an ordinance, to raise this rate. Instead, the rate is set by the county based on the city’s budgeted spending and the assessed value of taxable property subject to taxation by the city. While the city doesn’t have control over the assessed value of property, it does have control over the amount it decides to spend. Whatever the cause, the mill levy has risen. See Fact-checking Yes Wichita: Tax rates.

“Yes Wichita” says there is a plan for the economic development portion of the sales tax. If the plan for economic development is definite, why did the city decide to participate in the development of another economic development plan just last month? What if that plan recommends something different than what the city has been telling voters? And if the plan is unlikely to recommend anything different, why do we need it?

Citizens have asked to know more about the types of spending records the city will provide. Will the city commit to providing checkbook register-level spending data? Or will the city set up separate agencies to hide the spending of taxpayer funds like it has with the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Corporation?

Issues regarding the City of Wichita

Mayor Carl Brewer said the city spent $47,000 of taxpayer funds to send a letter and brochure to voters because he was concerned about misinformation. In light of some of the claims made by the “Yes Wichita” group, does the city have plans to inform voters of that misinformation?

Hasn’t the city really been campaigning in favor of the sales tax? Has the city manager been speaking to groups to give them reasons to vote against the tax? Does the city’s website provide any information that would give voters any reason to consider voting other than yes?

The “Yes Wichita” group refers voters to the city’s website and information to learn about the sales tax issue. Since the “Yes Wichita” group campaigns for the sales tax, it doesn’t seem likely it would refer voters to information that would be negative, or even neutral, towards the tax. Is this evidence that the city is, in fact, campaigning for the sales tax?

The “Yes Wichita” group says that one-third of the sales tax will be paid by visitors to Wichita. But the city’s documents cite the Kansas Department of Revenue which gives the number as 13.5%. Which is correct? This is a difference of 2.5 times in the estimate of Wichita sales tax paid by visitors. This is a material difference in something used to persuade voters. If “Yes Wichita” is wrong, will the city send a mailer to correct the misinformation?

The city’s informational material states “The City has not increased the mill levy rate for 21 years.” But the city’s comprehensive annual financial reports show that in 1994 the Wichita mill levy rate was 31.290, and in 2013 it was 32.509. That’s an increase of 1.219 mills, or 3.9 percent. The Wichita City Council did not take explicit action, such as passing an ordinance, to raise this rate. Instead, the rate is set by the county based on the city’s budgeted spending and the assessed value of taxable property subject to taxation by the city. While the city doesn’t have control over the assessed value of property, it does have control over the amount it decides to spend. Whatever the cause, the mill levy has risen. Is this misinformation that needs to be corrected?

The city says that the ASR project is a proven solution that will provide for Wichita’s water needs for a long time. Has the city told voters that the present ASR system had its expected production rate cut in half? Has the city presented to voters that the present ASR system is still in its commissioning phase, and that new things are still being learned about how the system operates?

The City and “Yes Wichita” give voters two choices regarding a future water supply: Either vote for the sales tax, or the city will use debt to pay for ASR expansion and it will cost an additional $221 million. But the decision to use debt has not been made, has it? Wouldn’t the city council have to vote to issue those bonds? Is the any guarantee that the council will do that?

If the plan for economic development is definite, why did the city decide to participate in the development of another economic development plan just last month? What if that plan recommends something different than what the city has been telling voters? And if the plan is unlikely to recommend anything different, why do we need it?

Citizens have asked to know more about the types of spending records the city will provide. Will the city commit to providing checkbook register-level spending data? Or will the city set up separate agencies to hide the spending of taxpayer funds like it has with the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Corporation?

The “Yes Wichita” campaign uses an image of bursting wooden water pipes to persuade voters. Does Wichita have any wooden water pipes? And isn’t the purpose of the sales tax to build one parallel pipeline, not replace old water pipes? If this advertisement by “Yes Wichita” is misleading, will the city send an educational mailing to correct this?

The Yes Wichita campaign group claims that the sales tax will replace old rusty pipes that are dangerous. Is that true? If not, will the city do anything to correct this misinformation?

Kansas City Star’s dishonest portrayal of renewable energy mandate

Commentary from Kansas Policy Institute.

Kansas City Star’s dishonest portrayal of renewable energy mandate

By Dave Trabert

A recent Kansas City Star editorial criticizing opponents of Kansas’ renewal energy mandate for being disingenuous was itself a fine example of disingenuity.

Kansas law mandates that utility companies purchase specific levels of renewable energy, which means that Kansans are forced to purchase wind energy and pay higher energy prices. The degree to

Wind farm near Spearville, Kansas.
Wind farm near Spearville, Kansas.
which it is more expensive is a matter of dispute, but even the Star admits that wind is more expensive than fossil fuel alternatives. The Star describes this mandate as “consumer-friendly.”

They falsely say “these laws encourage electric facilities to supplement their use of fossil fuels with renewables.” The law does not “encourage;” it requires.

The Star touts economic gains to the wind industry but ignores the reality that those gains come at the expense of everyone else in the form of higher taxes, higher electricity prices and other unseen economic consequences.

They conclude by saying people “deserve a choice”, but mandates are the opposite of choice. Real choice would not only allow citizens to individually decide whether to purchase renewable energy, but to choose their energy supplier as well. Maybe it’s time to look at breaking up the utility monopoly in Kansas as other states have done.

Kansas news media should report, not spin

kansas-policy-institute-logoA Hutchinson News editorial contained an uninformed opinion of which special interest groups are working for the best interests of Kansans. Following, Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute explains that influence may be shifting from media, unions, the education establishment, cities, counties, and school boards to those with different views — those of limited government and economic freedom that empower citizens, not an expansive government and its beneficiaries. The editorial referred to is Goodbye Democracy, Hello Wealthocracy.

Media spin a threat

By Dave Trabert

Kansans are bombarded with claims that range from innocently incomplete to quite deliberately false. Increasingly, the media perpetrates this bad information. That behavior limits civil discourse and is a serious threat to personal freedom and our democratic republic.

Media should use its powerful voice to provide unbiased information. Instead, we see a growing trend in Kansas media to distort the truth, ignore facts and attack those who disagree with their view of the world. A recent Hutchinson News editorial is an example of this petulant behavior.

The basic premise of “Goodbye Democracy, Hello Wealthocracy” is that elected officials are chosen and kept in line by special interest groups. The author allows that moneyed interests work both sides of the aisle in Washington and in other states but incredibly asserts that this is not the case in Kansas. He says, “Here, the GOP rules, and the split is between those who labor for their constituents and those who pledge allegiance to their sponsors.”

Even casual political observers know that to be laughably false. Republicans have a paper majority, but even cub reporters know it is meaningless. KPI’s Economic Freedom Index has consistently found Republicans at the top and bottom of rankings based on their votes for economic and educational freedom.

The dividing line is not party affiliations or labels like liberal, moderate or conservative. Rather, it’s a philosophical belief in the role of government and collectivism versus the personal liberty of individuals.

There is no such thing as a “wealthocracy,” but special interest groups do influence politics. Claiming this to be the exclusive province of Kansans with a limited government perspective, however, is a conscious lie.

The behaviors attributed to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity (recruiting and financially supporting friendly candidates for public office and encouraging elected officials to see things their way) are equally attributable to public employee unions, school board associations and others with big-government views. “Laboring for constituents” is a Hutchinson News euphemism for upholding the self-serving ideals of KNEA, KASB, state employee unions and other institutional interests.

There is nothing wrong, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, about special interests attempting to influence government. The difference — and perhaps the real objection of The Hutchinson News — is that their “side” is losing its long-standing monopoly over information and, with it, heavy influence over government and citizens.

The Kansas Policy Institute is perhaps the leading provider in Kansas of factual information on school funding and student achievement. Our information often differs from that published by media, unions and the education establishment, but they are facts nonetheless.

The editorial said, “… few lobbyists dominate like the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute.” We’re flattered to be considered a dominant force, but the editorial conveniently didn’t mention other dominant players, including cities, counties, school boards and unions. The objection is not to our dominance; it’s that we don’t share the big-government/collectivist perspective of The Hutchinson News.

We call that hypocrisy.

Top Kansas stories of 2013: Joseph Ashby edition

By Joseph Ashby. Special to Voice for Liberty.

From FBI bomb plots to seven-story toddler trick shots to an unlikely final four run, Kansas kept our attention in 2013. Here is a countdown of the state’s top stories this year.

#10 – Trick Shot Titus

joseph-ashby-top-ten-2013-number-10

The basketball-shooting toddler from Derby, Kansas had the 4th most watched YouTube sports video of 2013 (for good measure “Trick Shot Titus 3,” which missed the December 1 cutoff, is now the 5th most watched sports video of the year), and represented Kansas on the Today Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live and a host of other television shows and commercials. The videos prominently show local landmarks like Keeper of the Plains and include Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall.

#9 – Mayor Votes to Forgive Fishing Buddy’s Taxes

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Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer came under fire when a his long-standing practice of voting on large financial favors for friends and donors came into sharp focus when a picture surfaced of the mayor with Key Construction head honcho David Wells. Bob Weeks of Wichita Liberty and Jared Cerullo of ABC affiliate KAKE news pressured Brewer to explain the ethics of his actions, a request Brewer largely ignored.

#8 – Legislators Push Back Against Brownback, Session Goes Into OT

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One of the primary media criticisms after conservative Republicans, aided by endorsements from Governor Sam Brownback, swept into majorities in the Kansas House and Senate was that Brownback policies would get a rubber stamp. The actual legislative session took a different course as legislators pushed back against the governor and struggled to find agreement on the state sales tax rate and spending priorities. The result of the strife was an overtime session of nine days.

#7 – The Seacat Trial

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The former Sedgwick county sheriff’s deputy Brett Seacat’s murder trial was Kansas’ contribution to a the spate high profile criminal trials of 2013 (Jodi Arias, George Zimmerman etc.). The two week trial drew more national media with each day of testimony. Seacat was eventually found guilty of murdering his wife and setting their home on fire.

#6 – Appellate Judge Nominating Power Given to Governor

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After years of high-profile rulings from the Kansas court system which counter-acted the legislature, the house, senate and governor decided to change the method for selecting appellate court judges. Instead of bar-appointed nominating commission giving the governor three choices, the governor will now pick appellate judges. The nominees will be subject to senate confirmation.

#5 – Aerospace Upheaval

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Hawker Beechraft ceased to exist as it came out of bankruptcy as Beechcraft Corporation. The Company’s employment levels in Wichita reached their lowest levels in years and the company was eventually purchased by Cessna parent company Textron.

Across town Spirit Aerosystem executed its first mass layoffs in the company’s history, letting go hundreds of engineers and other office employees and divesting from its Tulsa facilities.

#4 – Terrorist Plot Hatch/Foiled by FBI

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Two prevailing stories emerged from the FBI sting which caught terror suspect Terry Loewen. First, the realization that someone from Kansas, who graduated from a local high school drove what he believed was a bomb-filled truck to Mid Continent airport in order to blow up as many people as he could. Second was the FBI’s methods, which led many to believe the government engaged in entrapment.

#3 – Gannon v. Kansas, School Funding Lawsuit.

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The state supreme court heard oral arguments from school districts and parents suing for more state base aid per pupil and from the state’s elected branches seeking to regain their authority over the people’s money. Transcripts from both the district and supreme court oral argument often read like partisan debates reminiscent of legislative committee. The district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, the supreme court has yet to issue their ruling.

#2 – Obamacare in Kansas (Plan Cancellations, Medicaid Expansion, the State Exchange)

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Many Kansans did everything in their power to prevent, stop, repeal and defund the Affordable Care Act, but that didn’t stop Obamacare from prying its way into the state. New health policy mandates from the Obama administration have or will invalidate thousands of plans currently held by Kansans.

Governor Brownback declined to set up a state-run Obamacare website, leading Kansans who desired to sign up to use the historically disastrous healthcare.gov.

Through it all, Republican state insurance commissioner Sandy Praeger remained loyal to the program, claiming the ACA is an improvement over the prior system.

Brownback and the state legislature also declined to expand the state’s Medicaid program as prescribed by the act despite building media criticism, the hospital lobby’s insistence and other “red state” Republicans expanding their Medicaid programs.

#1 – Wichita State Final Four Run

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In what was supposed to be a down year following a disappointing NCAA tournament upset (at the hands of 12-seed VCU), the Wichita State Shockers got off to hot regular season start only to limp down the stretch, fighting injuries, struggling with non-tournament-bound opponents and unable to overcome the Creighton Bluejays. The Shockers entered the tournament as a 9-seed, were a slight underdog in their opening round game, and saw most of the state’s sports headlines go to their automatic qualifier conference counterparts Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas State Wildcats.

The Gregg Marshall-coached squad proceeded to go on one of the most improbable tournament runs in history, becoming the 5th lowest seed ever to make the final four.

Wichita State’s trip to the Final Four was accompanied by one of the greatest team mantras in recent memory. The Shockers “Play Angry” rallying cry perfectly matched the team’s style of play and the attitude of players and coach alike.

Kansas news reporting questioned

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Media should be a neutral reporter of facts

By Dave Trabert

“An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.” — Thomas Jefferson

I wonder what Mr. Jefferson would say about the state of today’s media. Television, cable, print and internet media routinely ignore basic journalistic principles and openly choose sides, often ignoring the facts and perpetuating falsehoods to convince citizens that their view is the right one. In some cases, it’s done in support of conservative causes; most often, it’s in support of “progressive” ideals that strip citizens of their personal freedom. It’s bad enough when facts are ignored in editorials but ignoring facts and choosing sides in news stories is tantamount to journalistic malpractice.

Local media gave us two examples of this behavior recently.  A November 22 Kansas City Star report said, “Kansas still had fewer jobs in October 2013 than it did in December 2012, the month before the Brownback tax cuts took effect.” The reporter when on to say, “Put another way: Kansas has actually lost 3,311 jobs since the Brownback tax cuts took effect.”

This is a great example of media looking for ways to inject their support or opposition of policy into news stories while quite deliberately ignoring pertinent facts. The clear purpose in that KC Star story was to show disdain for tax reform and the facts were not allowed to detract from that purpose.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data quoted by the reporter (although certainly not disclosed) was Labor Force Employment, which comes from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and represents employed persons by place of residence. The more commonly-used BLS report of non-farm employment is estimated based on the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey of business establishments, and represents a count of jobs by place of work.

The CPS data chosen by the KC Star is based on where people live, not where they work. There is no way of knowing to what extent the job losses reported in the CPS data are attributable to people who live in Kansas but work in Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado or Oklahoma. Data from the CES survey of businesses, however, avoids that issue because it is based on where people work.

And surprise! This data shows just the opposite of the story told by the KC Star.

Job growth is occurring in Kansas but that inconvenient truth gets in the way of the Star’s opposition to tax reform, so they spin a tale that suits their purpose and pass it off as “news.”

The Topeka-Capital Journal provided another example of journalistic malfeasance on November 24 in a one-sided recitation of school districts’ funding complaints. Not unlike the piece in the Star, its political purpose comes through loud and clear.

“When Gov. Sam Brownback took office, schools like this one were already reeling. The recession had brought what were likely the largest cuts to their operating budgets in state history. But once the recession faded, those funds didn’t rebound as some had hoped. Meanwhile, the governor cut income taxes — reductions meant to bolster the economy.”

That reads like an ad for a made-for-TV fictional movie, with the emphasis on fiction. Not a shred of funding facts were provided, which would of course expose that the claims are crafted to meet the political purpose.

Let’s look at the facts (all of which are readily available from the Kansas Department of Education). First of all, we’ll look at actual spending instead of the misleading reference to “budget.” Individuals and businesses think of “budget cuts” as spending reductions but when government says their budget was cut, it most often means that their plan to spend more was partly stymied.

I’ll make an assumption here that “operating” means current operating costs and excludes capital outlay and debt service (it wasn’t defined in the CJ story).

There was a 2.3 percent reduction in total operating expenditures in 2010, with per-pupil operating spending dipping by 3.5 percent. Portraying reaction to this paltry decline as “reeling” (or allowing school districts to do so) is hardly justifiable. Those small declines in total and per-pupil spending came on the heels of very large spending increases between 2005 and 2009 of 35 percent and 32 percent, respectively. (FYI, in case anyone tries to claim that schools suffered because state funding declined dramatically in 2010, remind them that nearly all of that money was replaced by legislators with federal stimulus money; the funding just temporarily shifted.)

Calling the 2010 minor spending dip the largest cut in state history makes it sound monumental and only feeds the political hype. In reality, 2010 was the only spending reduction that occurred since 1990, which is as far back as KSDE can cite; they tell us that prior years’ data has been archived and isn’t readily available. Details needed to identify operating spending in the KSDE online database only go back to 2004 (KPI has tracked it since 2005) but we do know that total spending did not decline between 1990 and 2010.

Allowing districts to claim they were “reeling” and quoting a legislator as saying districts are in “survival mode” deliberately ignores well-known facts that counter the veracity of those claims. For example, districts haven’t even spent all of the tax money received since 2005; about $420 million was used to increase operating cash reserves. Districts are also wasting a lot of money with inefficient operations.  Every single Legislative Post Audit study on school efficiency has found that schools could operate much more efficiently. If media is going to print “sky-is-falling” claims by school districts and those who support their institutional desires, they have a journalistic obligation to also publish facts that call such claims into question.

The article also perpetuates the myth that Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) is all districts receive to operate schools. The story allows two legislators and others to at least imply that BSAPP is the sole funding source and that the Legislature is deliberately underfunding schools despite a large body of evidence to the contrary.

The story cites no other per-pupil amount and fails to disclose that BSAPP is only about 30 percent of total funding provided by taxpayers. For the record, KSDE reports that per-pupil support of public education set a new record last year at $12,781 and is expected to hit $12,885 this year. District administrators know (and we’ve certainly informed media quite often) that they receive a lot more money than BSAPP to fund general operations. Local Option Budget (LOB) funds, which are provided through legislative authority, have increased 71% between 2005 and 2013, going from $341.7 million to $585.3 million.

Contrary to the claim made by one legislator quoted in the story, BSAPP was not put into statute as what the Legislature deemed to be “… the appropriate number to fund our schools.”  The Legislature made no such declaration. The Legislature increased funding based on a court order and under threat of having the State Supreme Court close schools. But the facts don’t fit the story that some people want to perpetuate, so rhetoric is substituted to fulfill a political purpose.

Kansas Policy Institute and other have published the facts surrounding school funding cases, including a full legal analysis of Montoy vs. State of Kansas.  We most recently published “Student-Focused Funding Solutions for Public Education,” which again cites many facts that explain why every court case on school funding is based on deliberately-inflated figures. Despite all the rhetoric, supposition and claims to the contrary, the simple proven truth is that no one — not a single legislator, superintendent, reporter, policy analyst or judge — knows how much money schools need to achieve required outcomes while operating efficiently. No such study or analysis has ever been conducted in Kansas.

Having spent more than twenty years managing news operations in several states, I have great respect for journalism and those who diligently work to honestly inform citizens. I also know that reporters are sometimes forced to cover stories by editors and managers in ways they find objectionable and have misleading headlines slapped on their stories. But to paraphrase Jefferson, our republic cannot properly function when citizens are deliberately deprived of information. It is not the duty of media (or policy analysts) to make decisions for citizens, but to inform them so they can make their own decisions.

Kansas sales tax exemptions, according to Kansas City Star

Here’s a look at just how bad some Kansas newspaper articles and editorials have been. From December 2010.

kansas-city-star-bannerA recent editorial in one of Kansas’ leading newspapers may lead readers to believe that eliminating sales tax exemptions holds the key to solving the state’s budget problems. But following the advice of the editorial would place Kansas at a severe disadvantage to other states in manufacturing.

The Kansas City Star editorial, titled “Education should trump tax breaks in Kansas” (available to read here), holds this paragraph: “For every penny of sales tax collected in Kansas, the state exempts 2 cents. Brownback should be looking at ways to spread, not increase, the tax burden more fairly so everyday Kansans aren’t asked to prop up breaks for businesses.”

While the numbers the editorial cites are correct, they are used in a misleading way, as we can easily see.

In 2009, the retail sales tax brought in $2,286.7 million. According to a study by the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit is titled Kansas Tax Revenues, Part II: Reviewing Sales Tax Exemptions, Kansas has 99 sales tax exemptions that cost the state an estimated $4.2 billion in 2009. That’s pretty close to the two-to-one ratio of exemptions to collections that the Star editorial mentions.

But if the Star had cared to look any farther, they would have realized that this number is an illusion. The audit report noted: “Six of those exemptions, accounting for $3.4 billion, relate primarily to taxing goods at the final point of sale, and not taxing government entities.”

An example of an exemption that contributes toward the $3.4 billion figure is exemption 79-3606 (m), described as “Ingredient/Component parts: Of items manufactured or produced for sale at retail.” The audit report estimates that for 2009, this exemption cost the state $2,248.1 million in lost sales tax revenue.

This exemption isn’t really an “exemption,” at least if the sales tax is thought of as a retail sales tax designed to be levied as the final tax on consumption. That’s because these goods aren’t being sold at retail. They’re sold to manufacturers who use them as inputs to products that, when finished, will be sold at retail.

An example would be an aircraft manufacturer purchasing a jet engine to be installed in an airplane that is being built. Most states don’t tax this type of sales. If Kansas decided to tax these transactions, it would place our state’s manufacturers at a severe and crippling disadvantage compared to almost all other states.

There are two other exemptions that fall in this category of inputs to to production processes, totaling an estimated $461 million in lost revenue. When we consider these numbers, the premise of the Star’s editorial — that there are untold riches to be collected if we close tax breaks — isn’t true. That is, unless the Star really believes we should be taxing these type of intermediate business transactions. I wouldn’t be surprised if it thinks we should.

I agree with the Star that we should be looking for ways to spread the tax burden. Then, let’s lower the rates.

Fact-checking an editor’s biased agenda

Fact-checking an editor’s biased agenda

By  | Special to Watchdog.org

TEACHER SAID: There “is absolutely, positively no such thing as an unbiased piece of writing.”

During a junior high-school English class decades ago, I eagerly raised my hand to answer a teacher’s question about news reporting. He wanted us to explain the kind of sources we would use and how we would assure that our writing was fair.

I would rely on “unbiased” books and articles, I explained. The teacher threw his hands in the air and started yelling (in a friendly manner) that there “is absolutely, positively no such thing as an unbiased piece of writing.” The lesson was learned — and it stuck with me through my long and continuing journalism and writing career.

Human beings have biases. There’s no way around it. The most biased news stories I’ve ever read have been presented in a perfectly fair manner, with two sides of an issue presented, but where the basic premise points in one direction or another. The biggest bias actually might come in what reporters choose not to cover.

Yet some journalists still believe they can present news stories free from any bias. That’s a declining view in today’s wide-open online news world, where people know that balance is achieved by reading articles with myriad perspectives rather than relying on one superficial piece distributed by, say, the Associated Press.

For an example of this musty and arrogant “we are the arbiters of fairness” thinking, I offer Karen Peterson, editor of the Tacoma News Tribune in Washington. In a Sept. 29 column, she blasted my former employer, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, after the nonprofit news group (parent company of Watchdog.org) emailed her offering a news partnership.

Watchdog.org offers free reprint rights to newspapers and has engaged in myriad partnerships with local and national media. Peterson said she was interested, but then did a little “research” on the group. She found that Watchdog’s work “revealed a list of stories and sources with an anti-taxation and deregulation bent.” She couldn’t find any list of its funding sources.

And then she did more research (i.e., a Google search) and reported on the findings of “The Center for Public Integrity, a 24-year-old nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism organization.” Peterson’s conclusion is that the Franklin Center is an ideologically oriented group that tries to pass its work off as “unbiased journalism.”

She accuses the group of dishonesty, but her writing not only is disturbingly short of forthrightness, but reveals the weakness in the old, “we have no biases” thinking.

For starters, the Franklin Center does not claim to produce unbiased journalism. I know. When I was vice president of journalism there, I crafted the policy and worked with reporters and editors to enforce it. Watchdog produces quality journalism that conforms to professional journalism standards — but it admits that it has a pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty perspective.

Franklin is not the only nonprofit that doesn’t list donors, by the way. But whatever one thinks of that policy, the group spells it out and doesn’t try to pretend otherwise. If a newspaper doesn’t like that policy, then it shouldn’t use Watchdog’s articles. But that’s not dishonesty — it’s the epitome of truthfulness.

Here’s what’s really revealing. Peterson refers to the Center for Public Integrity in a way that would make one think that it is just some unbiased good-journalism group. But it is a nonprofit with a hard-left political perspective and it didn’t just do some “research” on Franklin. It published a poorly crafted hit piece with a transparent political agenda.

“The fact that you didn’t question its findings suggests something of your own bias,” wrote Franklin Vice President Will Swaim in an email to Peterson, who never responded to his correspondence.

You see the ironies here. A newspaper editor attacks a libertarian-leaning group that admits its view of the world for the crime of offering news stories for reprinting. Meanwhile, she champions as unbiased the work of left-wing groups that are cagier about their perspective. Too bad she wasn’t in my junior high class that day.

No wonder the public has been frustrated over the years with perceptions of media bias. It’s not really the bias that’s the problem, but the insistence by some editors that they are untainted by any worldview — even as they so obviously trumpet one. (Not long ago, for instance, I received an angry email from a reader about one of my newspaper articles. She couldn’t believe how biased it was. After I explained to her that it was an opinion column, her view totally changed. She didn’t mind my idiotic view — as long as it wasn’t dressed up as unbiased!)

Don’t like Franklin or Watchdog? That’s fine. Then don’t use their work. But don’t dress up your own political biases as a bold defense of journalistic integrity.

Steven Greenhut is a Watchdog.org contributor and former vice president of Journalism for Watchdog’s parent, the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. 

Originally published at Fact-checking an editor’s biased agenda.

Wichita Eagle editorial page: arm of Democratic Party?

Today’s letters section of the Wichita Eagle carries a letter from the executive director of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party promoting an event that will poke fun at Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

A letter to the editor of any newspaper that discusses public policy, including Kobach’s agenda, is relevant. But this letter is a promotion — an advertisement — for a partisan political party event. It’s not billed as a fundraiser, but it has all the characteristics of one, including tickets selling for as much as $100.

Printing letters like this harms the image of Eagle, if it wishes to retain credibility as a neutral arbitrator of public opinion and policy.

Kansas news digest

News from alternative media around Kansas for March 22, 2010.

Republicans on the left help defeat Health Care Freedom Amendment

(Kansas Liberty) “Greg Ward, co-founder of the Kansas 9.12 Project and founder of the Kansas Sovereignty Coalition, was disappointed in the outcome, but said he was especially concerned about the actions of the Republican members who voted against the measure. ‘I am amazed at the number of Republicans working to limit the liberties we have instead of limiting the overreaching government on both the federal and state level that seeks more and more control of our lives,’ Ward told Kansas Liberty.”

House, Senate committees take a stand against increasing taxes

(Kansas Liberty) “The House Appropriations Committee adopted a budget plan today that could patch the state’s deficits for fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2011 — without raising taxes. The proposal would leave the state with positive balance of more than $300 million in fiscal year 2011 and would cut approximately $360 million. The Republican plan would create a 1 percent across-the-board cut, excluding education and health and human services caseload.”

Tax on sugary beverages could still be considered

(Kansas Liberty) “The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee made it clear yesterday that it was not interested in several of the tax-increasing proposals brought before the committee — including a proposal to create a tax on sugary beverages. For legislation to be voted on during a committee meeting, a member has to make a motion for the legislation to be passed out of committee, and that motion has to be seconded. However, the Senate Taxation Committee did not even have enough tax-supporting members for the majority of the proposals to be considered for a vote.”

Day-care bill passes GO in Senate

(Kansas Liberty) “Voice vote in general orders indicates Kansas Senate wants all child-care providers licensed and inspected by state.”

Kansas tax panel offers balanced budget, no new taxes

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas House Appropriations committee members unveiled a new plan Thursday for balancing next year’s state budget without raising taxes.”

Exemptions severely erode Kansas’ tax bases, audit finds

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas property tax exemptions for machinery and equipment created in 2006 have significantly eroded local tax bases across the state, state auditors reported Wednesday.”

KOSE seeks more protection for whistleblowers

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Some state employees feel they have a way to gain more revenue for Kansas. Two members of the Kansas Organization of State Employees (KOSE) testified before the Senate Ways and Means Committee Wednesday that strengthening whistleblower protection for state employees would mean less waste.”

Debunking Myths in the School Funding Debate

(Kansas Watchdog) “Protesters pushing for tax increases to end education funding cuts chanted, ‘We want what’s right, not what’s left’ at the State Capitol Tuesday.”

3rd District Candidates Debate

(Kansas Watchdog) “Overland Park, Kan. – A candidate debate and forum of eight 3rd Congressional District candidates was held Saturday at the Blue Valley Northwest High School. About 300 people attended to listen to 7 Republicans and a Libertarian candidate.” Related: Closing Statements from 3rd District Debate (video).

Sun Editor Steve Rose Needs Facts and Figures not Fear Mongering about Schools

(Kansas Watchdog) “Steve Rose in his ‘Memo’ this week, ‘Teachers, programs slashed. Thanks, Ray,’ needs more hard facts and figures instead of fear mongering about ‘slashing’ school budgets.”

Congressional Candidates Debate at Hope For America Meeting in Overland Park

(State of the State KS) “Republican and Libertarian candidates for Congress debated in Overland Park Saturday in the race for Congress in the 3rd District.”

U.S. House passes historic health reform legislation

(Kansas Health Institute News Service) “TOPEKA – The U.S. House has spoken on health reform, approving 219-212 a Senate-passed health reform bill that now goes to the president for signature into law. But the debate in Kansas, and across the country, continues.”

Menu labeling discussed

(Kansas Health Institute News Service) “TOPEKA – It’s not clear what will happen to federal health reform legislation that would require chain restaurants to label menu items, but the Kansas Legislature won’t take any action on the measure this year.”

KPTS’s Kansas Week now online

Wichita public television station KPTS has produced the weekly public affairs program Kansas Week since 1989. Tim Brown has been the host since 2006.

Now many of KPTS’s shows are available online through the station’s website. There’s a link on the main page, or click on watch.kpts.org. Both Kansas Week and the Sunday afternoon show Ask Your Legislator are available.

The changing face of journalism

As newspapers and other forms of traditional news media experience economic difficulty, a gap has been created that needs to be filled. One of the solutions is the rise of non-profit organizations that have stepped in to provide the watchdog service that investigative journalism provides. Jason Stverak, author of the piece below, is president of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, which funds investigative journalism in a growing number of states, including Kansas at Kansas Watchdog. This piece also appeared in National Review Online.

Corruption and scandal are not simply bred in D.C. — crooked politicians have to start somewhere. Gone unnoticed, scandal-plagued local politicians sometimes escalate to Congress or other federal positions.

The cure for a dishonest politician is an investigative reporter willing to allocate the time to expose the truth. However, the decline of resources at newspapers around the nation has increased the vacuum in state-based coverage. As such, newspapers around the country are curbing reporters’ ability to spend the time or money to investigate a story in addition to the daily beat they write. This growing hole in investigative journalism is now being filled by non-profit organizations that have the capacity to spend time becoming immersed in a story.

The formula for success for the non-profits is to hire straight-shooting professionals and provide them the opportunity and training to reemerge as the beat reporters from yesteryear. With local focuses, specific targets, a commitment to using highly trained and professional journalists, and a strategic approach to using and distributing resources, online non-profits are the future of journalism.

Just recently, a series of state-based watchdog groups have demonstrated that online news websites can churn out substantive investigative pieces. Jim Scarantino, the New Mexico Watchdog at the Rio Grande Foundation, found that New Mexico’s lieutenant governor was utilizing tax dollars to buy Christmas cards for her political committee. Joe Jordan, a dedicated state-based reporter at NebraskaWatchdog.org, uncovered that their state’s educators were using taxpayer-funded credit cards to purchase a first-class plane tickets to China for $11,000. And it was a Watchdog in Ohio that publicized a candidate’s attempt to pay for votes among college students.

Kathy Hoekstra, a watchdog from Michigan, found herself investigating a union day-care scandal when her organization, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, sued Michigan’s Department of Human Services. The lawsuit stemmed from the two home day-care owners receiving a notification that they were members of a union, and that dues would be taken out of the subsidy checks they receive on behalf of low-income parents who qualify for aid. The lawsuit alleged that these home day-care owners are businesses, not government employees, and therefore it is illegal to siphon union dues from government-subsidy checks. Weeks of investigating the details of this case paid off when Kathy’s article was welcomed with open arms in all the major news outlets in Michigan, exposing this story to millions of readers.

Although many of the state-based watchdogs are local in focus, on several occasions, one watchdog’s local discovery has led to a major news story. This past November, Jim Scarantino was doing research on Recovery.gov when he noticed that a few of the congressional districts that received stimulus funding in New Mexico did not exist. The story he wrote about that obvious error prompted a watchdog in another state to look into his own state’s information. As more and more watchdogs looked into their own state’s data on recovery.gov, more congressional districts proved to be fabricated. What came to be known as the “Phantom Congressional District Scandal” lead to the discovery of more than 440 phantom congressional districts nationwide and hearings on Capitol Hill. The Colbert Report even refashioned its popular “Better Known as a District” into a new segment, “Know Your Made-Up District.”

Non-profit journalism organizations are changing the conversation in politics, the media, and for news consumers around the nation. Benjamin Franklin, a printer by trade, once said that “a newspaper in every home” was the “principle support of … morality” in civic life. The decline of American newspapers might sadden Mr. Franklin, but the pursuit of greatness in journalism by online non-profits would without a doubt bring him pride.

Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity promotes social welfare and civil betterment by undertaking programs that promote journalism and the education of the public about corruption, incompetence, fraud, or taxpayer abuse by elected officials at all levels of government. Founded in January of 2009, The Franklin Center is a nonpartisan organization that believes that new technology can advance the cause of transparency in government. The Franklin Center aims to educate, to advise and to train individuals and organizations from all backgrounds to become thorough, unbiased and responsible reporters well versed in new media techniques and journalistic integrity. For more information on the Franklin Center please visit www.FranklinCenterHQ.org.

Kansas news digest

News from alternative media around Kansas for December 21, 2009.

KNEA uses incomplete funding data to argue for tax hikes

(Kansas Liberty) “Kansas State Department of Education Deputy Commissioner says a common practice of legislators and school advocates is only citing the base state aid K-12 receives for gauging funding levels.”

Democrat drops out of governor’s race

(Kansas Liberty) “Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wiggans announced yesterday that he was dropping out of the race amid allegations that he had acted in an ethically questionable manner at a previous job.”

Economist calls for scrapping state income tax

(Kansas Reporter) “Kansas’ economy — and its taxpayers — would be a lot better off if the state scrapped its current income tax system and replaced it with a single, 8 percent sales tax, says University of Kansas economist Art Hall. Hall, executive director of the university’s Center for Applied Economics, said a proposed 8 percent retail sales tax would replace 36 other state level taxes, including personal and corporate income taxes and would help make Kansas one of the most growth oriented state tax environments in the nation. Kansans would still pay local school district and property taxes, however.”

State executives line up to detail budget cuts

(Kansas Reporter) Kansas budget cuts mean state highways will stay snowpacked longer and wear out faster, the state’s transportation secretary, Deb Miller, told state Senate Ways and Means Committee members Tuesday. … Miller was one of 10 state executives or other officials who spoke to the Senate’s top budget writing panel about some of the challenges that an estimated $5.3 billion in Kansas tax revenues this year will present to their departments.”

Schools for Fair Funding to sue state for more education funding

(Kansas Watchdog) “The Schools for Fair Funding group met in Salina today and voted to sue the state for more funding for education. A number of Kansas media sources reported about this meeting. … None of these news sources ask questions that must be answered.”

Ethics Commission Approves Advisory Opinion

(Kansas Watchdog) “An assistant state attorney general received permission Wednesday to work for a private tobacco ‘Master Settlement Agreement’ clearinghouse as long as he doesn’t deal with Kansas matters.”

Letter From The Newsroom — Holiday Edition

(State of the State, Kansas) “This week we look at 6 people who served as the Governor of Kansas. We also visit the Kansas Historical Society to find out about Christmas Past in Kansas.”

Governor says ‘no’ to more Medicaid or education cuts

(Kansas Health Institute News Service) “The state needs a higher levy on tobacco and a new nursing home tax would help the industry, the governor said today in an interview with KHI News Service. Other taxes also should be explored to help balance the budget because cuts to needed services over the past two years have gone too deep already, he said.”