The performance of Kansas in entrepreneurial activity is not high, compared to other states.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation prepares the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. According to the Foundation, “The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity is a leading indicator of new business creation in the United States. Capturing new business owners in their first month of significant business activity, this measure provides the earliest documentation of new business development across the country.”
As shown by the data, Kansas ranks low in entrepreneurial activity. This is true when Kansas is compared to the nation, and also when compared to a group of nearby states.
I’ve prepared two visualizations that present this data. One holds data for all states. Click here to open it in a new window.
A second visualization presents the data for Kansas and some nearby states. Click here to open it in a new window.
Dave Trabert, President of the Kansas Policy Institute, spoke at the December 12, 2014 Wichita Pachyderm Club meeting. His program was titled “Debunking False Claims about Kansas Budget and Economy and Kansas Policy Institute Budget Plan for Kansas — How to balance the state budget without service reductions or tax increases.”
View video below, or click here to view at YouTube.
When Kansas cities grant economic development incentives, they may also unilaterally take action that affects overlapping jurisdictions such as counties, school districts, and the state itself. The legislature should end this.
When Kansas cities create tax increment financing (TIF) districts, the overlapping county and school district(s) have an opportunity to veto its creation. These other jurisdictions do not formally have to give their consent to its formation; if they do nothing, it is assumed they concur.
But for some other forms of incentives, such as tax increment financing district redevelopment plans, property tax abatements, and sales tax abatements, overlapping jurisdictions have no ability to object. There seems to be no rational basis for not giving these jurisdictions a chance to object to the erosion of their tax base.
This is especially important for school districts, as they are often the largest tax consumer. As an example, when the City of Wichita offered tax abatements to a company in June, 47 percent of the abated taxes would have gone to the Wichita school district. But the school district did not participate in this decision. State law gave it no voice.
Supporters of economic development incentives may say that the school district benefits from the incentives. Even though the district gives up some tax revenue now, it will get more in the future. This is the basis for the benefit-cost ratios the city uses to justify incentives. For itself, the City of Wichita requires a benefit-cost ratio of 1.3 to one or better, although there are many loopholes the city can use to grant incentives when this threshold is not met. For the June project, city documents reported these benefit-cost ratios for two overlapping jurisdictions:
Sedgwick County 1.18 to one
USD 259 1.00 to one
In this case, the city forced a benefit-cost ratio on the county that the city would not accept for itself, unless it uses a loophole. For the school district, the net benefit is zero.
The legislature should look at ways to make sure that overlapping jurisdictions are not harmed when economic development incentives are granted by cities. The best way would be to require formal approval of the incentives by counties and school districts.
In June the City of Wichita granted tax abatements for a new warehouse. City documents gave the benefit-cost ratios for the city and overlapping jurisdictions:
City of Wichita General Fund 1.30 to one
Sedgwick County 1.18 to one
USD 259 1.00 to one
State of Kansas 12.11 to one
It is not known whether these ratios include the sales tax forgiveness.
While the City of Wichita insists that projects show a benefit-cost ratio of 1.3 to one or better (although there are many exceptions), it doesn’t apply that standard for overlapping jurisdictions. Here, Sedgwick County experiences a benefit-cost ratio of 1.18 to one, and the Wichita school district (USD 259) 1.00 to one. These two governmental bodies have no input on the decision the city is making on their behalf. The school district’s share of the forgiven taxes is 47.4 percent.
USD 259 $143,038
The listing of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, is likely an oversight by the city, as the Spirit properties lie in the Derby school district. This is evident when the benefit-cost ratios are listed:
City of Wichita 1.98 to one
General Fund 1.78 to one
Debt Service 2.34 to one
Sedgwick County 1.54 to one
U.S.D. 260 1.00 to one (Derby school district)
State of Kansas 28.23 to one
Note that the ratio for the Derby school district is 1.00 to one, far below what the city requires for projects it considers for participation. That is, unless it uses a loophole.
A survey of Kansas voters finds that Kansas believe government is not operating efficiently. The also believe government should pursue efficiency savings, focus on core functions, and spend unnecessary cash reserves before cutting services or raising taxes.
This month Kansas Policy Institute produced a survey asking registered voters in Kansas questions on the topic of school spending. The final four questions asked voters’ opinion of government efficiency and how government should respond to budgetary issues.
Question 9 asked this: “How much do you agree or disagree with this statement: Kansas state government operates pretty efficiently and makes effective use of my tax dollars.” As you can see in the nearby table and chart, 31 percent of voters agreed with this statement. 65 percent disagreed, including 39 percent who said they strongly disagree with the statement. That was the most common response.
This result is similar with a survey of Wichita voters conducted by SurveyUSA for KPI in April. The first question in that survey asked “In the past few years, have Wichita city officials used taxpayer money efficiently? Or inefficiently?” Overall, 58 percent believed city spending was inefficient, compared to 28 percent believing spending was efficient.
In question 10, the current survey of Kansas voters asked “How much do you agree or disagree with this statement: Kansas state government could run 5% to 10% more efficiently than it does now.” 74 percent of respondents agreed to some extent, with 42 percent indicating they strongly agree. Only six percent strongly disagreed.
Question 11 asked voters how Kansas state government should react to an unbalanced budget: “How much do you agree or disagree with this statement: I believe the Kansas state government should pursue efficiency savings, focus on core functions, and spend unnecessary cash reserves before raising taxes and/or cutting government functions.” 68 percent agreed with this statement, with 40 percent strongly agreeing. 24 percent disagreed.
Question 12 asked voters how to fix Kansas state budget problems: “What would be the single best way to fix state budget problems? Increasing the income tax? Increasing the sales tax? Cutting spending, even if it means reduced services? Or reducing spending by providing services more efficiently?”
Reducing spending by being more efficient received a majority — 54 percent — of responses. 26 percent of voters responded that taxes should be increased, with income tax hikes more popular than sales tax.
(Note: Based on feedback from readers, I’ve made a change in the way the change in tax collections is reported. Instead of showing 179 percent, I now show 79 percent. This expresses the value as a percentage change rather than a change in index value from 100. The meaning of the data is the same, but now it is expressed in a manner that is easier to understand and consistent with other figures in this visualization.)
Here is an interactive visualization that holds property tax data for Kansas counties from 1997 to 2013.
There are several charts, including line charts of trends and maps of data and changes in data. On the line charts, click on any single county or more to highlight. (Use Ctrl+click to add counties.)
Click here to open the visualization in a new window.
Here’s a map I created of the vote percentage Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach received by precinct. To use an interactive version of this map, click here. On the interactive map you may zoom and scroll, and you may click on a precinct for more information about the votes for that precinct.
Here’s a map I created of the vote percentage Governor Sam Brownback received by precinct. To use an interactive version of this map, click here. On the interactive map you may zoom and scroll, and you may click on a precinct for more information about the votes for that precinct.
By Eileen Umbehr, wife of Libertarian Candidate for Kansas Governor Keen Umbehr
November 1, 2014
As this campaign draws to a close, my heart is heavy. Not so much because Keen was treated as a second-class candidate who didn’t deserve a seat at the table with his Democrat and Republican opponents, but because of the way I’ve seen God used as a selling point in politics.
For example, Keen is solidly pro-life. He believes in freedom as long as you do not cause harm to another human being, and a baby is a human being. But because he also acknowledges the reality that unless and until Roe v. Wade is overturned women maintain their right to choose, he is not considered pro-life enough.
The issue of same-sex marriage has also been deeply divisive and been used to garner votes. How a candidate may feel about two members of the same sex uniting in marriage is separate from his or her duty as a government official to ensure that all laws apply equally to all citizens. Could the government decide not to issue gay people a license to teach, cut hair, practice law, or engage in business?
What each of us believe and the tenets we choose to follow in our private lives is a personal matter. While Keen and I are both Christians who try to live according to the principles set forth in the Bible, where we differ from many of our fellow Christians is that we don’t believe it is our right — or the government’s right — to impose any particular religious belief on anyone. Even God doesn’t do that. If He did, wouldn’t He simply force everyone to believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins so they would all go to Heaven?
Keen is a strict constitutionalist. He believes in the First Amendment right of free speech even when it means that the Phelps’ family can spew messages of hate, causing immeasurable harm to families burying their loved ones. And he believes in the Sixth Amendment right to counsel even when the accused may be guilty of a heinous crime.
When it comes to the Fourteenth Amendment, there are many who feel it should not apply to gays wanting to marry because homosexuality is classified as a sin in the Bible. But isn’t fornication and sex before marriage also classified as a sin in the Bible? And yet no one is suggesting that folks who have engaged in these acts should be denied a marriage license.
Someone posted the following statement about Keen on a liberty-based Facebook page: “Don’t be deceived, this guy is pumping for same sex marriage.” Keen posted the following reply: “I am not ‘pumping’ for same sex marriage, I am ‘pumping’ for adhering to the Constitution which requires equal protection under the law. As long as the State of Kansas is in the business of issuing licenses — whether they be drivers’ licenses, marriage licenses or business licenses — they cannot discriminate against individuals on the basis of religion, gender, or race. How each individual chooses to live their lives is their business, not the government’s.”
In conclusion, if we really want to protect religious freedom in our country, then we should elect candidates who will defend the rights of all citizens to practice whichever religion they choose. That is true religious liberty.
But then, a candidate like that wouldn’t be considered Christian enough.
Kansas has nearly the highest statewide sales tax rate for groceries. Cities and counties often add even more tax on food.
Only 14 states apply sales tax to food purchased at grocery stores for home consumption. This is generally in recognition that sales taxes are highly regressive. My research shows that the lowest income class of families experience a cost nearly four times the magnitude as do the highest income families, as a percentage of after-tax income. See Wichita sales tax hike would hit low income families hardest.
When we look at statewide sales tax rates applied to food, we see that Mississippi has the highest sales tax rate for food at 7.00 percent. Kansas is next at 6.15 percent, then Idaho at 6.00 percent.
Cities and counties often have additional sales taxes. Sedgwick County adds one percent for a total sales tax rate of 7.15 percent. If the proposed Wichita sales tax succeeds, the sales tax in Wichita, including on groceries, will be 8.15 percent.
It could be that some cities in other states have combined sales tax rates higher than what Wichita currently has, and what Wichita will have if the proposed sales tax passes. As an example, Oklahoma has a statewide sales tax of 4.5 percent that applies to groceries. With city and county taxes added, the rate in Oklahoma City is 8.375 percent. If the proposed sales tax passes, Wichita would be right behind at 8.15 percent.
Of note, those in Kansas have the possibility of receiving a food sales tax credit of $125. But this is something that must be applied for, and qualifying conditions must be met. Also, the credit is nonrefundable, meaning that applicants must have income tax liability of at least $125 to receive the full credit.
The following table shows the sales tax rate for states that apply sales tax to food. All other states have either no sales tax, or no sales tax on groceries. View below, or click here to open in a new window.
To help Kansans understand the options for future Kansas budgets, Kansas Policy Institute has produced a calculator that lets voters experiment with scenarios of their own making. Click here to view the calculator.
Goossen claims we made an $802 million math error and tries to fool unsuspecting readers by saying we didn’t account for all of what is purported to be a $1.3 billion shortfall. We didn’t account for it because there is no $1.3 billion shortfall!
As we explained in How Budget Deficits are Fabricated in Kansas, Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) counts budget changes multiple times in arriving at what they call a $1.3 billion shortfall. Once money is cut from the base budget … it’s gone. It doesn’t have to be cut again every year into the future.
According to KLRD, the spending adjustments needed to maintain a zero ending balance total $482.3 million over five years.
In order to get to $1.3 billion, one must count the FY 2016 change FOUR times … the FY 2017 change is counted THREE times … the FY 2018 change is counted TWICE … and only the FY 2019 change is counted once.
Goossen also mischaracterizes several proposed uses of excess cash reserves as “cuts” to transportation and education. As clearly explained in our Budget Plan, we are proposing that a KDOT surplus of $150 million be returned to the General Fund and that sales tax transfers to KDOT be reduced so that future surpluses are not created. We suggest that school districts and universities be required to use a portion of excess cash reserves, allowing education funding to reduced one time while excess funds are spent down.
He also falsely claims we are recommending a $100 million cut to the Kansas Bioscience Authority, when our plan merely suggests funding KBA at the same amount it received in 2014. The budget savings comes about by removing a statutory set-aside of $25 million per year that isn’t planned to be spent.
These are just some of the outlandish claims made by Goossen, which probably explains why he ignores invitations to have a civil public discussion of the facts. He has nothing to gain and everything to lose.
Our budget plan shows multiple options to balance the budget without service reductions or tax increases…healthy ending balances…increased funding for education and Medicaid…and record-setting spending overall. But media won’t even look at the plan and others are spreading false claims about it.
Kansans are being inundated with the false choice of tax increases or service reductions … all for political gain.
A recent spurt of growth of personal income in Kansas is welcome, considering the history of Kansas in this regard.
Kansas personal income grew in the quarter ending in June, with the Wichita Business Journal reporting “Kansas ranked 14th among states for second-quarter personal income growth.” The article also noted “According to data released Tuesday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, personal income grew by 1.7 percent in the second quarter of 2014, faster than the national growth rate of 1.5 percent.”
Strong growth in personal income is good. But strong growth is not the norm for Kansas. The nearby chart shows cumulative growth of personal income in the states since 1990, with Kansas highlighted. Total growth for Kansas is 190 percent. For the entire county, it is 198 percent. For Plains states, 196 percent.
This is relevant to the decision Kansans will make in November when deciding their vote for governor. Progressive voices urge a return to the policies of Kathleen Sebelius and her successor (2003-2011), and Bill Graves (1995-2003). Sebelius, a Democrat, and Graves, a Republican, are seen by Progressives as paragons of “moderate,” “common-sense” leadership that is now — they say — missing.
An interactive visualization of personal income data is available for use here. You may select different time periods and any grouping of states. One of more states may be highlighted. There are similar charts in the visualization that show change in personal income year-over-year, and change from previous quarter.
Those who call for a return to the economic policies of past Kansas gubernatorial administrations may not be aware of the performance of the Kansas economy during those times.
There are a variety of ways to measure the economic performance of states and countries. Job growth is one. Output, or gross domestic product, is another.
The nearby chart contains two views of GDP for Kansas and nearby states. Kansas is the dark line. The charts shows GDP for private industries only. (By using the interactive visualization, you can show other industries, time periods, and states.)
The top chart shows the percentage change in GDP from the previous year. The bottom chart shows the cumulative growth in GDP since 1997. Both charts illustrate that the performance of the Kansas economy is nothing to crow about, and it’s been that way for a long time.
You may use the visualization yourself. Click here to open it in a new window. There are other visualizations of data, including jobs creation by states, available here.
A policy brief from a Kansas think tank illustrates that balancing the Kansas budget while maintaining services and lower tax rates is not only possible, but realistic.
The State of Kansas has implemented tax reform that reduces the tax burden for Kansans. A remaining challenge that has not yet been tackled is spending reform, that is, aligning Kansas state government spending with a smaller stream of tax revenue. Critics of tax reform say the Kansas budget is a mess or a train wreck, pointing to projections of large deficits before long. Tax increases or service cuts will be required to balance the budget, contend critics.
In a policy brief released today, Kansas Policy Institute presented a plan for bringing the budget in balance while retaining low tax rates (and future reductions) and accommodating projected future spending needs for Medicare and schools.
KPI’s analysis and proposed budgets are based on revenue and expenditure data from Kansas Legislative Research Department as of August. Because of some uncertainty of future revenue estimates, KPI used three different levels of starting revenue going to create three different scenarios. KPI then applied the same growth rate that KLRD uses.
Even with the changes proposed by KPI, spending will still increase in most cases. Baked into KPI’s tables are projections by KLRD of increases of $299 million for Medicaid caseloads and $215 million for additional K-12 school spending.
The changes that KPI recommends are primarily structural in nature. For example, one recommendation is to reform KPERS, the state employee retirement system, so that newly hired employees are covered by a defined contribution program. Another is reducing sales tax transfers to Kansas Department of Transportation to the level used in fiscal year 2013.
Another change is to improve accounting systems. The report illustrates one instance where inadequate payroll systems mean that the state can’t claim some payments that it is due:
States are entitled to be reimbursed by the federal government for the pension costs of school employees engaged in the delivery of federally-funded services, such as Special Education and Food Service. Kansas, however, foregoes federal reimbursement because many school districts’ payroll systems lack the ability to properly capture the necessary information. (Estimates are not permitted; the information must flow through payroll systems.)
KPI president Dave Trabert said: “We do have to have some structural changes that should have occurred in 2012 when tax reform was first implemented. We can do that now by making more effective use of existing resources.” Except in a few instances, the budget plan advanced by KPI doesn’t depend on government eliminating waste or becoming more efficient. While these goals are important, Trabert said, they take time to accomplish.
One of the most-often repeated themes heard during the Kansas Governor debate at the Kansas State Fair is that Kansas is a rural state, and that agriculture is vital to our state’s economy. It’s not just gubernatorial candidates that say this. It seems to be common knowledge.
There may be several ways to measure the “ruralness” of a state. One way is the percent of the state’s people that live in rural areas. The U.S. Census Bureau has these statistics. In the chart made from these statistics, Kansas is right in the middle of the states. 25.80 percent of Kansans live in rural areas.
As for the importance of agriculture to the Kansas economy, figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) tell us that in 2013 agriculture contributed $6,914 million to the Kansas GDP. Total GDP in Kansas that year was $144,062 million, meaning that agriculture accounted for 4.8 percent of total Kansas economic production. That is a pretty high number; only six states have a higher percentage of GDP from agriculture.
Do these numbers mean anything? It’s common for Kansas politicians to emphasize — and perhaps exaggerate — whatever connections they may have to a family farm. It’s part of a nostalgic and romanticized view of Kansas, the Kansas of Home on the Range. We are the “Wheat State” and “Breadbasket of the World,” and “One Kansas farmer feeds 128 people (plus you).”
So while Kansas is in the middle in the ranking of percent of population living in rural areas, agriculture is a larger component of state income than all but a few states. Still, agriculture is less than five percent of Kansas income. Policymakers should keep this in mind, although politicians may not.
Kansas has a problem with sales tax exemptions, but the potential revenue boost from reform is not as great as commonly mentioned, unless Kansas wants to place its manufacturers at severe disadvantage.
While the Wichita Eagle editorial board is correct to argue for eliminating sales tax exemptions, the amount of potential revenue is far less than presented, if we want to keep Kansas manufacturers competitive. Here’s what the Eagle editorial held:
As a result, the number of sales-tax exemptions keeps growing — from 30 in 1985 to more than 100 today. And with each added exemption, the state is losing out on more revenue — $5.9 billion this fiscal year, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue. That’s money the state could be using to cover its budget shortfalls, increase funding to public schools or further reduce its income-tax rates.” (Reduce state sales tax exemptions, August 27, 2014)
First, it’s good that the editorial board mentioned — as one possibility — the right thing to do if sales tax exemptions are eliminated, which is to reduce other taxes. Second, the state is not “losing out on more revenue” by granting sales tax exemptions. The state is simply letting people conduct certain transactions without being taxed, thereby letting them keep more of their own money. It’s true that the exemptions are granted in a way that is not equitable and does not promote economic growth, but that’s another issue.
The big problem with the editorial is the amount of money mentioned as up for grabs, which is $5.9 billion. That is a lot of money. It’s almost as much as Kansas annual general fund spending. It’s worthwhile to look in detail at the nature of Kansas sales tax exemptions to understand their nature.
In 2010 Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit looked at the topic of sales tax exemptions and issued a report titled Kansas Tax Revenues, Part II: Reviewing Sales Tax Exemptions. The data in this report is from 2009, so it’s a few years out of date. But the principles and relative amounts remain the same. At the time of this report, advocates of eliminating sales tax exemptions in Kansas pointed, as they do now, to the great amount of revenue that could be raised if Kansas eliminated these exemptions, estimated at some $4.2 billion per year for 2009. Analysis of the nature of the exemptions and the amounts of money involved, however, leads us to realize that the additional tax revenue that could be raised is much less than spending advocates claim, unless Kansas was to adopt a severely uncompetitive, and in some cases, unproductive tax policy.
Tax exemption policy is an important economic policy matter. In its background discussion, the Post Audit report noted “the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion that tax exemptions and tax deductibility are a form of subsidy that is administered through the tax system. A tax exemption has much the same effect as a cash grant to the organization of the amount of tax it would have to pay on its income.”
Sometimes these sales tax exemptions are issued to specific organizations. Others are issued to organizations that fall within certain categories. In this case, the exemption is like an entitlement, granted to any organization that falls within the scope of definition of the exemption. Some exemptions are for categories of business transactions that shouldn’t be taxed.
It’s this last category that is important to recognize, because of the large amount of economic activity that falls within its scope. An example 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.
But this exemption isn’t really an “exemption,” at least if the sales tax is 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. 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 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.
Another big-dollar exemption is “items already taxed” such as motor fuel. This is an estimated $232.5 loss in revenue.
Two other categories of exemptions are purchases made by government, or purchases made by contractors on behalf of government. Together these account for an estimated $449.9 million in lost sales tax revenue. If these two exemptions were eliminated, government would be taxing itself and no net revenue is gained.
All told, these six exemptions account for $3,391.5 million of the total $4,234.2 million in exemptions for 2009. That’s about 80 percent.
So $4.2 billion has shrunk to $842.7 million. That’s still a lot of money, but not near as much as spending advocates would like to have Kansans believe is lying in wait just for the taking.
In this episode of Voice for Liberty Radio: Nick Jordan is Secretary of Revenue for the State of Kansas. He spoke to the Wichita Pachyderm Club on the topic “An Analysis of Governor Brownback’s Tax Policy” on August 22, 2014. In the shownotes for this episode you can find the link to the handout he distributed.
Here’s Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan at the Wichita Pachyderm Club on August 22, 2014.
The Securities and Exchange Commission found that Kansas mislead bond investors. It ordered the state to implement reforms, which it has.
According to a press release from the Securities and Exchange Commission, the State of Kansas “failed to disclose that the state’s pension system was significantly underfunded, and the unfunded pension liability created a repayment risk for investors in those bonds.”
This refers to a series of eight debt, or bond, issues in 2009 and 2010. Collectively they were worth $273 million. The SEC press release explains:
According to the SEC’s order against Kansas, the series of bond offerings were issued through the Kansas Development Finance Authority (KDFA) on behalf of the state and its agencies. According to one study at the time, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) was the second-most underfunded statewide public pension system in the nation. In the offering documents for the bonds, however, Kansas did not disclose the existence of the significant unfunded liability in KPERS. Nor did the documents describe the effect of such an unfunded liability on the risk of non-appropriation of debt service payments by the Kansas state legislature. The SEC’s investigation found that the failure to disclose this material information resulted from insufficient procedures and poor communications between the KDFA and the Kansas Department of Administration, which provided the KDFA with the information to include in the offering materials.
“Kansas failed to adequately disclose its multi-billion-dollar pension liability in bond offering documents, leaving investors with an incomplete picture of the state’s finances and its ability to repay the bonds amid competing strains on the state budget,” said LeeAnn Ghazil Gaunt, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit. “In determining the settlement, the Commission considered Kansas’s significant remedial actions to mitigate these issues as well as the cooperation of state officials with SEC staff during the investigation.”
In other words, Kansas had a grossly underfunded state pension system, and did not adequately disclose that to potential purchasers of new state debt. The full text of the order gives more detail as to how Kansas was an outlier among the states, not only in the magnitude of its problem, but in its lack of disclosure:
Kansas’s practice of not disclosing the underfunded status of KPERS became increasingly inconsistent with the practice of most states issuing municipal securities, which generally provided disclosure in their CAFRs or the body of their Official Statements regarding the financial health of their pension funds. By 2008, with the exception of Kansas, the overwhelming majority of the Official Statements for state-level bond issuances at a minimum disclosed the UAAL or funded ratios of the associated state-level pension plans, particularly if those plans were significantly underfunded.
Here’s what this means to public policy:
First, the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS) was in terrible financial condition, compared to other states.
Second, Kansas did not adequately disclose that to potential investors, according to the SEC.
Third, reforms have been implement to the satisfaction of the SEC.
Fourth, the SEC was quite critical of the Kansas Department of Administration, or KDA.
Fifth, the head of KDA at the time was Duane Goossen. On his blog his biography contains: “[Goossen] was appointed by Sebelius in 2004 to concurrently serve as Secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration, the agency that manages state facilities, accounting, information services and employee programs.”
Although retired from state government, Goossen maintained a role in public affairs as former Vice President for Fiscal and Health Policy at Kansas Health Institute, and now authors a blog concerning issues related to the Kansas budget.
An evaluation of the Kansas affordable airfares program. Prepared for the Kansas Department of Commerce by Arthur P. Hall, Ph.D., Executive Director Center for Applied Economics, School of Business, University of Kansas. February 2013. View below, or click here to open in a new window.
Direct transfers of taxpayer money sent to a specific business or industry is always a tough sell to politicians, let alone the voting public. But, that is why some corporations pay lots of money to lobbyists. If we can’t get a company more revenue (via a taxpayer-funded payment) why don’t we lower their expenses via a tax loophole that lowers how much they pay in taxes?
These sort of special interest tax breaks come in a variety of different forms but the net effect of each is the same — revenues are diverted from the appropriation process and instead sent to some “special” group. A shrewd lobbyist will often make sure the program is funded in a way that their client(s) will receive their funding even if the statute is changed in the future. However, that should not preclude bringing these special interest deals to an end. This is especially important given that the reduction in tax rates will increase the impact of these programs on the revenue stream even as the state continues along the path to eliminating the individual income tax.
These transfer schemes are funded in a number of different ways that obscure the transaction from both the public and the appropriation process. For example, there are a number of these special deals that are funded by payroll withholding taxes. The payroll withholding exemptions are programs where the state abates collection of state income tax withheld on employee’s wages. The state then provides either a program or directly funds some benefit for the employer. These programs come in many forms and often are nearly impossible to find within the very complex tax and revenue reporting statements. In general these programs require relatively long commitments by the state of taxpayer funds. The discontinuance of these type of programs will not generally eliminate the programs immediately but it will create savings going forward that could be substantial to the maintenance of a stable fiscal environment and a more transparent tax code. It would also be a breach of trust, on some level, to yank away a promise made by the state to an entity or individual. But, that doesn’t mean we have to let these program exist into perpetuity.
Investments in Major Projects and Comprehensive Training (IMPACT)
IMPACT provides for major project investment to provide financial assistance to defray business costs. IMPACT uses withholding revenue for a direct funding source to pay for bonds issued by the state for projects. In fiscal year 2013 that percentage was 2% and the program expended $25,420,654 of funds that otherwise would have gone to the state coffers. The good news is that Kansas stopped issuing bonds in the IMPACT program effective Dec. 31, 2011. The bad news was it was replaced with other programs that are very similar. The IMPACT payments will extend on for a number of years in to the future because of the bond’s that funded those projects. This ability to bind future legislators and taxpayers to these sort of “deals” is, in and of itself, problematic but there is more damage done to the state of Kansas than just the direct cost of these bonds.
However, analysis of the IMPACT bond rating issues bring to light another important problem with these type of giveaways. Future legislators have their hands tied because their predecessors have committed future tax revenues in a manner that precludes the ability to bring an immediate cessation, or even partial reduction, in the special interest funding source without repercussions such as the recent bond rating issue.
The KBA’s short lifespan is a microcosm of what can go wrong with the concept of dedicated directed funding. The lack of transparency created by bypassing the scrutiny of the appropriation process often leads to expenditures that generate headlines but don’t create economic growth.
The legislation that created the KBA produced a number of programs and funding streams. It also set the total funding limit to the authority over 15 years at almost $582 million. The funding was to be for a period of 15 years from the effective date of the establishment of the KBA and required the State Treasurer to annually pay 95% of withholding above the certified base, as certified by the Secretary of Revenue, on Kansas wages paid by bioscience employees to the bioscience development (code categories from NAISC) and investment fund of the KBA.
The amount of funding transferred to the KBA grew from almost $20 million in 2006 to nearly $36 million by 2008 before the creation of the annual funding cap of $35 million in 2009. Issues with operations and management emerged in 2011 which led to a forensic audit by an outside CPA firm. The audit pointed to a number of issues that led subsequent legislatures to reduce the Authority’s funding to $11.3 million in 2012, $6.3 million in 2013, and $4.0 million in 2014 (KBA funding history here). It is doubtful that the current Administration or legislatures would increase funding above current levels but the $35 million is still the statutory cap leaving open that possibility.
There is a secondary issue with KBA’s statutory cap caused by the treatment of these type of dedicated directed funding in the budgeting process. These statutory caps for entities like KBA are considered to be at their cap amount when forecasting future budgets. The $35 million of KBA statutory cap, for example, creates an illusion in fiscal impact statements issued by the Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) because those statements show the full statutory amount of $35 million being spent every year for the five years they project. Based on the current trend line of KBA funding this will not happen and, instead, creates a significant overstatement of expenditures and helps create fiscal deficits where none may exist. These projections are used by legislators and the media and should strive to present as accurate a picture as possible of current and possible future realities. A more proper and accurate display of these type of funded programs for five year projections like KLRD produces would consider whether spending could be altered or removed completely. This should be reflected in either the actual amount shown, if there was a history of partial funding, or, at the very least, in a separate line item with a notation that the sum could be arbitrarily reduced or eliminated.
Job Creation Fund
Another of those dedicated directed funds is the Job Creation Fund (JCF). The Job Creation Program Fund or the “deal closing” fund, its more press-friendly moniker, lets the state, led by the Office of the Governor, make investments and extend incentives aimed at attracting or retaining businesses within a range of statutory guidelines. The funding for the JCF was from the elimination of three other credits: Kansas Enterprise Zone, Job Expansion and Investment Credit Act and a refundable credit for property taxes paid on machinery and equipment. This sort of reallocation of funding sources carry the coveted title of “revenue neutral” and hence have no fiscal impact statement for legislators to worry about when the funding was created. This allowed elected officials to be able to say on one hand they eliminated special interest funding while creating another special interest fund out of the “elimination” of those entities. The annual cap on JCF funds is $10 million which is how much could be immediately saved by letting JCF join its now-defunct predecessors in state history.
Transfers Out of the State General Fund
There is another area where what would be State General Funds are diverted from the appropriation process. There are a number of transfers out of the State General Fund with the largest and most notorious being the $135 million School District Improvements Fund. Not only does this amount not get counted in the school formula, the recent Gannon ruling on school funding pointed directly to this fund as an example of inequity in funding. This “inducement” to issue bonds for new buildings was a bad idea both from a policy and process aspect. Policy-wise the Kansas Supreme Court’s Gannon ruling was correct in pointing out that only the growing school districts could use this fund with a few big school districts garnering most of the monies. Process-wise the choice to use a transfer as the funding mechanism not only bypassed the school finance formula but also ensured that these funds are not counted by the National Center for Education Statistics; NCES is the “go to” place for comparing education-related data from across the country and is run by the U.S. Dept. of Education.
There is also another series of transfers that have their own particular issues.The adjacent list shows the recipient and the amount for FY-2015 (available at link above).The picking of winners and losers by government is never a good idea and the direct transfer of taxpayer funding to companies is a suspect type of economic development.
Transfers out of the State General Fund
Spirit Aerosystems Incentive
Eaton MDH Spec. Qual. Indus. Mfg. Fund
Siemens Manufacturing Incentive
TIF Replacement Fund
Learning Quest Match
It is also troubling when local communities enter into Tax Increment Finance (TIF) arrangements, not to mention other subsidy giveaways, which are basically an agreement between a company or individual and the city to suspend property tax payments for that company or individual. State taxpayers as a whole have to make up for lost revenues to the governing body of each such city from the TIF arrangement. This means that a TIF issued in Johnson County is, at least in part, paid for by residents of Bourbon County and Elkhart. This distribution of funds from taxpayers across the state to individual “redevelopment areas” that were created by local governments in a manner that is basically hidden from the citizens is another great example of why these “off the tops” are bad policy. Requiring these TIF subsidies to be debated in the light of the full appropriation process would no doubt lead to questions by legislators whose districts did not include cities who receive this subsidy.
A general thought for legislators, citizens and industry on these economic subsidies. The reduction in income tax rates by the state on withholding rates has already provided a huge incentive for these companies in addition to the direct largess they receive from these dedicated funds. The rate cut on withholding taxes increased the take home pay of their employees without those companies having to give a pay raise to their employees out of company funds. Note that the “incentive” of lower withholding taxes is applied to EVERY wage earner in the state and does not go about picking favored businesses, industries, or individuals. This type of transparent, rules-based, and equally-applied policy is the correct way to encourage economic growth and allow the free market to dictate outcomes not politicians or bureaucrats.
Every program that spends the funds of the taxpayer should be examined regularly and the nature of these “off the tops” suggests that is not happening. The need for transparency and accountability is especially true of programs that benefit any specific individual, company or sector of the economy at the expense of another. Because of the contractual type of arrangement some of these represent we do not advocate for the state breaking existing contracts in regards to incentives. But, the creation of new or expansion of existing economic development handouts that are direct redistributions from taxpayers to other sectors of the economy needs to be halted and those still in existence need to be reviewed.
A complete review of every agreement entered into by the state to ascertain if that agreement is contractual in nature or are not legally binding going forward should proceed this next legislative session. The state should review those that are not legally binding and current renewals that can be foregone and put this “off the top” funding back in the appropriation process going forward. How much could the state expect to realize would be determined by that review. Even a preliminary, informed estimate would be in the neighborhood of $50 million annually without breaking any contractual arrangements. The following chart gives an estimate of just three programs with statutory flexibility.
Total Dollars Returned to the State Coffers
$s in Millions
Freeze PEAK at Current Levels
Kansas Bioscience Authority
Cease Job Creation Fund
The issue of transparency is front and center in all of these programs and it would be appropriate for every “off the top” to be displayed on both Consensus Revenue Estimates and Appropriation profiles so that legislators and citizens can see that a significant amount of funds have already been appropriated by these arrangements.
A 2011 Kansas bill could have increased the accountability of state government, but committee chair Carolyn McGinn wasn’t in favor.
In the 2011 session of the Kansas Legislature, several bills were proposed that would streamline government and investigate opportunities for privatization.
Another proposed bill in 2011 was HB 2158, which would have created performance measures for state agencies and reported that information to the public. The supplemental note says that the bill “as amended, would institute a new process for modifying current performance measures and establishing new standardized performance measures to be used by all state agencies in support of the annual budget requests. State agencies would be required to consult with representatives of the Director of the Budget and the Legislative Research Department to modify each agency’s current performance measures, to standardize such performance measures, and to utilize best practices in all state agencies.” Results of the performance measures would be posted on a public website.
This bill passed the House of Representatives by a nearly unanimous vote of 119 to 2. But in the Senate, this bill was victim of a “gut-and-go” maneuver in a committee chaired by Carolyn McGinn. In effect, the bill died and was not considered by the entire Senate.
This bill proposed to spend modest amounts increasing the manageability of government, not the actual range and scope of government itself. It, along with the other two, would have started Kansas on a path towards spending responsibly.
As it turns out, many in the legislature — this includes Senate Republicans who initiated or went along with the legislative maneuvers that killed these bills — are happy with the operations of state government remaining in the shadows.
If voters are relying on a voter guide from Women for Kansas, they should consider the actual history of Kansas taxation and spending before voting.
A political advocacy group known as Women for Kansas has produced a voting guide, listing the candidates that it prefers for Kansas House of Representatives. But by reading its “Primer on the Issues,” we see that this group made its endorsements based on incorrect information.
One claim the group makes is this regarding taxes in Kansas: “Income taxes were reduced for many Kansans in 2012 and 2013, and eliminated entirely for some, with a corresponding increased reliance on sales taxes and local property taxes. This shifted the tax burden to the less affluent and from the state to counties, cities and school districts.”
This is a common theme heard in Kansas the past few years. But let’s unravel a few threads and look at what is actually happening. First, keep in mind that the lower tax rates took effect on January 1, 2013, just 1.5 years ago.
Then, Women for Kansas may be relying on information like this: A university professor who is a critic of Sam Brownback recently wrote in a newspaper column that “Property taxes are on track to increase by more than $400 million statewide during Gov. Sam Brownback’s term in office.”
Through correspondence with the author, Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute found that this claim is based on increases of $300 million plus an estimated $100 million increase yet to come. Trabert noted that this amounts to an increase of 11 percent over four years. To place that in context, property taxes increased $767 million and 29 percent during the first term of Kathleen Sebelius. Inflation was about the same during these two periods. A more accurate claim would be that Kathleen Sebelius shifted taxes to counties, cities, and school districts, and that Sam Brownback’s administration has slowed the rate of local property tax increases compared to previous governors.
Another claim made by Women for Kansas concerns school spending: “Reflecting decreased revenues due to tax cuts, per-pupil spending is down, and both K-12 and higher education are facing further reductions in the immediate future.”
The allegations that per-pupil spending is down due to tax cuts is false. The nearby chart of Kansas school spending (per pupil, adjusted for inflation) shows that spending did fall, but under budgets prepared by the administrations of Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. Since then, spending has been fairly level. (Remember, lower tax rates have been in effect for just 1.5 years.)
If we look at other measures of school support, such as pupil teacher ratios, we find that after falling during the administrations of previous governors, these ratios have rebounded in recent years.
When spending figures for the just-completed school year become available, it’s likely that they will show higher spending than the previous year. That’s been the trend.
If you’ve received or read the voter guide from Women for Kansas, please consider the actual history of Kansas taxation and spending before voting.
Before wishing for a return to the “good old days,” let’s make sure we understand the record of the Kansas economy.
Some in Kansas are calling for a return to the “moderate” and “reasonable” policies of past leadership, with a particular nostalgia for the tenures of governors Bill Graves and Kathleen Sebelius. But before getting what we wish for, let’s make sure we understand the history of the Kansas economy.
In September 2005 the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University published a report titled “Measuring Economic Performance for the 50 States and the District of Columbia.” The data covers the ten years between 1994 and 2003. For context, Bill Graves became governor of Kansas in 1995 and served for eight years. Following is a sample from that document. It reads:
It is clear that the Kansas economy has not performed well over the past 10 years. With the exception of job creation (middle third), Kansas has ranked among the bottom third of states across economic performance measures. Kansas has performed below the average for the Plains States Region in 5 out of the 6 measures examined as well. (Job growth in Kansas equaled the regional average at 1.4 percent annually.)
The nearby illustration shows private sector job growth in the states during the period of the Graves/Sebelius/Parkinson regimes. This trio occupied the governor’s office from 1994 to 2011. Kansas is the dark line.
At the end of this period, Kansas is just about in the middle of the states. But notice that early in this period, the line for Kansas is noticeably nearer the top than the bottom. As time goes on, however, more states move above Kansas in private sector job creation.
The second illustration shows the one-year change in private sector job growth, Kansas again highlighted. Note there are some years during the first decade of this century where Kansas was very near the bottom of the states in this measure.
Some Kansas newspaper editorialists and candidates for office advocate for a return to the policies of Graves/Sebelius/Parkinson. Let’s ask them these questions: First, are you aware of the poor record of Kansas? Second, do you want to return to job growth like this?
Support of Freedom About More Than Politics, IDs Role of Government and Freedom of Citizens
July 1, 2014 — Wichita — Kansas Policy Institute released a new scorecard tracking votes from the 2014 legislative session. The third annual Kansas Freedom Index takes a broad look at voting records and establishes how supportive state legislators are regarding economic freedom, student-focused education, limited government, and individual liberty. The Index is intended to provide educational information to the public about broad economic and education freedom issues that are important to the citizens of our State. It is the product of nonpartisan analysis, study, and research and is not intended to directly or indirectly endorse or oppose any candidate for public office.
“An informed citizenry is an essential element of maintaining a free society. Having a deeper understanding of how legislation impacts education freedom, economic freedom and the constitutional principles of individual liberty and limited government allows citizens to better understand the known and often unknown consequences of legislative issues,” said KPI president Dave Trabert.”
A Freedom Percentage is calculated for each legislator, representing the relative position of a legislator’s raw score on a number line of the minimum and maximum score, with the percentage indicating proximity to the maximum score.
A positive cumulative score (or a Freedom Percentage above 50%) indicates that a legislator generally supported economic and education freedom, while a negative cumulative score (or Freedom Percentage below 50%) indicates that a legislator was generally opposed. A score of zero or a Freedom Percentage of 50% indicates that a legislator was generally neutral. The cumulative score only pertains to the specific votes included in the Kansas Freedom Index and should not be interpreted otherwise. A different set of issues and/or a different set of circumstances could result in different cumulative scores.
Trabert continued, “Each year it has been clear that support of economic freedom isn’t an issue of political affiliation. Republicans represented at least 70 percent of all House members and all Senate members since 2012. Those counts would produce fairly strong results one way or the other if economic freedom was a partisan issue, but instead, the overall score of both chambers was very near neutral.”
Trabert concluded, “Too often votes come down to parochial or personal issues and the idea of freedom is left on the legislature’s cutting room floor. Hopefully, the Kansas Freedom Index can start to recalibrate citizens and legislators towards supporting the freedoms of everyday Kansans and not be driven by politics.”
Spending by Kansas state and local governments has grown faster than in most other states.
Using data gathered by Tax Policy Center at Brookings Institution, I’ve prepared an interactive visualization of state spending trends over time. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. You may click on any number of states to highlight them. (Use Ctrl+click to add states after the first.) You may also choose “in or out” of the set of states near Kansas. Finally, you can select a range of years. This data is indexed, meaning that states start at the same level, so that relative changes in spending may be seen.
Data is from State & Local Government Finance Data Query System. http://slfdqs.taxpolicycenter.org/pages.cfm. The Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. Data from U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances, Government Finances, Volume 4, and Census of Governments (1977-2011). Date of Access: (29-Jul-2013).
Kansas law overrides neighborhood covenants that prohibit political yard signs before elections.
Some neighborhoods have restrictive covenants that prohibit homeowners from placing any signs in their yard except signs advertising homes for sale. But a 2008 Kansas law overrides these restrictive covenants to allow for the placement of small political yard signs starting 45 days before an election. Still, residents of covenant neighborhoods may want to observe their neighborhood’s restrictions.
For the August 5, 2014 primary election, the 45 day period in which signs are allowed started on June 21. (Although I could be off by a day. Sometimes lawyers count days in strange ways.)
The bill was the product of then-Senator Phil Journey of Haysville. The bill passed unanimously in both the Kansas House and Senate.
According to the First Amendment Center, some 50 million people live in neighborhoods with homeowners associations. And laws like the 2008 Kansas law are not without controversy, despite the unanimous vote in the Kansas Legislature.
While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that governmental entities like cities can’t stop homeowners from displaying political yard signs, a homeowners association is not a government. Instead, it is a group that people voluntarily enter. Generally, when prospective homeowners purchase a home in a neighborhood with restrictive covenants, they are asked to sign a document pledging to comply with the provisions in the covenants. If those covenants prohibit political yard signs, but a Kansas law says these covenants do not apply, what should a homeowner do? Should state law trump private contracts in cases like this?
Practically: Should you display signs in your yard?
While Kansas law makes it legal for those living in communities with covenants that prohibit political yard signs, residents may want to observe these convents. Here’s why: If neighbors are not aware of this new Kansas law and therefore wrongfully believe that the yard signs are not allowed in your neighborhood, they may think residents with signs in their yards are violating the covenants. By extension, this could reflect poorly on the candidates that are being promoted.
Those who are not aware of the law allowing yard signs are uninformed. Or, they may be aware of the law but disagree with it and wish their neighbors would not display political yard signs. These people, of course, may vote and influence others how to vote. Whether to display yard signs in a covenant neighborhood is a judgment that each person will have to make for themselves.
The Kansas statute
K.S.A. 58-3820. Restrictive covenants; political yard signs; limitations. (a) On and after the effective date of this act, any provision of a restrictive covenant which prohibits the display of political yard signs, which are less than six square feet, during a period commencing 45 days before an election and ending two days after the election is hereby declared to be against public policy and such provision shall be void and unenforceable.
(b) The provisions of this section shall apply to any restrictive covenant in existence on the effective date of this act.
Or, as described in the 2008 Summary of Legislation: “The bill invalidates any provision of a restrictive covenant prohibiting the display of political yard signs, which are less than six square feet, 45 days before an election or two days after the election.”
The performance of Kansas in entrepreneurial activity is not high, compared to other states.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation prepares the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. According to the Foundation, “The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity is a leading indicator of new business creation in the United States. Capturing new business owners in their first month of significant business activity, this measure provides the earliest documentation of new business development across the country.”
As shown by the data, Kansas ranks low in entrepreneurial activity. This is true when Kansas is compared to the nation, and also when compared to a group of nearby states.
I’ve prepared two visualizations that present this data. One holds data for all states. Click here to open it in a new window.
A second visualization presents the data for Kansas and some nearby states. Click here to open it in a new window.
Critics of tax reform in Kansas point to recent substandard performance of the state’s economy. The recent trend, however, is much the same as the past.
There are a number of ways to measure the performance of an economy. Often the growth of jobs is used. That’s fine. Here I present an alternative: the gross domestic product for a state. As with job growth, it is not the only measure of a state’s economy. It is a comprehensive measure, encompassing changes in population, employment, and productivity. The nearby static illustration from an interactive visualization shows Kansas (highlighted in blue) compared to some neighboring states.
The visualization holds data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. You may click on a state’s name to highlight it. You may choose different industry sectors, such as government or private industry.
Use the visualization below, or click here to open it in a new window, which may work best. Visualization created using Tableau Public.
Debunking CBPP on tax reform and school funding — Part 4
By Dave Trabert
We continue our debunking of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) latest report entitled “Lessons for Other States from Kansas’ Massive Tax Cuts.”Part 1 dealt with state revenues. Part 2 covered state spending in general and school funding in particular. Part 3 addressed claims that that tax reform hasn’t boosted the economy. Today we tackle their assertion that tax cuts won’t lead to economic growth.
CBPP claim #4 — Little Evidence to Suggest That Tax Cuts Will Improve Kansas’ Economy in the Future
Actually, there is a lot of evidence; CBPP just conveniently avoids it. Instead, they substitute their opinion and employ their standard tactic of making claims without disclosing supporting data; they also reference predictions that Kansas will trail the nation next year in some economic indicators.
We’ll start the debunking with a brief history lesson. Private sector job growth in Kansas trailed the national average in ten of the last fifteen years (1998-2013). Kansas’ private sector gross domestic product trailed eight times (1997-2012) and personal income trailed eleven of the last fifteen years (1998-2013). Indeed, Kansas’ history of economic stagnation was the impetus for tax reform. As we explained in Part 3, the full economic impact of tax reform will take years to unfold. It’s intellectually dishonest of CBPP to imply that tax reform isn’t working because a long term negative trend hasn’t suddenly created tremendous gains.
Now let’s look at the evidence. The adjacent table compares the performance of the ten states with the lowest state and local tax burdens with the ten states with the highest burdens, based on the most recent rankings from the Tax Foundation. The low-burden states are Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Alabama. The high-burden states are New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont and Pennsylvania.
The low-burden states increased jobs at twice the rate of high-burden states. Low-burden states have superior growth in Wages and Salaries and Private Sector Gross Domestic Product. Low-burden states have positive domestic migration while high-burden states have negative domestic migration. In other words, US residents are choosing to move to low-burden states and choosing to leave high-burden states.
Tax reform critics like to attribute the superior economic performance of low-burden states to weather and access to ports and natural resources. But you’ll notice that both groups have states with good weather, bad weather, coastal, land-locked and natural resources. But there is one category which really separates the two groups of states — spending. High-burden states spend 40 percent more per resident to provide the same basket of essential services. States with an income tax spend 49 percent more than those without an income tax.
The key to having low taxes is to keep spending under control by providing services at a better price. A state could be awash in oil revenue and still have a high tax burden if it spent more. Texas, by the way, gets less than 3 percent of revenue from oil; they have a low tax burden because they only spent $2,293 per resident to provide the same basic basket of services on which Kansas spent $3,409 (2012 actual per NASBO).
The moral of the story is pretty clear: states that spend less, tax less — and grow more.
While tax reform hasn’t produced the “shot of adrenaline” predicted by Governor Brownback, the problem is one of political enthusiasm rather than economics. Most elected officials are prone to effusive optimism for their ideas, just as opponents to their ideas can often be counted upon to distort and deliberately misstate information in pursuit of their own beliefs.
The data pretty clearly shows that states with lower tax burdens have much stronger economic growth and job creation over time; we’ll review the facts in Part 4. Today’s post covers some of the reasons why the benefits of Kansas’ tax reform will unfold over several years rather than overnight and explain a number of misleading claims by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
First of all, tax reform was implemented while coming out of a recession. It’s impossible to know the extent to which this impacts employers’ decision-making on adding jobs or relocating, but having run a few businesses, I can appreciate how the initial benefits of tax reform might be used to shore up the business while continuing to work through the recession.
Concurrent federal changes are also a factor. Pass-through income on LLCs, Subchapter S corps, partnerships and proprietorships was not subject to state income tax in 2013 but those employers were simultaneously hit with higher federal income taxes (marginal rates and on capital gains) and multiple changes related to Obamacare.
Predictability is an important element of tax policy, and some of the mixed signals coming out of Topeka over the last two years may also be prompting taxpayers to proceed cautiously. The 2012 tax reform legislation would have reduced income taxes by $4.5 billion over the first five years but changes implemented in 2013 took back about $700 million. While still a very positive net effect, the 2013 changes sent a number of mixed signals.
The fiscal year 2015 General Fund budget of $6.273 billion is a new record for Kansas and is 2.9 percent higher than the 2012 budget. Until government is made to operate more efficiently, taxpayers must consider the possibility of further modifications to the tax plan — and that uncertainty will continue to impact economic growth.
Relocating a business is also not something that happens quickly. For starters, leases might have several years to run before a move is feasible.
CBPP uses a combination of unsubstantiated claims, fails to put a lot of information in context and exploits the unrealistic notion that tax reform would have an immediate, explosive impact on the state’s economy. “Data from” is not how intellectually honest people substantiate a position; they show you all their data or at least tell you exactly what data they used and where to find it. Claiming that a one-year change in jobs or earnings is proof that something as complex as major tax reform failed is just a political statement; it is certainly not an intellectually honest economic analysis.
Yes, private sector job grew a little slower in 2013 than in 2012, but that was not a Kansas phenomenon. In fact, private sector job growth nationwide in 2012 was 2.2% but dipped to 2.1% in 2013. This is a good example of CBPP ignoring context.
It’s also important to examine the underlying factors that contribute to a state average. The adjacent table shows that Kansas did better than all but one adjacent state in 2013. Colorado did better, but then Colorado has historically had a better tax structure than Kansas and also did a better job of controlling spending. Less favorable tax and spending policy has been introduced in Colorado over the last few years but, just as it takes time for upward momentum to build, it does as well for the full measure of bad policy to be seen.
Digging deeper, we find that the Kansas City, Kansas metro area not only outperformed the national average but also grew at five times the rate of the Kansas City, Missouri metro area. The Wichita metro lost jobs in aerospace but that is a reflection of the global economy; the balance of the Wichita metro was almost at the national average.
Dr. Arthur Hall, who conducted the research at KU, says “Economic development is a numbers game. The more that an economic environment motivates entrepreneurs to try new business ideas, the more likely a gazelle will be born.” Dr. Hall cites Garmin Industries as an example of what he calls a “gazelle” — a company founded by two people in Lenexa, Kansas in 1989 that is now a multi-billion dollar company.
Hall’s views are similar to those of Carl Schramm, former CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a leading entrepreneurial think tank in Kansas City. In 2010, Schramm told Forbes Magazine “The single most important contributor to a nation’s economic growth is the number of startups that grow to a billion dollars in revenue within 20 years.”
The initial economic signs are encouraging but the true economic impact of tax reform won’t be known for several years. Snap judgments based on partial one-year data are the hallmark of politicians and special interest groups looking for justification to support their beliefs — whether in support of or opposition to tax reform.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics, average annual private sector employment not seasonally adjusted.
 The Kansas City, Kansas metro is comprised of Franklin, Johnson, Leavenworth, Linn, Miami and Wyandotte counties. The Kansas City, Missouri metro is comprised of Bates, Caldwell, Cass, Clay, Clinton, Jackson, Lafayette, Platte and Ray counties.
RPS is a law that requires the state’s electricity utilities to generate or purchase a certain portion of their electricity from renewable sources, which in Kansas is almost all wind. An argument in favor of wind energy requirementy from the Polsinelli Shugart law firm is at The Economic Benefits of Kansas Wind Energy.
Here are the five key findings claimed to be economic benefits to the Kansas economy, and portions of Head’s responses.
Key Finding #1: “New Kansas wind generation is cost-effective when compared to other sources of new intermittent or peaking electricity generation.”
The first observation to make from this key finding is that if it were true the state RPS policy is not necessary. If wind power is truly cost-effective compared to other sources of energy, state mandates that wind power be used should be repealed, allowing wind power to compete with other technologies to provide low cost electricity in Kansas.
This point is obvious. The actions of the wind power industry — insisting on mandates and subsidies — lets us know that they don’t believe their own claim.
Key Finding #2: “Wind generation is an important part of a well-designed electricity generation portfolio, and provides a hedge against future cost volatility of fossil fuels.”
Hedging has been, and will continue to be, a useful tool for utilities, and benefits the consumer. But the Kansas state government should not engage in this level of industrial policy by regulating just how much utilities can hedge, all for the sake of requiring wind power production. This is not a benefit in itself. Utilities will attempt to maximize profits by consistently analyzing the energy market and making the best decisions, often through long term purchasing agreements. … In short, hedging is a valuable tool when left to the discretion of the utility, but by utilizing a heavy-handed mandate, state lawmakers are actually constraining the ability of the utilities to make sound business decisions.
Key Finding #3: “Wind generation has created a substantial number of jobs for Kansas citizens.”
This key finding fails to take into consideration opportunity costs, a concept that Bastiat explained in his 1850 essay, and is a prime example of the reviewed paper only considering benefits. If a shopkeeper has a window broken, this creates work for a glazer to replace the window. However, this classic “broken window” fallacy mistakes breaking windows as job creation policy. At this point “The Economic Benefits of Kansas Wind Energy” is correct, wind generation does create jobs, just as a broken window creates jobs. But the report stops at this point and fails to provide a complete analysis of the effect of wind generation on total employment in Kansas.
As Bastiat showed, a consideration must be made to the opportunity cost. How would the shopkeeper have spent his money if he did not need to replace his window? He could use the money on capital investment, further growing his business, hire another worker or make various other purchases. Regardless of what it was, they would have all brought him more benefit, than replacing his window. If not, he would have broken the window himself.
This is one of the most important points: By forcing Kansans to pay for more expensive electricity, we lose the opportunity to use money elsewhere.
Key Finding #4: “Wind generation has created significant positive impact for Kansas landowners and local economics.”
This key finding makes a common mistake by assuming transfer payments are a benefit, a fallacy. The transfers of money via lease payments or property tax payments are not benefits. This transfer of money is a cost to one party and a benefit on the other, and can be illustrated easily.
What if Kansas wind farms vastly overpaid for their land and lease payments were valued at $1 billion a year. This report would place the benefit of wind power leasing this land at $1 billion a year. But the project has not changed, where did these new benefits come from?
In fact, there would not be any change to the net benefit of the project. Landowners would amass benefits equal to $1 billion minus the land value and utilities would amass costs equal to $1 billion minus the land value. These costs would in turn be passed along to rate payers in the form of higher utility costs. This illustrates the point that this policy is industrial policy. By dispersing the costs of a project to all citizens in the state, small, but powerful, groups with strong lobbying efforts are able to gather the rewards.
Key Finding #5 “The Kansas Renewable Portfolio Standard is an important economic development tool for attracting new business to the state.”
This key finding is related closely with the analysis of the job benefits that wind power purportedly conveys. Of course, legally requiring that utilities use specific sources of electricity will attract new business in that sector to the state. But we need to see the whole picture. This policy has costs, which will be borne by state residents and businesses via higher utility prices.
In conclusion, Head asked the obvious question: “With all of these supposed benefits of wind power, why does it require a government mandate and taxpayer funding?”
Debunking CBPP on tax reform and school funding (Part 1)
By Dave Trabert
If Ronald Reagan were alive and saw the latest piece from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), he would say, “Well, there they go again … not letting the facts get in the way of the story they want you to believe.”
The premise of their March 27 piece is that “Kansas’ huge cuts have left … schools and other public services stuck in the recession, and declining further — a serious threat to the state’s long-term economic vitality.” That’s not true, of course, but it’s what the way-left-leaning CBPP wants you to believe … and what the big-government interests in Kansas are only too happy to repeat.
CBPP and their allies seem to believe that government needs an unlimited supply of taxpayer money and could not possibly operate with a penny less. It’s a classic entitlement mentality and the premise is laughably false.
CBPP claim #1 — Kansas’ revenue loss will rise to 16 percent in five years if the tax cuts are not reversed.
As is typical for CBPP, they don’t explain how they arrive at their 16 percent figure but it probably has something to do with their entitlement focus (what government could/should have rather that what it needs). Regardless, the facts from Kansas Legislative Research (KLRD) show otherwise.
KLRD estimates that General Fund revenue will be 9.6 percent higher in five years.1 FY 2014 is the first full year of income tax reform; revenue is 7.1 percent lower this year than the record-setting level of 2012 but it is actually 1.3 percent higher than three years ago! Even more remarkable, a new revenue record is predicted to be set in FY 2018 — just four years after historic tax reform was fully implemented.
I dare you to find one media outlet in Kansas reporting these remarkable facts. To the contrary, most media and their big-government allies cling to versions of CBPP’s “sky is falling” mentality.
CBPP is flat out lying when they say Legislative Research “… estimates that Kansas received $803 million less revenue this year because of the 2012 tax cuts…” It should be noted here that CBPP provides no citation for their outrageously false claim. Here’s the truth. KLRD did predict that much of a loss in personal income tax revenue (not total revenue as claimed by CBPP) two years ago when tax reform was being discussed but they did so on a static basis using the parameters of a particular proposal. Changes to that proposal have since been implemented and consensus revenue estimates have dramatically improved. CBPP wants you to believe that an outdated, static estimate is current despite having access to information that contradicts their claim.
The November 2013 Consensus Revenue estimate for FY 2014 was $5.857 billion or just $484 million below last year’s total revenue.2 Tax revenue (which comprises the vast majority of General Fund revenue) was predicted to be down $466 million and Other Revenue was projected to be $18 million lower.
But tax revenue has been running well ahead of November projections so official revenue estimates were increased in April (after the CBPP publication) by $103.3 million for FY 2014 and $74.3 million for FY 2015.3 Later years were not adjusted upward but that’s just a function of the Consensus Revenue process; we will hopefully an even brighter revenue forecast soon from Legislative Research.
Whenever you see CBPP’s false claims repeated by media, legislators or others who are opposed to tax reform, ask them why they are spreading false claims in light of these facts from Kansas Legislative Research:
FY 2014 revenue will be 1.3 percent greater than just three years ago.
Revenues will hit an all-time high in FY 2018, just four years after full implementation of tax reform (and maybe sooner, if revenues continue to run ahead of projection).
Tomorrow’s post will deal with their fairy tales about education and other state spending.
BIG SUBSIDIES: Kansas has forked over millions in tax breaks since 2009, but new research says it has been ineffective at accomplishing its main goal: Creating new jobs.
OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — By the time theMcQueeny Group signed up for tax breaks through Kansas’ primary economic development engine, vice president Rod Slump said the business was already looking to make a move.
Like numerous other firms who have relocated to Kansas to take advantage of PEAK benefits, Overland Park-based McQueeny Group has been handed thousands in tax breaks for creating new jobs — more than $160,000 since 2011, according to the Kansas Department of Commerce.
The state contends McQueeny’s relocation from the Crossroads near downtown Kansas City, Mo., has brought 15 jobs to Kansas, though Slump said only two or three were new to the company after the move.
PEAK allows an employer to retain 95 percent of the payroll tax for creating jobs that pay at or above the county median wage, with the goal of spurring new hiring. In the last two years alone, the program has granted more than $28 million in tax breaks, according to annual reports prepared by the state.
But Slump told Kansas Watchdog all PEAK did was help make the relocation decision easier.
“It’s hard for us to tie creation of jobs to that, as much as it was a business opportunity,” Slump said.
New research suggests McQueeny Group is the rule, not the exception.
“It looks like there’s no evidence that PEAK incentives work in the sense of job creation any way we cut this,” said Nathan Jensen, associate professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis, who compared data between numerous companies to see if the tax breaks had any real-world effect. “Doing this over and over again, you kind of come up with the same result.”
Through statistical research, Jensen discovered that PEAK tax breaks had little to no effect on whether a company created new jobs.
“They’re just incentivizing firms that are already going to expand and relocate,” Jensen said, noting that issues with incentives are hardly restricted to the Sunflower State. “Most of the data is that about two-thirds to three-fourths of firms that get an incentive, globally, were basically getting an incentive to do what they were going to do anyway.”
Jensen compared companies of similar size and industry, examining the job creation figures from 2006 and onward; PEAK was signed into law in 2009. For each of the 72 PEAK firms examined, Jensen matched them with five comparable firms in Kansas that didn’t receive PEAK tax breaks.
Then he did it again.
Jensen said what he found was incredibly unsurprising.
Not only is there no statistical link between PEAK benefits and job creation, Jensen also wrote the “PEAK program is disproportionately used to attract investment from across the (Missouri) border.”
Despite noting that PEAK played a minimal role in Mcqueeny Group’s job creation, Slump disagreed it doesn’t help fuel new jobs, contending the tax breaks free up funds for additional hiring.
While Jensen’s findings are damning enough, he said more information is still needed to see whether PEAK is worth the massive taxpayer support it has received since its inception. Information such as when a firm applied for PEAK benefits and when tax breaks were awarded, as well as tracking which firms were rejected from the program, would go a long way toward determining the value of PEAK, Jensen noted.
More than anything, Jensen would just like to see a little transparency.
“It’s the sort of thing I think should just be on a website,” he said.
Currently, the Kansas Department of Commerce only makes PEAK data available through an open records request. Darla Price, PEAK program director, told Kansas Watchdog she couldn’t say why the information wasn’t posted online; decisions like that aren’t made at her level, she said.
Dan Lara, deputy secretary for public affairs for the state commerce department, said the agency is considering allowing greater levels of transparency regarding the PEAK program, but has yet to make an actual decision.
The Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University all but confirmed the ineffectiveness of the program after surveying PEAK firms last year. Respondents admitted that 75 percent of new hires would have happened whether or not they received the tax breaks. However, the report justifies the massive program by simply stating that, hey, jobs are jobs.
“(A)ll of the new employees hired by PEAK firms relocating to Kansas represent additional jobs for the State, regardless of whether they would have been hired without the PEAK Program,” the Docking report stated.
Two Versions of the Income Tax Cuts: The Media’s Story and Reality
By Steve Anderson
In January 2011, when I was first appointed State Budget Director, the state was on the verge of what appeared to be a financial meltdown. Under the previous administration, the first negative ending balance in state history had been allowed exist. Kansas was $27.6 million “in the hole” and this headline was on the front page of the Wichita Eagle “Shortfall for ’11 State Budget Tops $500 million.” Much of the first six months was spent trying to not bounce checks and finding areas to cut spending immediately. We also spent considerable time giving agencies more flexibility to spend down unencumbered funds as agencies had previously been allowed to overspend available funding, a typical policy of Gov. Mark Parkinson and his Budget Director Duane Goosen. However, even as I was using the power the Budget Director holds to operationally limit spending I realized the media’s claim of a $500 million shortfall was an exaggeration.
At the end of the first six months Kansas had $188 million in the bank and within eighteen months the state ended fiscal year 2012 with a $502.9 Million ending balance. This would have been lost to citizens who weren’t doing their own research. They never would have known that the “budget” crisis had passed because the media had moved onto their next “crisis” without revisiting the initial headlines and, in the process, calling into question their first reports.
The media’s next “crisis” was centered on the individual income tax cuts that were passed in 2012. The bill to reduce the tax burden on citizens “would slash income taxes and is expected to produce a $2 billion deficit within five years” according to theWichita Eagle’s article. The Kansas City Star led with this quote of “state fiscal analysts projecting budget deficits reaching $2.5 billion in 2018.” Just to further emphasize the dire situation the Star added this scare from a representative of a special interest group with no known expertise on the economic impact of lower tax burdens by saying that the tax cuts, “have an enormous impact on everything from public education to public health coverage to infrastructure to other vital social safety-net services.”
Who are these “state fiscal analysts” that the media used to fan the flames and how did this version of a looming fiscal crisis occur? The state fiscal analysts are staff of the Kansas Legislative Research Division (KLRD) which presents their projection of the impact on the state’s finances of any change in tax regulations. Here are the numbers from KLRD’s analysis of Senate Bill Substitute for House Bill 2117 — the tax cut bill — and the impact on the state’s budget:***
The approach used by KLRD to generate these numbers is not consistent with the realities of state finances. There are three fundamental problems with KLRD’s analytic techniques which create these illusions of fiscal crises where none exists.
It is impossible for the state to have a negative ending balance of this size because the state cannot print money (unlike Washington) which precludes the ability to carry such huge imbalances forward year after year.
The projection of spending growth the KLRD staff uses ignores the reality of the first issue. Spending cannot continue at a rate that exceeds revenue once the first negative balance occurs. KLRD’s analysis ignores options to control spending that are available to the state’s elected officials and instead shows increasing negative balances. In reality shortfalls and surpluses are dealt with each year through a multitude of available options.
KLRD uses a static view of what will happen to revenues when money is returned to the state’s citizens. For example, the assumption is that if a tax cut is $500 million there will be $500 million less in revenues that come into the state coffers the next year. To believe that one of two things would have to happen, 1) either the money would be buried in a jar in the back yard, or 2) every dollar would have to be spent out of state. In reality, that $500 million in tax cuts means that business owners will reinvest some part of that money and wage earners will spend some of it in the local economy.
A more realistic view of Senate Bill Substitute for House Bill 2117 puts things in perspective. The following chart shows what has transpired, to date, based on the effects of the tax cuts. It is very good example of why citizens should take media accounts based on KLRD’s numbers with a full shaker of salt.
The net difference between KRLD’s ending balance and what the current actual receipts show is $913.4 million. The crisis of the “enormous impact on everything from public education to public health coverage to infrastructure to other vital social safety-net services” that the Kansas City Star’s “expert” on the tax cuts predicted hasn’t occurred. But, we have not yet heard the Eagle or the Star report these facts.
Kansans simply haven’t heard that, after returning $231.2 million to taxpayers in FY-2013 and ANOTHER $802.8 million in fiscal year 2014, ending balances were actually up nearly a billion dollars over the estimates! Estimates that directly led to some dire headlines upon their initial release. Returning nearly a billion dollars to Kansans’ pocket books while ending balances have been steady or increasing is an incredible story of success that media would want to share with readers.
Citizens of Kansas have a right to hear forecasts of disasters but they also deserve to be told by those same media outlets that those forecasts didn’t match what actually took place and that things are going well. Citizen should insist that their legislators request that KLRD begin a policy of only producing projections for a reasonable number of future years based on the realities of the Kansas Constitution. This would limit the use of statistically flawed data being used to fuel for the fire of those who are playing politics under the guise of “news reporting.”
I will follow up shortly with part two of this story on where the state’s finances are headed including commentary and possible adjustments to April 2014 Consensus Revenue Estimates.
*** Kansas Legislative Research Division Senate Tax Plan with Adjusted Severance Tax Receipts 2/15/2012 — full version on file. Expenditures and Revenues Totaled in order to fit the page
The results are in, and the news isn’t good: Kansas continues to plummet in state spending transparency rankings, and it barely squeaked by with a grade of D-minus, according to a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Rural Kansans’ Billion-Dollar Subsidy of Wind Farms
By Dave Trabert
No, I’m not talking about any federal tax subsidies or mandates to buy high-cost wind energy that have forced higher taxes and electricity prices on every citizen. This billion-dollar gift comes in the form of local property tax exemptions. In some ways, this handout is even more insidious because the cost is borne by a relatively small number of Kansas homeowners and employers in the rural counties where wind farms exist.
Under current law, renewable energy producers enjoy a lifetime exemption from property taxes in Kansas. I testified last week in support of SB 435 to limit their property tax exemption to ten years. As shown on an attachment to my testimony, the Kansas Legislative Research Department says there is a $108.4 million annual difference between the small fees paid in lieu of taxes and the taxes that would be due if taxed at the regular rates within each county. So technically, the legislation would only “limit” the property tax gift to $1.1 billion over ten years on existing wind farms; more tax gifts would still be done on new wind farms and other renewable energy facilities.
And while renewable energy producers were basically getting a free ride, property taxes on everyone else where going through the roof!
Giving property tax exemptions to private companies, regardless of the rationale, only increases everyone else’s property tax. Local government spending is not curtailed to absorb the exemption; cities and counties just raise taxes on everyone else. We encouraged the Legislature to also require that local mill rates be reduced proportionately if these property tax gifts are limited to ten years so that the new revenue from renewable energy producers’ property tax is used to reduce the burden on everyone else. (You should have seen the stink-eye this produced from the tax-and-spend crowd.)
Predictably, wind farm lobbyists lined up to protest that this legislation would increase their property taxes and send a bad message to the wind industry. Even local governments are opposed to taking away the exemption — after all, they can get their money from everyone else and take credit for bringing jobs and investment to their communities. They refuse to acknowledge that any economic benefit enjoyed by the green energy industry (and their own political benefit) comes out of the pockets of everyone else.
P.S. Remember this billion-dollar gift the next time you’re angered by cronyism in Washington, DC. Bad players in Washington often learn their craft at the state level; fending off bad policy at the state level has many long term benefits.
There’s been dueling claims and controversy over employment figures in Kansas and our state’s performance relative to others. I present the actual data in interactive visualizations that you can use to make up your own mind.
(Let’s keep in mind that jobs are not necessarily the best measure of economic growth and prosperity. Russell Roberts relates an anecdote: “The story goes that Milton Friedman was once taken to see a massive government project somewhere in Asia. Thousands of workers using shovels were building a canal. Friedman was puzzled. Why weren’t there any excavators or any mechanized earth-moving equipment? A government official explained that using shovels created more jobs. Friedman’s response: ‘Then why not use spoons instead of shovels?'”)
It’s important to note there are two series of employment data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor. The two series don’t measure exactly the same thing. Nearby is an example of just how different the two series can appear.
A document from BLS titled Employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys: summary of recent trends explains in brief: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. … These estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.”
Another BLS document explains in detail the differences between the CPS and CES data. For example: CES: “Designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings with significant industrial and geographic detail” CPS: “Designed to measure employment and unemployment with significant demographic detail.”
I’ve gathered data from BLS and made it available in two interactive visualizations. One presents CPS data; the other holds CES data. You can compare states, select a range of dates, and choose seasonally-adjusted or not seasonally-adjusted data. I’ve create a set that allows you to easily choose Kansas and our nearby states, since that seems to be relevant to some people. (I included Texas in this set, as we often compare ourselves to that state.) The visualizations are indexed, meaning that each shows the percentage change in values from the first data shown.
When a legislature is willing to grant special tax treatment, it sets up a battle to keep — or obtain — that status. Once a special class acquires preferential treatment, others will seek it too.
When preferential tax treatment is granted, that is, when government says someone doesn’t have to pay taxes, it’s usually the case that someone else has to pay. That’s because governmental bodies usually don’t reduce their spending in response to the tax breaks they give. Spending stays the same (or rises), but someone isn’t paying their share. Therefore, others have to make up the missing tax revenue.
In Kansas, SB 72 has been passed by the Senate and may be considered by the House of Representatives. This bill would, according to its supplemental note “provide a property or ad valorem tax exemption on all property owned and operated by a health club.” In effect, this bill would give all health clubs the same property tax exemption that the YMCA enjoys on its fitness centers.
When the legislature uses tax law to achieve goals, the statute book becomes complicated as illustrated by the many special sales tax exemptions in Kansas. K.S.A. 79-3606 details the special sales tax exemptions that the legislature has granted. In order to list them all, the statute has sections labeled from (a) through (z), then from (aa) through (zz), then from (aaa) through (zzz), and finally from (aaaa) through (gggg).
Some of these sections are needed and valuable, such as the section that exempts manufacturers from paying sales tax on component parts and ingredients used to build final products. It is supposed to be a retail sales tax, after all.
But then there are sections like this: “(vv) (18) the Ottawa Suzuki Strings, Inc., for the purpose of providing students and families with education and resources necessary to enable each child to develop fine character and musical ability to the fullest potential.”
I have no doubt that this organization is engaged in useful work and that there should be more of this. But what about all the other organizations engaged in similar activities, and which are undoubtedly as deserving of the same tax break? Should they be penalized because they did not have the temerity to ask?
In the area of property taxation, we find many similar circumstances, where two businesses that seem to be similarly situated are treated very differently by the tax collector.
For example, Wesley Medical Center, one of Wichita’s principal hospitals, is Wichita’s second-largest property taxpayer, with taxable assessed value representing 0.90 percent of the total of such property in Wichita.
But another large Wichita Hospital, Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, has assets valued at over $115 million, yet pays no property tax. For the mill levy rate that applies to its address, this represents about $3.5 million in property tax savings. (It did pay a Sedgwick County Solid Waste User Fee of $8.91.)
How can we meaningfully distinguish between Wesley and St. Francis Hospitals? Does one provide more charity care than the other? Does the non-profit hospital charge lower rates? (I’d be surprised if so.) Does St. Francis impose less of a burden on city and county resources such as fire and police protection than does Wesley? Since Wesley attempts to earn a profit and St. Francis purportedly does not, does that make Wesley evil and St. Francis saintly? Why do we exempt St. Francis from millions of property tax, yet insist it pay $8.91 in solid waste user fees?
We find other examples: A luxury retirement community (Larksfield Place) with real property valued at $27,491,440 pays no property tax, except for $5.95 in the solid waste user fee. Less than a mile away, Sedgwick Plaza, a senior living center, has a valuation of $5,067,350 for its real property, and was billed $70,080.51 in property tax, including its solid waste user fee of $972. Despite — or perhaps due to — its non-profit status, Larksfield Place is able to provide its president a salary of over $130,000.
A Goodwill thrift store on West Central in Wichita has real property valued at $696,600, but paid no property taxes except for $5.94 solid waste user fee. On the other side of town, a small thrift store on East Douglas has real property valued at $113,800. It pays $3,437 in property tax, including its solid waste user fee.
These differences in what seem to be properties in similar situations are not justifiable under any theory of taxation, one of which is that similar situations are taxed similarly. The YMCA’s fitness centers are difficult to distinguish from others in Wichita — except for the YMCA’s rarefied tax-exempt status.
The slippery slope
Here’s the danger: Should SB 72 pass and all health clubs start enjoying the same tax privileges as the YMCA, shouldn’t we then expect to see for-profit hospitals like Wesley Medical Center ask to be relieved of their tax burden, using the same logic? If the legislature were to deny that request, how could it possibly explain its reasoning to citizens?
In defense of its tax exempt status, the YMCA says it engages in many charitable activities. I’m sure that’s true, and we’d like to keep those activities. Perhaps the YMCA would consider separating its fitness centers from the rest of its operations. Separate the business-like activities from the charitable. The YMCA can use the “profits” from its fitness centers to finance its charitable activities. To the extent it does that, it will avoid paying state and federal income tax on its profits.
But property taxes are something different from income taxes. The YMCA benefits from all the things the city (and other taxing jurisdictions) provide, ranging from public safety to schools to security for the mayor’s trip to Ghana. When it doesn’t pay its share, others have to pay. That means that others — you and me, for example — have less money available for the charitable (and other) activities they feel important. Even worse, I am forced to subsidize the charitable activities that the YMCA (or the Methodist Church, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc.) chooses to fund. This is especially true in Kansas, where low-income households pay a regressive sales tax on food.
When the YMCA — or any non-profit, for that matter — escapes taxation that other similar organizations must pay, it means that we all subsidize the charitable activities of these non-profits. It sustains a system in which special interest groups lobby to keep their advantages, and those who are not similarly blessed spend lavishly on campaign contributions and other lobbyists. Even when the organization is widely respected, as is the YMCA, this is wrong. It leads to cynicism as citizens realize that our laws are not applied uniformly, and that special interests feel they can buy their way to special treatment.
For their business-like activities, the YMCA, Larksfield Place, and Goodwill thrift stores should pay property taxes so they shoulder the same burden that the rest of us struggle under. That will spread the cost of government fairly, and let ordinary people themselves decide how to contribute their after-tax dollars.
Individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas