Category Archives: Kansas state government

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Kansas not good on spending visibility

For more about this issue, see Open Records in Kansas.

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.

Kansas wind turbines

Rural Kansans’ billion-dollar subsidy of wind farms

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Rural Kansans’ Billion-Dollar Subsidy of Wind Farms

By Dave Trabert

Kansas wind turbinesNo, 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.

Kansas Capitol

State employment visualizations

Kansas CapitolThere’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.

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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.”

State employment based on Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey.

State employment based on Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey.

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.”

Another difference: CES: “Self-employed persons are excluded.” CPS: “Self-employed persons are included.” (See Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.)

State employment based on Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey.

State employment based on Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey.

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.

Using the visualization.

Using the visualization.

Here is the visualization for CES data, and here is visualization for CPS data.

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Special interests struggle to keep special tax treatment

Detail of stairway in Kansas Capitol.

Detail of stairway in Kansas Capitol.

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.

One hospital has many millions in property, but is not taxed on that property.

One hospital has many millions in property, but is not taxed on that property.

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?

A scene from a non-profit retirement living center.

A scene from a non-profit retirement living center.

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.

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Open Records in Kansas

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Kansas has a weak open records law. Wichita doesn’t want to follow the law, as weak as it is.

As citizen watchdogs, I and others need access to information and data. The City of Wichita, however, has created several not-for-profit organizations that are largely funded by tax money. The three I am concerned with are the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

I have asked each organization for checkbook-level spending data. Each has refused to comply, using the reasoning that they are not “public agencies” as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. But consider the WDDC: When I made a request for records, its percent of revenue derived from taxes was well over 90 percent every year but one. In many years the only income WDDC received was from taxes and a small amount of interest earned. Click here to see how much of WDDC’s revenue comes from taxes.

The Wichita city attorney backs these organizations and their interpretation of the law. So do almost all city council members. After 14 months investigating this matter, the Sedgwick County District Attorney agreed with the city’s position. (Click here to read the determination.) The only course of action open to me is to raise thousands of dollars to fund a lawsuit.

Citizen watchdogs and others need the ability to examine the spending of tax money. When government creates quasi-governmental bodies that are almost totally funded through taxes, and then refuses to disclose how that money is spent, we have to wonder why the city doesn’t want citizens to know how this money is spent.

An example of why this is important is the case of Mike Howerter, a trustee of Labette Community College in Parsons. He noticed that a check number was missing from a register. Upon his inquiry, it was revealed that the missing check was used to reimburse the college president for a political campaign contribution. While the college president committed no violation by making this political contribution using college funds, this is an example of the type of information that citizens may want regarding the way public funds are spent.

In Wichita, because of a loophole in the Kansas Open Records Act, a large amount of tax money is spent without this type of scrutiny. This year the Kansas Legislature is considering HB 2567, which will start to bring accountability for how all tax money is spent..

The Attorney General’s page on the Kansas Open Records Act is here. The Kansas Legislator Briefing Book chapter for the Kansas Open Records Act is here.

Wichita doesn’t value open records and open government

On the KAKE Television public affairs program “This Week in Kansas” the failure of the Wichita City Council, especially council member Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita), to recognize the value of open records and open government is discussed.

For more background, see Wichita, again, fails at open government.

Wichita, again, fails at open government

The Wichita City Council, when presented with an opportunity to increase the ability of citizens to observe the workings of the government they pay for, decided against the cause of open government, preferring to keep the spending of taxpayer money a secret. Continue reading here.

Wichita could do better regarding open government, if it wants

Tomorrow the Wichita City Council will consider renewing its contract with Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau. The renewal will provide another opportunity for the council to decide whether it is truly in favor of open government and citizen access to records. Continue reading here.

Wichita government’s attitude towards citizens’ right to know is an issue

At a meeting of the Wichita City Council, Kansas Policy Institute president Dave Trabert explained the problems in obtaining compliance with the Kansas Open Records Act. Continue reading here.

Open records again an issue in Kansas

Responses to records requests made by Kansas Policy Institute are bringing attention to shortcomings in the Kansas Open Records Act. Continue reading here.

In Wichita, disdain for open records and government transparency

Despite receiving nearly all its funding from taxpayers, Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau refuses to admit it is a “public agency” as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. The city backs this agency and its interpretation of this law, which is in favor of government secrecy and in opposition to the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act. Continue reading here.

Additional information on open records is at:

College costs in Kansas: Rising by more than a tad

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Have college costs exceeded the rate of inflation by just a “tad,” as claimed by a Kansas college professor?

Washburn University Political Science Professor Mark Peterson wrote in a recent op-ed that “The actual cost of obtaining postsecondary education has, like everything else, continued to rise — mostly at the rate of inflation plus a tad.”(Mark Peterson: State sends wrong higher-ed message, Wichita Eagle, Sunday, January 26, 2014.)

The College Board keeps track of college costs and publishes its findings at Trends in College Pricing. Of particular interest is a table titled “Figure 5. Inflation-Adjusted Published Tuition and Fees Relative to 1983-84, 1983-84 to 2013-14 (1983-84 = 100).” This table assigns the cost of tuition and fees for the 1983-1984 school year to be 100, and tracks changes from that level. These numbers are adjusted for inflation.

For the 2013-2014 school year, the values of this index are this:
Private non-profit four-year college: 253
Public four-year college: 331
Public two-year college: 264

The interpretation of these numbers is this: For private non-profit four-year colleges, the cost of tuition and fees is 2.53 times the level in 1983-1984. Or, since these values are inflation-adjusted, the cost rose 2.53 times as fast as inflation.

For public four-year colleges, the rate of increase was higher: 3.31 times the rate of inflation over the past 30 years.

Turning our attention to Kansas: Kansas Policy Institute has examined college costs. Its findings can be found in A Historical Perspective of State Aid, Tuition and Spending for State Universities in Kansas. Nearby is a table from that report. Note that over the ten-year period covered, inflation rose by 25.3 percent. For the six Regents Institutions in Kansas, all except for Fort Hays State had costs increasing by over 100 percent. That’s over four times the ate of inflation. University of Kansas costs rose by 193.6 percent, or 7.6 times the rate of inflation.

inflation-kansas-colleges-kansas-policy-institute-2013-table-2

Remember, Professor Peterson wrote that college costs had risen “mostly at the rate of inflation plus a tad.” His language leaves him a little wiggle room, as “mostly” and “tad” don’t have precise meanings. But evidently the product of the two is a pretty large number.

Peterson also wrote regarding public postsecondary education that “its price continues to climb and the Kansas general fund contributes less.” Note that the KPI table shows that state aid has declined by one-tenth of one percent over ten years. That, I think, qualifies as a “tad.”

The death penalty in Kansas, a conservative view

What should the attitude of conservatives be regarding the death penalty? Ben Jones of Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty spoke on the topic “Capital Punishment in Kansas from a conservative perspective: Is it a failed policy?” This was recorded at the Wichita Pachyderm Club on December 6, 2013. Jennifer Baysinger provided the introduction. Click here to listen.

Kansas government grows faster than private sector

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In Kansas, government has grown faster than the private sector. Milton Friedman explains why it’s best to leave spending in the private sector.

For gross domestic product in Kansas attributable to government, growth was 106.0 percent from 1997 to 2012. For the private sector, growth was 86.5 percent.

The nearby chart (click for a larger version) shows Kansas (highlighted in blue) against the other states and regions. (If you’d like to use the interactive visualization of state GDP data, you may click here to open it in a new window.)

kansas-gross-domestic-product-government-private-2014-01Considering the government sector, Kansas did well, compared to other states. Considering the private sector, Kansas is average.

The green highlighted line is Michigan. That state stands out from all others for its poor economic growth. Jennifer Granholm was governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011, and Kansas Democrats have announced that she is the speaker for their annual Washington Days celebration. It’s difficult to see what Kansas can learn from Michigan regarding economic growth.

Government spending

Is it good for government to grow faster than the private economy? Government depends on the private sector for its funding. Without private sector activity, there are no taxes to collect.

But the real problem is the nature of government spending. A quote from Milton Friedman explains: “Nobody spends other people’s money as carefully as he spends his own.”

In an excerpt from Free to Choose: A Personal Statement, Friedman and his wife Rose explain the problems when people spend other people’s money, which is the nature of government spending.

A simple classification of spending shows why that process leads to undesirable results. When you spend, you may spend your own money or someone else’s; and you may spend for the benefit of yourself or someone else. Combining these two pairs of alternatives gives four possibilities summarized in the following simple table:

friedman-spending-categories-2013-07

Category I in the table refers to your spending your own money on yourself. You shop in a supermarket, for example. You clearly have a strong incentive both to economize and to get as much value as you can for each dollar you do spend.

Category II refers to your spending your own money on someone else. You shop for Christmas or birthday presents. You have the same incentive to economize as in Category I but not the same incentive to get full value for your money, at least as judged by the tastes of the recipient. …

Category III refers to your spending someone else’s money on yourself — lunching on an expense account, for instance. You have no strong incentive to keep down the cost of the lunch, but you do have a strong incentive to get your money’s worth.

Category IV refers to your spending someone else’s money on still another person. You are paying for someone else’s lunch out of an expense account. You have little incentive either to economize or to try to get your guest the lunch that he will value most highly. However, if you are having lunch with him, so that the lunch is a mixture of Category III and Category IV, you do have a strong incentive to satisfy your own tastes at the sacrifice of his, if necessary.

All welfare programs fall into either Category III — for example, Social Security which involves cash payments that the recipient is free to spend as he may wish; or Category IV — for example, public housing; except that even Category IV programs share one feature of Category III, namely, that the bureaucrats administering the program partake of the lunch; and all Category III programs have bureaucrats among their recipients.

In our opinion these characteristics of welfare spending are the main source of their defects.

Legislators vote to spend someone else’s money. The voters who elect the legislators are in one sense voting to spend their own money on themselves, but not in the direct sense of Category I spending. The connection between the taxes any individual pays and the spending he votes for is exceedingly loose. In practice, voters, like legislators, are inclined to regard someone else as paying for the programs the legislator votes for directly and the voter votes for indirectly. Bureaucrats who administer the programs are also spending someone else’s money. Little wonder that the amount spent explodes.

The bureaucrats spend someone else’s money on someone else. Only human kindness, not the much stronger and more dependable spur of self-interest, assures that they will spend the money in the way most beneficial to the recipients. Hence the wastefulness and ineffectiveness of the spending.

But that is not all. The lure of getting someone else’s money is strong. Many, including the bureaucrats administering the programs, will try to get it for themselves rather than have it go to someone else. The temptation to engage in corruption, to cheat, is strong and will not always be resisted or frustrated. People who resist the temptation to cheat will use legitimate means to direct the money to themselves. They will lobby for legislation favorable to themselves, for rules from which they can benefit. The bureaucrats administering the programs will press for better pay and perquisites for themselves — an outcome that larger programs will facilitate.

The attempt by people to divert government expenditures to themselves has two consequences that may not be obvious. First, it explains why so many programs tend to benefit middle- and upper-income groups rather than the poor for whom they are supposedly intended. The poor tend to lack not only the skills valued in the market, but also the skills required to be successful in the political scramble for funds. Indeed, their disadvantage in the political market is likely to be greater than in the economic. Once well-meaning reformers who may have helped to get a welfare measure enacted have gone on to their next reform, the poor are left to fend for themselves and they will almost always he overpowered by the groups that have already demonstrated a greater capacity to take advantage of available opportunities.

The second consequence is that the net gain to the recipients of the transfer will be less than the total amount transferred. If $100 of somebody else’s money is up for grabs, it pays to spend up to $100 of your own money to get it. The costs incurred to lobby legislators and regulatory authorities, for contributions to political campaigns, and for myriad other items are a pure waste — harming the taxpayer who pays and benefiting no one. They must be subtracted from the gross transfer to get the net gain — and may, of course, at times exceed the gross transfer, leaving a net loss, not gain.

These consequences of subsidy seeking also help to explain the pressure for more and more spending, more and more programs. The initial measures fail to achieve the objectives of the well-meaning reformers who sponsored them. They conclude that not enough has been done and seek additional programs. They gain as allies both people who envision careers as bureaucrats administering the programs and people who believe that they can tap the money to be spent.

Category IV spending tends also to corrupt the people involved. All such programs put some people in a position to decide what is good for other people. The effect is to instill in the one group a feeling of almost God-like power; in the other, a feeling of childlike dependence. The capacity of the beneficiaries for independence, for making their own decisions, atrophies through disuse. In addition to the waste of money, in addition to the failure to achieve the intended objectives, the end result is to rot the moral fabric that holds a decent society together.

Another by-product of Category III or IV spending has the same effect. Voluntary gifts aside, you can spend someone else’s money only by taking it away as government does. The use of force is therefore at the very heart of the welfare state — a bad means that tends to corrupt the good ends. That is also the reason why the welfare state threatens our freedom so seriously.

Kansas legislative briefing book for 2014

Kansas CapitolKansas Legislative Research has released the 2014 edition of the Legislator Briefing Book. From the prelude:

Kansas Legislators are called upon to make decisions on many issues that come before the Legislature. In addition, members of the Legislature are frequently asked by constituent groups to discuss public policy issues in a community forum in their districts. The purpose of the Kansas Legislator Briefing Book is to assist members in making informed policy decisions and to provide information in a condensed form that is usable for discussions with constituents — whether in their offices in Topeka or in their districts.

This publication contains several reports on new topics plus reports from the prior version. Most of the reports from the prior version have been updated with new information.

This year the book is 411 pages in length. The original location of the document is here. Or, for a version that will probably work better on mobile devices, click here to view this document at Scribd.

Kansas gross domestic product

Seal of the State of Kansas

Since 1997, Kansas gross domestic product has grown 89.1 percent. The United States as a whole has grown 88.2 percent.

Considering compound annual rate of growth for the same period, the rate for Kansas is 4.34 percent, and for the U.S. the rate is 4.31 percent.

So the record for Kansas is right about in the middle of the states. Not good, but not bad either.

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Of note: Kansas Democrats have announced their speaker for their annual Washington Days celebration. It’s Jennifer Granholm, who was governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011. In the nearby illustration (click it for larger version) of state GDP, Kansas is highlighted in blue. The green line that stands out from all other states is Michigan.

Using the visualization.

Using the visualization.

If you’d like to use the interactive visualization of state GDP data, you may click here to open it in a new window. Data is from U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis along with author’s own calculations. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Job claims in Kansas addresses

Kansas Capitol

How can conflicting jobs claims made by two Kansas leaders and candidates for governor be reconciled?

Listening to the State of the State Address and the official response might cause Kansans to become confused, or worse. The claims made by Sam Brownback and Paul Davis appear to contain conflicting views of Kansas employment.

In the State of the State Address, Brownback said “Since December 2010, Kansas has added on average, more than a thousand private sector jobs every month.”

Davis, in the official response, said “According to the latest jobs report — released just a few weeks ago — there are 16,000 fewer Kansans working than when Governor Brownback took office.”

bureau-labor-statistics-logoWho is correct? The answer is not easy to provide. That’s because there are two series of employment data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The two series don’t measure exactly the same thing, and each of these candidates for Kansas governor has chosen to use the series that benefits their campaign. Nearby is an example of just how different the two series can appear.

cps-ces-difference-example-2013-12

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.”

Another difference: CES: “Self-employed persons are excluded.” CPS: “Self-employed persons are included.” (See Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.)

I’ve prepared a table showing the claims made primarily by the Davis campaign in December (since it provided the most detail) and gathered data from both the CES and CPS series. I’ve also showed the seasonally adjusted data compared to the raw data when available. Sometimes the numbers match exactly with the claims made by the campaigns, and sometimes the numbers are a little different. Click here for the full table.

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I’ve also created an interactive visualization of the CPS and CES data for Kansas. Click here to open it in a new window.

Each campaign uses the data that best makes its case. Generally speaking, the CES data shows larger employment gains.

We still have this question: Who is correct? Here’s something to consider. On the national level, a widely-watched number each month is the count of new jobs created. This number, which is universally considered to be important, comes from the CES survey. That’s the number that shows quite a bit of job growth in Kansas.

Download (PDF, 42KB)

Kansas legislative documents

Kansas Capitol

As the Kansas Legislature begins its 2014 session today, citizens who want to keep track of the happenings have these resources available.

Video and audio

The Kansas Legislature doesn’t broadcast or archive video of its proceedings except in rare instances of committee hearings. Travis Perry of Kansas Watchdog reports on this issue in Camera shy: KS legislators sidestep transparency and Eye in the sky: Kansas legislative leader won’t require streaming video.

Both the House and Senate broadcast audio of their proceedings. But you must listen live, as the broadcasts are not made available to the public in any other way. It would be exceedingly simple to make these past broadcasts available to the public. It could be done at no cost on YouTube, and at little cost at other sites specifically tailored to host audio. As a side benefit, at YouTube the recordings would be transcribed by machine, giving a rough transcript of the proceedings. (I use the adjective “rough,” as if you have viewed these transcripts, they vary widely in accuracy. But they still have value.)

Broadcasting video of House and Senate proceedings would be a large step that would probably have a large cost. But archiving the audio and making it available provides nearly all the benefit of video, and at very little additional cost.

Documents

Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) has many documents that are useful in understanding state government and the legislature. This agency’s home page is Kansas Legislative Research Department. Of particular interest:

Kansas Legislative Briefing Book. This book’s audience is legislators, but anyone can benefit. The book has a chapter for major areas of state policy and legislation, giving history, background, and explanations of law. In some years the entire collection of material has been made available as a single pdf file, but not so this year. Contact information for the legislative analysts is made available in each chapter. The most recent version can be found on the Reports and Publications page. So far a version for 2014 is not available. (Update: The 2014 version is here.)

Kansas Fiscal Facts. This book, in 124 pages (for 2011), provides “basic budgetary facts” to those without budgetary experience. It provides an overview of the budget, and then more information for each of the six branches of Kansas state government. There is a glossary and contact information for the fiscal analysts responsible for different areas of the budget. This document is updated each year. The most recent version can be found on the Reports and Publications page.

Legislative Procedure in Kansas. This book of 236 pages holds the rules and explanations of how the Kansas Legislature works. It was last revised in November 2006, but the subject that is the content of this book changes slowly over the years. The direct link is Legislative Procedure in Kansas, November 2006.

How a Bill Becomes Law. This is a one-page diagram of the legislative steps involved in passing laws. The direct link is How a Bill Becomes Law.

Summary of Legislation. This document is created each year, and is invaluable in remembering what laws were passed each year. From its introduction: “This publication includes summaries of the legislation enacted by the 2011 Legislature. Not summarized are bills of a limited, local, technical, clarifying, or repealing nature, and bills that were vetoed (sustained).” 204 pages for 2011. The most recent version can be found on the Reports and Publications page.

Legislative Highlights. This is a more compact version of the Summary of Legislation, providing the essentials of the legislative session in 12 pages for 2011. The most recent version can be found on the Reports and Publications page.

Kansas Tax Facts. This book provides information on state and local taxes in Kansas. The most recent version can be found on the Revenue and Tax page.

Kansas Statutes. The laws of our state. The current statutes can be found at the Revisor of Statutes page.

Kansas Register. From the Kansas Secretary of State: “The Kansas Register is the official state newspaper. This publication provides a wide range of information such as proposed and adopted administrative regulations, new state laws, bond sales and redemptions, notice of open meetings, state contracts offered for bid, attorney general opinions, and many other public notices.” The Register is published each week, and may be found at Kansas Register.

Two legislative reforms that would benefit Kansans

Kansas Legislature

Following is a letter to legislators from Kansas Representative John Rubin regarding two reforms to legislative procedure that, I believe, would improve the process. The first concerns granularity, that is, considering a group of bills (actually conference reports) with a single vote. The second simply asks that all non-trivial votes be recorded and made available to the public.

As many of you know, I have always been and remain an ardent advocate of full transparency and accountability to the voters who have elected us to serve in the Legislature and to all the citizens of Kansas. I believe our oath of office demands no less. In my view, effective and responsible governance demands that we always cast informed votes, and that we always disclose to our constituents and all Kansans how we vote on the public policies that so profoundly affect their lives.

In my mind, our longstanding legislative practices of bundling multiple bills in a single conference committee report for one vote under the Joint Rules, and of not recording our votes on bills, resolutions and amendments in the Committee of the Whole on General Orders under the House Rules, directly contravene our obligation to the people of Kansas to be fully informed on the matters on which we vote, and to be transparent in and accountable for our votes, factors critical to effective governance. Accordingly, I have drafted two resolutions amending the Joint Rules and House Rules, respectively, to correct these undemocratic legislative practices. I plan to prefile them the week before our 2014 session starts. I am asking for your support, and hopefully your co-sponsorship, of both.

The first initiative, Revisor draft 14rs2664, is a Concurrent Resolution amending the Joint Rules to provide that a conference committee report (CCR) may contain only the bill being conferenced and all or part of one other bill that has passed either Chamber during the current biennium. As you know, current practice allows for an unlimited number of additional bills or parts of bills that have been passed by either Chamber to be added to the bill being conferenced, and we members have one vote on the entire CCR package on the floor. It is not unusual for as many as four, six, eight or more bills to be added to a conferenced bill in a CCR. Unless a member serves on the committee from which the bills have emanated — and perhaps not even then — the member has little if any opportunity to fully inform himself or herself of the contents, consequences or effects of the additional bills, particularly if the added bills did not originate in and were not debated in our Chamber, and particularly under the pressing time constraints we experience late in session, when most of these CCRs are considered. Accordingly, the likelihood that most members are even marginally well informed on the votes we are asked to east on these multi-bundled CCRs is slim. Worse, even if we do inform ourselves on all aspects of all bundled bills in such CCRs, we may well be of two minds regarding how to cast our one vote on it. For example, a member may fully support four of the bundled bills in an eight-bundle CCR because they square with the member’s principles and are, in his or her view, good public policy for the member’s constituents and all Kansans, and he or she may oppose the other four because they are not. In short, current practice virtually ensures that members often cast uninformed or unprincipled votes on much of the public policy contained in multi-bundled CCRs. That is no way to govern. Concurrent Resolution 14rs2664 will correct these irresponsible and undemocratic legislative deficiencies.

If you support and wish to co-sponsor this anti-bundling Concurrent Resolution, please email Revisor Gordon Self at Gordon.Self@rs.ks.gov by January 6, 2014 and inform him of your intent to do so, referencing the Concurrent Resolution draft, 14rs2664. Your name will be added to the Concurrent Resolution as a co-sponsor prior to prefiling it the week of January 6, 2014.

The second initiative, Revisor draft 14rs2668, is a House Resolution amending the House Rules to require that all House floor votes, whether in the Committee of the Whole on General Orders or on Final Action, shall be recorded votes. The only exceptions are for procedural votes such as on motions to recess or adjourn, motions to rise and report, or resolutions pertaining to commendations or acknowledgments. As you know, current practice on General Orders is that all votes on bills, resolutions and amendments are voice votes, or, on a division call, unrecorded electronic votes, absent a show of 15 hands requiring a roll call vote. Make no mistake — those “unrecorded” electronic division votes are in fact being recorded outside our chamber and in the House Gallery, by handwritten notes, camera phones directed to the closed circuit television screen, and otherwise, by government officials, lobbyists, and other political insiders vested in the outcomes of these votes. I believe that the citizens who sent us to Topeka should have the same access to these vote results that political insiders do. Moreover, all Kansans are, in my view, entitled to know how we vote on every public policy question put to us — in bills, amendments and resolutions — not just on Final Action, but preliminarily on General Orders as well — and are entitled to know whether, and ask why, we changed our vote on a measure between the Committee of the Whole vote one day, and Final Action on the same measure the next. I believe that our oath of office and our responsibility to be transparent in our votes and accountable to the people of Kansas for them require no less.

If you support and wish to co-sponsor this House Resolution requiring that all substantive House floor votes be recorded, please email Revisor Gordon Self at Gordon.Self@rs.ks.gov by January 6, 2014 and inform him of your intent to do so, referencing the Concurrent Resolution draft, 14rs2668. Your name will be added to the Resolution as a co-sponsor prior to prefiling it the week of January 6, 2014.

Thank you for your serious consideration and possible support of these two important resolutions promoting accountability and transparency in our work in the Kansas Legislature on behalf of the citizens of Kansas.

Kansas trails surrounding states in economic freedom

Kansas trails surrounding states in economic freedom

By , Kansas Watchdog

AVERAGE: In a recent study of economic freedom in North America, Kansas ranked in the middle of the pack nationwide, but trails most surrounding states.

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — The Sunflower State scored middle of the pack in a recent study of economic freedom in North America, and while policy analysts sayKansas is trending in the right direction, the state still has some ground to cover.

Breaking down the data released last month by the Canada-based Fraser Institute, an independent, nonpartisan research and educational organization, Dave Trabert, president of the conservative Kansas Policy Institute, said the state’s black eye is starkly presented in the numbers.

“In terms of what Kansas needs to do to improve, it’s pretty clear, you start from the bottom,” Trabert said. “The biggest thing it can do is deal with the fact that we have a lot more government in Kansas than we need, and this is just one of the latest (studies) to point that out.”

The Fraser report looked at things such as how much the government contributes to the overall state economy and workforce, levels of tax revenue, minimum wage laws and labor union density, among other factors.

Kansas ranked in the second-highest quartile in terms of economic freedom based on data collected from 2011. While that’s encouraging, the fact loses some of its luster when you consider that the only surrounding state to rank lower was Missouri Oklahoma ranked 17th out of all states, compared to Kansas’ 23rd place ranking. Nebraska and Colorado joined Delaware, Texas, Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota, Georgia, Utah and Illinois to be named the 10 “most free” states.

Trabert said based on a review of census data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kansas saw a 21.5 percent increase in population between 1980 and 2011, while at that same time local government employment has increased 62.7 percent.

Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute

“It’s kind of across the board,” he said. “Kansas, the structure itself, we have a lot more government than most states.”

Only looking at cities, counties and townships, Trabert said, nationwide the average is about 8,066 residents per government. In Kansas, that figure is significantly lower, clocking in at around 1,445 state residents per government — and that’s not even counting school districts or numerous other, smaller government entities. Kansas’ figures are five times the national average.

While the study knocks Kansas for its 2011 tax rates, Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax plan signed into law the following year, which decreases income tax rates, will likely improve the state’s placement in future studies.

Still, the rankings of surrounding states give Trabert cause for concern.

“People have been voting with their feet for a long time, and that’s going to continue to happen,” he told Kansas Watchdog.

It’s a trend that was revealed in even greater clarity last year, when an analysis of IRS and U.S. Census Bureau data revealed that Texas, Florida, Colorado and other low-tax states were veritable magnets for cash exiting Kansas.

“It all comes down to how much you spend,” Trabert said. “The more government you have, the more government spends, the more you have to tax people.”

The least free states, according to the Fraser Institute study, are Vermont, New Mexico, West Virginia, Mississippi, Maine, Kentucky, Montana, Arkansas, Hawaii and Rhode Island.

Related: Texas, Florida are top destinations for Kansas cash

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at@muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

Job growth, Kansas and other states

Kansas Capitol 2013-11-11 14.58.34Critics of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and his economic growth plans say Kansas hasn’t been creating jobs. A look at the statistics tells us that Kansas has produced substandard performance in job growth for a long time.

job-growth-states-compound-annual-rate-2013-12

The nearby chart (click for a larger version) shows the compound annual rate of growth of jobs in the states, with Kansas highlighted in blue.

From 1992 to 2012, Kansas created jobs at the rate of 1.022 percent per year, compounded. Arkansas managed 1.096 percent over the same period. That seems like a small difference, just 0.074 percentage points. But over time, compounding adds up, so to speak. If both states started with one million jobs and continued growing at these rates, in ten years Arkansas would have 8,136 more jobs than Kansas. In 20 years, the difference would be 18,080 jobs. That’s about as many people as work in each of Finney and Ford Counties, home to Dodge City and Garden City, respectively.

Or, consider Texas, the state Kansas progressives love to hate. It’s has created jobs at the rate of 2.001 percent. If both states started with one million jobs and grew at these rates, in ten years Texas would have 112,083 more jobs than Kansas would have. In 20 years the difference would be 260,722 jobs. That’s almost as many people as work in the Wichita metropolitan area.

Using the visualization.

Using the visualization.

If you’d like to use the interactive visualization of state employment data, you may click here to open it in a new window. Data is from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

In Kansas, dueling job claims

bownback-davis-logo-01Candidates for Kansas governor last week released statements on recent job figures in Kansas. The releases from Sam Brownback and Paul Davis appear to contain conflicting views of Kansas employment.

Brownback released a statement containing this, in part: “In the past year, we have seen more than 20,000 new jobs in Kansas and a total of 45,600 new jobs created from January 2011 through October 2013.” (Click here for the full statement.)

Davis released a statement containing this, in part: “From January 2011 – Oct 2013: Period during which Brownback cites 46,500 new jobs … Employed: +3,634 (not 46,500, which is what was claimed by Brownback)” (Click here for the full statement.)

So which campaign is correct? The answer is not easy to provide. That’s because there are two series of employment data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The two series don’t measure exactly the same thing, and each campaign has chosen to use the series that benefits their campaign. Nearby is an example of just how different the two series can appear.

cps-ces-difference-example-2013-12
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.”

Another difference: CES: “Self-employed persons are excluded.” CPS: “Self-employed persons are included.” (See Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.)

I’ve prepared a table showing the claims made primarily by the Davis campaign (since it provided the most detail) and gathered data from both the CES and CPS series. I’ve also showed the seasonally adjusted data compared to the raw data when available. Sometimes the numbers match exactly with the claims made by the campaigns, and sometimes the numbers are a little different. Click here for the full table.

cps-ces-jobs-compared-2013-12
I’ve also created an interactive visualization of the CPS and CES data for Kansas. Click here to open it in a new window.

Each campaign uses the data that best makes its case. Generally speaking, the CES data shows larger employment gains.

Download (PDF, 42KB)

Kansas job loss claims seem not to add up

kansas-city-star-2013-10-10

The Kansas City Star carried a story about Kansas jobs and unemployment. The claim was made that “Put another way: Kansas has lost more than 8,800 jobs this year.”

paul-davis-facebook-2013-10-10

Kansas Representative Paul Davis, a Democrat who has said he will run for governor next year, linked to the article on his Facebook page and made a statement based on the job loss claim, writing “Kansas has lost nearly 9,000 jobs in 2013.”

I don’t know what data the Star reporter relied on, or what computations he made. I gathered statistics from the Kansas Department of Labor. I’ve made them available here, and a chart is below.

Job levels can be seasonally adjusted, or not. Using the seasonal data, total non farm employment in Kansas rose from 1,366,900 in January to 1,372,000 in August, the last month for which data is available.

Using the not seasonally adjusted data, jobs rose from 1,347,800 in January to 1,361,900 in August.

Maybe the reporter used a different range of dates. I don’t know. If we use the not seasonally adjusted job count from December 2012, which is 1,376,300, the job count in August is less, but by a number not close to the number in the story. Using the seasonally adjusted number for December 2012 produces a gain of jobs since then.

kansas-job-levels-2013-10-10

Kansas job levels

visualization-example-small

Here’s an interactive visualization of Kansas statewide job levels. Data is monthly, seasonally adjusted, with numbers in thousands.

Data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public. Use the visualization below, or click here to open it in a new window, which will probably work better in most cases.

Anderson, former Kansas budget director, speaks

Last Friday former Kansas budget director Steve Anderson spoke to members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. Two videos are available, a highlights version and full version. View below, or to view on YouTube, click here for highlights or here for full version.

Also, it was announced on Friday that Anderson would be joining Kansas Policy Institute in the role of senior adjunct fiscal policy fellow. For more on this from KPI, see Former state budget director Steve Anderson joins Kansas Policy Institute.

Highlights video

Full speech

In Kansas, politics may now cure its own harm

I don’t care who does the electing so long as I do the nominating.
– William “Boss” Tweed, political boss of Tammany Hall

Critics of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback point to his nomination of a confidant to the Kansas Court of Appeals as evidence of politics trumping the — purportedly — merit-based selection process formerly in place.

The previous process, however, was nothing if not political. Its defenders — the state’s legal profession — denied that, but they were in charge of the process.

In fact, the reason that Caleb Stegall, the current nominee, is not already on the bench is politics.

Stegall’s recommendation from Felita Kahrs, a member of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, highlights both his judicial qualifications and the political challenge he may face as a nominee. Ms. Kahrs previously reviewed Stegall’s application for the Kansas Court of Appeals, and her recommendation says that she found that his “outstanding academic background, his excellent writing ability, and the experience he brings to this position, exceeded and in some cases far surpassed the other applicants.” Even though she believed that he “was one of the top candidates that appeared before the Commission,” she explained, “due to politics, his name was not submitted.”

That’s from National Review Online’s Bench Memos.

And if you’re wondering why so many will criticize this appointment and the new process, well, “hell hath no fury like a lawyer scorned.”

Business tax credits more desired than zero tax rates

Economic development

A Kansas business welfare program is more attractive and valuable than elimination of the Kansas corporate income tax, at least for some influential corporations in Kansas. The program is High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP), which grants tax credits in exchange for capital investment.

In April Dr. Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business delivered a presentation on Kansas tax reform, and he explained the situation (video here):

There is something called an HPIP investment tax credit. It stands for High Performance Incentive Program. This is a very valuable tax credit to corporations. But, you don’t get it automatically. You have to apply to the state. Only about 100 or 125 of these credits are given out each year. It’s about $50 to $60 million per year. It’s a very large number. Back in 2011, … the plan was to get rid of all of these special deals, especially this one credit, and we’re going to reduce all the rates.

The corporate sector — some very influential people in the corporate sector — did not want that at all. They went to the mat, hard. … The point is, there was an effort to reduce corporate income tax. The corporations, at least a very strong constituent sector, didn’t want it. They wanted their credit.

In other words, the business welfare benefits these corporations — many thought to be in the aerospace industry — receive from the state is greater than the Kansas income tax they pay. That’s the only conclusion we can draw from their choice of favoring the HPIP credits over elimination of their Kansas income tax.

A table from Hall’s paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy holds calculations that reveal this effect.

hpip-credits-example-2013-07

The 11.92% that is highlighted in yellow shows the deformation of the business investment and tax landscape that causes some corporations to prefer HPIP tax credits over zero tax rates. Each row in the table represents a different scenario, one being retaining the HPIP credit. Columns represent various amounts of investment. It is in the column for the largest amount of investment that HPIP is most valuable, based on expected rate of return for the investment. HPIP is also more valuable than the strategy in any other row, considering the large investment column. HPIP, we can see, favors large corporations over small, as it is most valuable when making large investments.

A problem, as Hall told the audience in the video, is that the HPIP is not given automatically to all companies that make capital investments. The credit must be applied for, various conditions must be met, and approval received.

This system of selecting which companies receive targeted economic development investment in Kansas is contrary to market principals. The state, rather than markets, is making investment decisions. It’s also contrary to Hall’s economic dynamism concept explained in the paper referenced above. In this idea, the goal of the state is to encourage a large number of business startups each year, and then nurture conditions where all have a chance to thrive. Many will not survive, but some will. We don’t know which firms will thrive, so it’s important to treat all firms equally and give all a chance.

Programs like HPIP are contrary to this philosophy, and instead concentrate the state’s investments in existing, often large, companies — the companies that make the large capital investments for which HPIP returns the most favorable financial results. This is also an illustration of the difference between a business-friendly environment and capitalism.

Sedgwick is a red county in a pink state

Translation: Sedgwick County is bleeding income.

This is according to IRS and U.S. Census Bureau data examined by Travis Brown and presented online at HowMoneyWalks.com. This is a website that is companion to the book How Money Walks — How $2 Trillion Moved Between the States, and Why It Matters.

According to the publisher:

Between 1995 and 2010, millions of Americans moved between the states, taking with them over $2 trillion in adjusted gross incomes. Two trillion dollars is equivalent to the GDP of California, the ninth largest in the world. It’s a lot of money. Some states, like Florida, saw tremendous gains ($86.4 billion), while others, like New York, experienced massive losses ($58.6 billion). People moved, and they took their working wealth with them. The question is, why? Why did Americans move so much of their income from state to state? Which states benefited and which states suffered? And why does it matter? Using official statistics from the IRS, How Money Walks explores the hows, whys, and impact of this massive movement of American working wealth.

sedgwick-county-money walks-2013-07

Kansas, as a state, lost $3.15 billion in income during the period covered by the book. That colors Kansas a moderate shade of pink on a map of all states. Pink, or red, in this case, means like it does in accounting: A loss of money.

Looking at a map of Kansas counties, we see that Sedgwick County is a bright shade of red. From 1992 to 2010, Sedgwick County lost $1.12 billion in annual AGI (adjusted gross income).

To put these numbers in perspective, in 2009 AGI in Kansas was $61.7 billion, and in Sedgwick County, $10.6 billion. So Sedgwick County has lost some ten percent of its income. And that’s on an annual basis.

How to grow the Kansas economy

In this 14 minute video from April, Art Hall, who is Director of Center for Applied Economics at Kansas University, talks about how to grow the Kansas economy.

An important takeaway is that our targeted economic development strategies can’t handle the volume needed to create a lot of jobs in Kansas. We need policies that apply uniformly, so that we can generate as many business start-ups as possible. Of these start-ups, some will grow rapidly, but we don’t know the identities of these companies in advance.

For more about these ideas, see Hall’s paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy.

Westar rate increase contains business welfare

electric-meters

The rate increase that Westar Energy has applied for contains a large dose of discretionary business welfare spending. Westar, in conjunction with out current economic development machinery, will be allowed to grant discounts on electricity to new businesses. A current program exists, but Westar says it doesn’t offer the flexibility Westar needs.

Following is an excerpt from testimony Westar submitted to the Kansas Corporation Commission. I’ve added emphasis:

Q. HOW WILL THE FIRST COMPONENT OF PROMOTE KANSAS WORK?
A. The economic development portion of the proposal would permit Westar, at its option, to provide economic development assistance in the form of discounted electric service to new customers and existing customers with planned expansions if three conditions are met: (1) the customer adds new jobs to its work force, (2) the customer brings new capital equipment and plant to a new or expanded facility and (3) the economic development effort is supported and backed by a state organization such as the Kansas Department of Commerce or a local economic development organization.

Q. HOW WILL PROMOTE KANSAS PROVIDE WESTAR WITH FLEXIBILITY TO ADDRESS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT NEEDS ON A CASE-BY-CASE BASIS?
A. If approved, Promote Kansas will allow Westar to adjust the economic incentive — in the form of reduced electric rates — provided to a customer based on the circumstances involved. This is a change from Westar’s existing EDR, which provides for a fixed percentage discount of 25 percent to the customer’s electric bill in the first year. The incentive credit declines by five percent per year over a mandatory five year period. After the fifth year of service, the customer pays the full cost of their electric service. Westar has no flexibility to adjust the amount of the incentive credit level or duration under the current EDA.

We believe that the fixed percentage under the existing EDA is too rigid. In some situations, the customer may not require the entire 25 percent reduction in its electric bill, or a full five years of reduced electric rates, in order to move forward with an expansion or relocation to Kansas. In these cases, the rigidity of the existing EDA tariff results in either contributing more than needed to attract the new customer or encourage the expansion, or not offering the incentive at all. The current EDA tariff was developed over a quarter century ago, tailored to specific circumstances that no longer exist. It was based on past exigencies, and it is time to revise it to meet today’s priorities and business environment.

Promote Kansas would contain a variable incentive credit. If Westar decides to provide the incentive credit to a customer, it would range from five percent to 25 percent the first year and would then decline over no more than a five-year period. This will allow Westar flexibility to determine how much incentive is necessary to attract the new customer or the expansion. Westar will be able to actively participate in negotiations with potential new businesses along with other economic development organizations in order to develop the best package of benefits for the customer’s specific situation.

We need to be concerned with this part of Westar’s application. This language — at its option … based on the circumstances involved … variable incentive credit … this will allow Westar flexibility — gives huge discretion to Westar to decide how much customers will pay for electricity.

Westar is not a government agency, but as a tightly regulated entity, it’s almost like government. It exercises the type of monopoly power that few outside of government do: It holds a near-monopoly on the delivery of a product that almost everyone wants and needs. With few exceptions, households and business firms can’t negotiate with Westar on their electric rates.

Therefore, when Westar offers — at its discretion — lower electric rates to some customers, others must necessarily pay more. Testimony to this effect was offered by Westar.

If we could be certain that the goals of this program would be realized, that would be one thing. But as a quasi-governmental entity, Westar suffers from the same knowledge problem as does government, especially regarding targeted investment programs like that proposed in this new rate structure. These actors believe that they have the ability to select which companies are worthy of public investment, and which are not. Really, it’s even a larger decision, as all other Westar customers have to pay for the investment decisions that will be made.

This rate plan implements a form of centralized planning by the state that shapes the future direction of the Kansas economy. We have to decide who is in the best position to make these decisions: Regulators and utility company executives, or the diverse market where thousands of business firms freely compete for voluntary investments to be made.

Arnold Kling has written about the ability of government experts to decide what investments should be made with public funds. There’s a problem with knowledge and power:

As Hayek pointed out, knowledge that is important in the economy is dispersed. Consumers understand their own wants and business managers understand their technological opportunities and constraints to a greater degree than they can articulate and to a far greater degree than experts can understand and absorb.

When knowledge is dispersed but power is concentrated, I call this the knowledge-power discrepancy. Such discrepancies can arise in large firms, where CEOs can fail to appreciate the significance of what is known by some of their subordinates. … With government experts, the knowledge-power discrepancy is particularly acute.

Despite this knowledge problem, the Kansas Corporation Commission is considering giving Westar the very type of power that ought to be left to markets. For this reason, KCC should reject Westar’s rate increase application until this program, and the program it is intended to replace, are eliminated.

The full rate application is available at Docket 13-WSEE-629-RTS: Application of Westar Energy and Kansas Gas and Electric Company Charges for Electric Service. A public hearing is scheduled tonight in Wichita; see Westar electricity rate hikes.

Kansas bonds downgraded; economic development programs imperiled

money-bag-struggle

Moody’s Investor Service has downgraded the credit rating of a series of bonds that Kansas uses to fund an economic development program. The program is IMPACT (Investments in Major Projects and Comprehensive Training), which provides financial benefits to companies locating to or expanding in Kansas.

The problem is that the state borrows money to give to companies, and uses the withholding taxes of these companies’ employees to repay the bonds. So what happens if the state reduces — or eliminates — the personal income tax? Moody’s explains:

Because IMPACT program bonds are backed by a statutory allocation of revenue from income tax withholding, efforts to eliminate the state income tax without defeasing the debt or substituting a new revenue source will expose bondholders to risks greater than previously anticipated. IMPACT debt has historically been supported by steadily growing revenues from a source that was broad-based and important to the state’s continued operations. Last year’s major income tax rate reductions, followed by additional cuts this year, constitute what we expect to be a trend of repeated cuts in the revenues pledged to these bonds. The final maturity on the IMPACT bonds is 2023, by which time Kansas may have fully removed the income tax. So far, there is no assurance the state will allocate revenue from a different source or take other steps protect bondholders. (Moody’s downgrades Kansas Department of Commerce IMPACT bonds to A3 from Aa3)

I don’t think there’s much likelihood that the state will fail to pay these bonds fully as payments become due. Even though the spending that produced this debt, in my opinion, is ill-considered, it’s still an obligation of the state.

But in a blog post, the Wichita Eagle editorial board could barely conceal its glee that a State of Kansas program might encounter difficulties during the Brownback regime. That’s because income tax rates have been reduced, and will fall farther. This threatens the government spending that the Eagle editorialists favor over private-sector spending.

Besides this one Kansas spending program, others will probably also be affected by lower income tax rates. Another economic development program Kansas uses is the Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) program. Administered by the Kansas Department of Commerce, the program allows qualifying companies to retain 95 percent of the state income withholding taxes their employees pay.

It’s a roundabout method of distributing corporate welfare that allows companies — and gullible or self-serving politicians — to pretend as though this program has no cost, or that companies are in fact investing their own money.

What’s interesting is that the money paid to companies is based on the withholding of employee taxes, not actual taxes paid. Withholding is just an estimate. At the end of the year employees file tax returns to compute their actual tax liability. Based on the difference between withholdings and liability, the state may issue a refund (or maybe the employee owes more).

It’s common for people to receive tax refunds. For employees that work for companies participating in PEAK, their tax withholdings (less five percent) have already been spent by the state in the form of economic development incentives. Their refunds have to be funded in some other way.

Other government spending programs will be affected, too. Historic preservation tax credits are used to funnel millions to developers in downtown Wichita, for example. These credits have value only as long as someone owes income tax (or similar taxes paid by financial institutions) to the state. If there are no income taxes, these tax credits have no value.

This is all good. It’s great that tax rates are falling. It’s also good that the state loses some of its tools for dishing out business welfare. With programs like PEAK and tax credits, the legislature authorizes the program by passing a law. After that, the programs function on auto-pilot. Companies apply for the benefits, and then either automatically or at the discretion of the bureaucracy, applications are approved and benefits flow.

This leads to systems with little accountability. Expenditures are barely noticed. The normal basis for justifying taxation is threatened. Employees that work at PEAK companies might look at the Kansas tax withheld on the paychecks and rationalize “Well, at least it’s going for the kids’ schools or some other beneficial purpose.”

No. Their withholding taxes are being paid (less five percent) to their employer.

Without these tax expenditure programs, legislatures would have to pass specific bills to spend taxpayer money. Can you imagine if the State of Kansas passed a bill to give $3.5 million in taxpayer credits to developers of a luxury hotel in downtown Wichita? Citizens would look at things differently. They’d wonder why we’re spending this way. Using semi-mysterious mechanisms like PEAK and tax credits shrouds the true economic transactions taking place.

Kansas university spending and funding

kansas-regents-logo

In response to a small decrease in Kansas university funding in next year’s budget, there’s been a bit of overreaction. Consider this Wichita Eagle editorial: “The higher tuition just forced on state universities by the Legislature effectively is a tax increase that will deepen loan debt for some Kansans and put college out of reach for others. And a $66 million cut to higher education is no way to ‘grow’ an economy.”

Examine the assumptions underlying this:

1. The only possible response to a small cut in state funding is for universities to raise tuition.

2. If students have to pay more of the cost of their college education, it’s a “tax increase.”

3. The response of students to higher tuition will be to increase their student loan borrowing or avoid college.

4. Spending on universities — as opposed to letting people spend and invest their own money — is the better way to grow the Kansas economy.

The most nonsensical of these is the claim of “tax increase.” Taxes are paid involuntarily. Attending college is a decision. Asking working Kansans to pay more for students to attend college: That is taxation.

Aside from this, Kansas regents universities — as is the case almost universally — have been increasing spending and tuition. Analysis by Kansas Policy Institute shows that for most Kansas regents universities, spending and tuition increases rise faster than inflation. Many times faster, in some cases. The KPI study is A Historical Perspective of State Aid, Tuition and Spending for State Universities in Kansas.

Below, Kansas Representative Marc Rhoades, who is Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, explains more about the funding and spending of Kansas regents universities, and recognizes the Washington Monument strategy employed by KU in an effort to shape public opinion on this matter. It worked on the Wichita Eagle editorial board.

Asking Questions of Higher Education

By Kansas Representative Marc Rhoades

Year after year, despite unchanged or increased state funding, the six state-funded Kansas colleges increased tuition far above inflation with little scrutiny. Undergraduate tuition and fees at the six universities increased 137 percent between 2002 and 2012. From 2002 to 2012, KU raised fees and tuition by 194 percent; KSU by 170 percent; and WSU by 117 percent.

Universities’ All Funds spending was $1.814 billion in 2005; $2.186 billion in 2008; and $2.421 billion in 2012 — a 33 percent increase in spending even with a recession.

Since 2003, unencumbered carryover cash balances in two student fee accounts increased by $248 million. In other words, they collected almost a quarter-billion dollars more in fees than they spent on whatever the fees were earmarked to do. General Fees plus interest earned on those accounts can be used for other purposes — say, for example, holding down tuition increases. Instead, students paid more in fees and more in tuition and the fee accounts kept accumulating.

This year the legislature examined the numbers and asked questions with a desire to initiate an open conversation about higher education spending, tuition and student outcomes.

The end result: a 1.5 percent reduction to Regents which hardly qualifies as a slash, but that’s the narrative being used; and since State Aid represents less than half of their General Use Expenditures, a 1.5 percent reduction in their State Aid amounts to a 0.7 percent reduction to that account.

Compare a 1.5 percent State Aid reduction with recent requests from Kansas colleges for increases in tuition up to 8 percent next year, even with inflation below 2 percent.

But the template never changes: Demands for more spending are always “modest and necessary”; reduced spending is always “drastic and draconian” — regardless of the amounts or how the money is used.

The legislature did not set out to reduce funding. We simply had questions.

Why so many unfilled FTE positions perpetually placed on the books with money systematically diverted for other uses?

Even factoring for inflation, why has tuition gone up so much without a correlation to past increases in state funding?

When defaulted on, students’ government-backed loans are paid for, ultimately, by taxpayers, so shouldn’t improved graduation and employment rates be prioritized over even higher salaries to the already-highly-paid?

By the way, the salary cap we requested was not a cut. You will hear it referred to as a cut, even though salaries were held level and not reduced.

I serve as a commissioner with the Midwest Higher Education Compact — a 12-state network of universities. Last week I attended a commissioner’s meeting in Indiana where we heard from current and former chancellors about the future of higher education. Similar to other sectors — healthcare, for example — there are two very different driving forces promoting two very different paths: collective institution-oriented versus individual outcomes-oriented.

College students, many unemployed and underemployed, are buried in debt while universities appear more focused on impressing their peers and expanding their infrastructure.

Indiana colleges, among others around the country, are addressing this disconnect. Indiana University-East, just one example, increased its student numbers and graduation rates while decreasing cost-per-student over 20 percent.

Kansas state-funded colleges have been raising tuition at astronomical rates, but under the radar. The only difference this year is they are vocal about increasing tuition using the legislature’s 1.5 percent budget reduction as a scapegoat.

Early in the session, following a discussion about spending and outcomes, KU’s response was to threaten closure of some of Kansas’ most viable institutions: KU’s medical campuses in Wichita and Salina. It was a classic bully move. Rather than address legitimate financial questions, they made threats to cut something highly valued by all. Think White House tour closures.

In response, the House and Senate conference committees added a proviso to the budget to prevent those closures from happening, even though insiders understood KU’s intention was to stir up angst among constituents in order to intimidate legislators so they would stop asking questions and hand over the money. Think shakedown.

When the endgame shifts to quantifiable student outcomes — retention and graduation rates, realistic employment tracks, greater efficiencies, reduced costs, lower tuition — collaborative conversations can take place and real-world results can be achieved in Kansas. I remain hopeful and open to such a dialogue.

Kansas taxes, the debate

Seal of the State of Kansas

Kansans are not being helped by their stable of newspaper editorial boards. We’ve seen this before (Kansas editorial writers aren’t helping), and the conclusion of the legislative session provides more examples.

An example is the editorial Why are these Kansas politicians celebrating? in the Kansas City Star. A quote is this: “Lawmakers had to go into overtime in the 2013 session trying to figure out how to climb out of the ditch they created last year when they gave away $3.7 billion in income tax cuts without figuring out how to offset them.”

This quotation serves to illustrate much of what’s wrong with Kansas newspaper editorial writing, and also with a large group of Kansas politicians.

A first problem is ideological. When you read words like they gave away income tax cuts, you know the writer believes that a certain portion of your income belongs not to you, but to the state. If the portion going to the state is reduced, the state is giving away something. What the state is giving away must be offset or paid for in some way, according to this ideology.

Private sector job growth, Kansas and selected states

A second problem is the presumption that the Kansas economy has been humming along smoothly, and that efforts to reduce taxes (and therefore government spending) are a change for the worse — the “ditch” that the Star referred to. But I would ask anyone who believes Kansas has been doing well to acquaint themselves with the facts about our economy. An example is the nearby chart (click for larger version) of private sector job growth in Kansas and surrounding states for the past two decades. For most of this period Kansas government has been in the hands of “moderates,” both Republican and Democratic. How would you say cumulative job growth in Kansas compares to our peer states?

Anyone who defends the recent decades of moderation must confront this and similar statistics. If private sector job growth doesn’t convince you, how about personal income growth? An interactive visualization of data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis is here. The pre-configured view shows income in Kansas growing slower than our peer states, the Plains states, and the United States.

If people are not aware of the dismal performance of the Kansas economy, ask them why they don’t know the facts. If they know the facts, ask them why they defend the status quo. Ask them why they want to deny Kansans the level of economic opportunity that people in, say, Oklahoma have.

But, editorial writers would rather complain about what the legislature did to “pay for Brownback’s perilous tax experiment.” (H. Edward Flentje : Is Kansas on the right track? Wichita Eagle)

Echoing the sentiment of the left-wing editorial boards, Flentje, a professor at Wichita State University with much practical experience in state and local government, also wrote that the legislature had to “clean up the mess” created by last year’s “financial debacle,” that being the income tax cuts. He also used the “pay for” line of thinking — several times for good measure — as well as tossing in “perilous tax experiment.” (I think I mentioned that earlier, but it bears repeating.)

This left-wing ideology is the prevailing breeze that propels Kansas newspaper editorial boards, along with others like Flentje who ought to know better. For those who disagree, I ask them to defend the record of the Kansas economy under the leadership of coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats. (For more background, see Kansas traditional Republicans: The record.)

While it’s good that Kansas reduced income tax rates, it’s bad that on the balance, more tax revenue will flow to Topeka. In particular, raising the sales tax (or preventing its reduction, whichever you prefer) was a bad move, and particularly the sales tax on food. Writing in the Wichita Eagle, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle wrote that Kansas has moved towards more of a “FairTax” model Susan Wagle : Kansas is on the path to prosperity. That’s true in some respects. But an important part of the FairTax model is the “prebate.” This is a monthly advance refund of sales tax on necessities up to the poverty level. Its purpose is to mitigate the regressive nature of consumption, or sales, taxes.

Kansas, however, taxes the sale of food. Furthermore, on July 1 the sales tax on food will be higher than it would be under current law. The new tax law restores a portion of the food sales tax credit program, but this is a clunky measure that will benefit very few people.

The biggest failure of the Kansas legislature this year was that little or nothing was done to reduce spending. In 2011 three bills passed the House that would take a long-term approach to reducing the cost of Kansas government. None of these bills were considered this year. (See In Kansas, there are ways to reduce the cost of government.)

Kansas Policy Institute has also prepared ways that Kansas can save money. See Kansas can cut spending, if we want.

Cutting government spending is important if we want to grow Kansas. See States that Spend Less, Tax Less — and Grow More and To boost jobs and prosperity, Kansas should cut spending.

Kansas tax changes

Tax

What are the changes to Kansas tax law that have been passed by the legislature and await the governor’s signature?

The nearby table presents estimated changes in tax revenue based on changes to the law that was current at the time of the estimate. (The source is Kansas Legislative Research Department.) The largest factor in that law was that if the legislature did nothing, the sales tax rate would change from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent on July 1, 2013. The legislature decided to change the rate to 6.15 percent on July 1. The estimated increase in revenue is estimated to be $193.2 million in fiscal year 2014, and $1,118.5 million total over the next five years.

Kansas tax changes, June 2013

Other changes to the law presented along with the estimated change in revenue.

The most important number to notice is the five-year total: $777.1 million. This is the additional tax revenue that Kansas is expected to collect based on the action of the legislature this year. For the year starting July 1, the number is $307.9 million, which is 40 percent of the five-year total.

Someone asked me whether the tax bill increases taxes on the middle class. It’s hard to answer that question, as several changes were made. Here’s what each change means:

Sales tax: On July the sales tax rate will be less than it has been for the last three years, but more than if the legislature had done nothing. Whether this counts as a tax increase or not is solely in the eye of the beholder. The new tax law, as the chart shows, brings in more sales tax revenue than the law we’ve been living under, so I think that’s a tax increase.

Sales taxes are commonly thought of as regressive, meaning the burden falls disproportionally on the poor or low income. To help with this, the legislature partially restored the food sales tax credit program. This is estimated to refund a little more than $20 million to low-income Kansans to compensate for the sales tax on food.

The mechanism of the food sales tax credit is clunky. One has to file an income tax return to receive it. Further, the credit is now non-refundable, meaning that it can only be used to offset an income tax liability. In tax year 2010, when it was refundable, this credit was worth $59 million to Kansans, but is estimated to provide only $20 million in relief next year.

Itemized deductions: Except for charitable deductions, the value of itemized deductions is being reduced. It’s called a “haircut,” and the amount is 30 percent next year, and increasing after that.

For example, if a taxpayer has a deduction of $1,000, the value of that deduction is either $30 or $49, depending on whether the taxpayer is in the 3.0 percent or 4.9 percent marginal tax brackets. After the haircut, the deduction is reduced to $700, meaning the value of that deduction is either $21 or $34.30. This change to the law is estimated to bring in an additional $114.6 million next year, and $663.8 million over five years.

Not everyone itemizes deductions. At the federal level, only about 30 percent of returns use itemized deductions. So for 70 percent of filers, the value of the standard deduction is greater than their itemized deductions. For these, this tax law change has no impact.

Standard deduction: Most taxpayers use the standard deduction. Last year, Kansas increased the amount of this deduction, meaning that everyone paid less tax. Currently, it is set at $9,000. The new lax law changes that to $7,500 for married taxpayers filing jointly and to $5,500 for single heads-of-household. This means taxes will rise for most people. A family will pay tax on an additional $1,500 of income, which is an extra $45 or $103.50 in taxes. This change is estimated to raise an additional $56.3 million next year, and $311.1 million over five years.

Tax rate reduction: The new tax bill reduces tax rates. For tax year 2013, the two marginal income tax rates are 3.0 percent and 4.9 percent. The law calls for these to be reduced slowly over the next five years. This change in tax law is estimated reduce revenue by $35.2 million next year, and by $1,195.5 million over five years.

Rural Opportunity Zones: This program provides income tax relief to those who move to eligible counties. Its expansion is estimated to reduce tax revenue by $10.3 million over five years.

Food sales tax rebate: As explained above, this program is expected to reduce revenue to the state by $110.5 million over five years.

So whose taxes went up, and whose went down? The law changes several provisions, and in different directions. None of the changes are particularly large in magnitude, unless you spend a lot or earn a lot. Most people will be paying a different mix of taxes, which will influence their behavior.

The bottom line, though is this: Tax revenue flowing to the state of Kansas is rising.

AFP-Kansas statement on 2013 legislative session

Americans for Prosperity-Kansas remarks on the completion of the 2013 session of the Kansas Legislature.

Americans for Prosperity

TOPEKA, KAN. — The Kansas chapter of the grassroots group Americans for Prosperity released the following statement in response to the close of the 2013 Legislative Session:

“In the last few years, legislators have made great strides to bring the state of Kansas on a path toward fiscal responsibility,” said AFP-Kansas state director Jeff Glendening. “The budget for the next fiscal year included a slight reduction in spending that certainly was a step in the right direction, but there is still work to be done in reducing the size and scope of our state government. The budget provision that limits the growth of state spending to 2 percent per year is an important step to keep spending under control.

“With regard to the statewide sales tax rate, however, it is unfortunate that legislators chose to impose a higher sales tax rate on Kansans. While the Legislature showed respect for taxpayers by lowering the overly burdensome sales tax rate, it was only a partial victory for Kansans’ pocketbooks because the rate did not return to the previously promised level of 5.7 percent.

“Additionally, we applaud work by legislators to make Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare more difficult to implement in Kansas. The passage of the proviso requiring legislative approval on any Medicaid expansion the Governor would wish to put in place simply adds a necessary layer of protection from the further expansion of ObamaCare.

“It’s disappointing that legislators failed to defund Common Core, with so many Kansans expressing serious concerns with these federal standards. We look forward to legislators re-addressing this issue when they return to Topeka in 2014.

“In the last weeks of the session, hundreds of Americans for Prosperity-Kansas activists sent emails to their elected officials. We applaud those legislators who listened to their constituents, and we send our sincere thanks to the citizens who spoke up throughout the session on overspending, paycheck protection, judicial selection reform and Medicaid expansion. Their efforts were instrumental in leading to legislative victories in these key areas.”

Original is here.

Spending and taxing in the states

Tax

In the current policy debate in Kansas, we often compare our state with Texas. The prevailing themes sounded by Democrats and other spenders include that because Texas has no income tax, its other taxes (sales and property) are higher. We also hear that Texas is “atop a sea of oil” from which the state collects a gusher of tax revenue.

But what are the facts? Regarding taxation: In 2011 Kansas state government collected $2,378 in taxes for each person. Texas collected $1,682. We see that Texas collects far less tax per person than does Kansas. Texas may have higher sales or property taxes than Kansas, but the total tax burden in Texas is lower.

Spending follows the same pattern. In 2011 Kansas state government spent $5,115 per person in total, with $1,974 in general fund spending and $130 in bond spending. For Texas the total was $3,718 spent per person in total, with $1,654 in general fund spending and $50 in bond spending.

The lower level of spending means Texas has a less burdensome state government, which allows more money to remain in the productive private sector. In Kansas, we spend more on government.

The “sea of oil” and bountiful severance tax revenue: In 2011 Kansas, which has a severance tax of its own, collected $42.54 in this form of tax for each person. How much did Texas collect from its severance tax? $104.29 per person. The difference between the two — $61.75 per person per year — is only a small portion of the difference between Kansas and Texas taxation.

To see how your state compares with others in spending, use the interactive visualization below. To use the visualization, click the check boxes to add or remove states and years from the chart. Use the visualization below, or click here to open it in a new window. Data is from National Association of State Budget Officers and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA); visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.


(alternate link to the above table)


(alternate link to the above table)

Kansas Senate and staggered terms

Would staggered terms in the Kansas Senate make a difference?

Kansas Capitol

The tax debate in Kansas centers on a promise made to voters: That the sales tax increase will be allowed to expire this year, as current law specifies. Members of the House of Representatives seem to have a solemn grip on this promise, while senators are more willing to keep the current high sales tax rate in exchange for lowering other taxes (or something else).

With two-year terms, all 125 members of the House will face the electorate next year. None of the 40 senators will, as they have three years until their next election to their four-year terms.

Does the distance to the next election make a difference? Kansas is uncommon, but not unique, in that it has legislators that are elected to lengthy terms, but not in a staggered fashion. (See Ballotpedia, Length of terms of state senators.)

California, for example, has 40 senators like Kansas, but their terms are staggered so that half the positions are up for election every two years. But in Kansas, all 40 senate seats are elected at the same time.

So in Kansas next year, all House members are facing elections, while no Senators face the same scrutiny by voters.

Does that account for the difference in positions taken by the two chambers? In three years, when senators face voters, will this year be remembered?

Should Kansas change the senate so that terms are staggered? Yes, I think so. Let’s elect odd-numbered districts in one election cycle, and even-numbered the next. In 2014, one of these groups — half the senate seats — will be elected to two-year terms to get the stagger started. Flip a coin to see which group starts.

In Kansas, it’s more important to be right than quick

Kansas Legislature

It’s more important to finish the legislative session with policies that will work to the benefit of Kansas rather than to finish on any particular day.

Legislators need to finish the session with a tax plan that does not increase the amount of tax revenue flowing to the state. As explained in Taxes and state income growth, “taxes used to fund general expenditures are associated with significant, negative effects on income growth.”

Without a doubt, there are ways to collect taxes that are better than others. But lower taxes are the most important goal.

It’s important that the legislature resolve these issues in a way that positions Kansas for economic growth, rather than retaining the policies that have led to stagnation compared to other states.

Personal income growth, Kansas and selected states, 2013

Here’s what the Kansas Legislature needs to do:

  • Keep the current sales tax rate.
  • Eliminate sales tax on food.
  • Reduce individual income and corporate income tax rates.
  • Get serious about reducing spending.

It would be best if we could accomplish these goals sooner rather than later. But it’s penny wise and pound foolish to object to the $45,000 per day cost of running the legislature as long as we are making progress towards these goals.

Kansas has a spending problem, not a tax problem

By Kansas Policy Institute.

The data could not be clearer.  Kansas has higher state taxes than many states because Kansas spends a lot more than those states.  Every state has public schools, highways, social services, safety net programs, etc.  But some states find ways to provide those services at a much better price.  They spend less and therefore tax less (and grow more).

Kansas spends 34 percent more than the states with no income tax, in both the General Fund and All State Spending.  As a result, Kansas has to tax residents at much higher levels than most states.

Opponents of tax reform have tried to claim that oil and gas severance taxes in Texas make up for their lack on income tax, but that clearly isn’t true.  Texas only has a $94 per-capita advantage over Kansas on severance taxes. Texas’ real advantage is that it simply doesn’t spend as much as Kansas.

Our dynamic analysis of Kansas’ 2012 tax reform showed that only a one-time reduction of $186 in General Fund per-capita spending was needed to balance the budget.  Kansas could do that and still be the high-spender in the region.  Instead, many legislators and the administration are trying to make up most of the budget gap by raising the sales tax and other revenue increases.

The argument is that consumption taxes are less damaging to the economy than income taxes.  That’s true, but using a sales tax increase to avoid dealing with the real problem of excess spending is foisting an unnecessary tax on citizens that will damage the economy.

The House and Senate budget proposals do have some small spending reductions, and it is certainly a daunting task for legislators to lead real spending reform; they have to face unending requests for more spending and an entrenched bureaucracy that often makes it difficult for reform-minded legislators to get the information they need.  And the prospect of re-election is ever-present for most.

But even this late in the session, solutions exist that would avoid a sales tax increase without arbitrary spending reductions.  Our Legislator’s Guide to Delivering Better Service at a Better Price (published in February) shows how to use existing cash balances to close the budget gap and ‘buy time’ to implement thoughtful spending reforms.

Even if the current budget is balanced with a tax increase this year (which, at this writing, seems likely), the spending problem isn’t going away.  There are some small spending reductions in the current plans but every plan allows overall spending to continue to increase…while further reducing income taxes in future years.  Simply put, the problem only gets worse the longer it is ignored.

Taxes and state income growth

Taxes flowing to the capitol

If Kansas wants to experience growth in income, it’s important that the legislature finish the session without raising taxes. The paper The Robust Relationship between Taxes and U.S. State Income Growth by W. Robert Reed, published in National Tax Journal, establishes a link between high taxes and negative effects on income growth. The abstract of the research report explains:

I estimate the relationship between taxes and income growth using data from 1970 to 1999 and the forty-eight continental U.S. states. I find that taxes used to fund general expenditures are associated with significant, negative effects on income growth. This finding is generally robust across alternative variable specifications, alternative estimation procedures, alternative ways of dividing the data into “five-year” periods, and across different time periods and Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) regions, though state-specific estimates vary widely. I also provide an explanation for why previous research has had difficulty identifying this “robust” relationship.

As Kansas must produce a balanced budget each year, reducing taxes means reducing spending. Therefore, Kansas needs to get serious about reducing government spending. Some ideas may be found in the article In Kansas, there are ways to reduce the cost of government.

(Although the state must balance its budget each year, Kansas has managed to accumulate over $16 billion in debt, about $5,591 for each person. See Kansas Total Indebtedness Exceeds $16 Billion.)

The full article is on taxation and income growth is The Robust Relationship between Taxes and U.S. State Income Growth.

What Kansas should do

As the Kansas Legislature struggles to end its 2013 session, budgetary and taxation issues remain to be resolved. It’s important that the legislature resolve these issues in a way that positions Kansas for economic growth, rather than retaining the policies that have led to stagnation compared to other states.

Personal income growth, Kansas and selected states, 2013

Here’s what the Kansas Legislature needs to do:

  • Keep the current sales tax rate.
  • Eliminate sales tax on food.
  • Reduce individual income and corporate income tax rates.
  • Get serious about reducing spending.

The legislature should reduce Kansas income tax rates by an amount that would be revenue-neutral, so that state spending does not grow. This moves Kansas towards more of a “Fair Tax” model, which many economists agree is better than taxing income. Elimination of the sales tax on food removes much of the regressive nature of the sales tax.

To the extent that the legislature believes it needs other funds, take it from transportation funding. We’ve spent a lot on roads and highways in recent years. It’s enough for now.

Another important thing the legislature needs to do is get serious about reducing government spending. Kansas lost an important chance to save money — although a relatively small amount — when school choice programs failed to pass. These programs, across the country, save state and local governments money. Unfortunately, Kansas legislative leaders did not use this argument.

Job growth, Kansas and selected states, 2013

How to save

In 2011 the Kansas Legislature lost three opportunities to save money and improve the operations of state government. Three bills, each with this goal, were passed by the House of Representatives, but each failed to pass through the moderate-controlled Senate, or had its contents stripped and replaced with different legislation.

Each of these bills represented a lost opportunity for state government services to be streamlined, delivered more efficiently, or measured and managed. These goals, while always important, are now essential for the success of Kansas government and the state’s economy.

One bill was called the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, another would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships, and another would have created performance measures for state agencies and report that information to the public. More information on these bills is at Kansas budget solution overlooked.

We have to wonder why these bills — or similar measures — were not introduced and advanced this year when the opposition in the Senate is weaker. These are the types of measures we need to take as a state.

Kansas needs to focus on growth when wrapping up session

Oil painting "Tragic Prelude" (1938-40) by John Steuart Curry (1897-1946)

As the Kansas Legislature prepares to end its 2013 session, budgetary and taxation issues remain to be resolved. It’s important that the legislature resolve these issues in a way that positions Kansas for economic growth, rather than retaining the policies that have led to stagnation compared to other states.

First, let’s stop talking about the need to “pay for tax cuts.” The only way in which tax cuts have a cost is if you believe that your income belongs first to government, and then to you. While that schema is preferred by Kansas Progressives, it’s contrary to freedom and destructive to jobs and prosperity. Kansas will be better off if Kansans are able to control more of their own spending, rather than having government spend it for them.

Second, we must remember that the projected “holes in the budget” or deficits have two moving parts: Income and spending. Any deficit or surplus is produced equally by both factors. A reduction in income to the government produces a deficit only if government chooses to keep spending.

Third, let’s stop talking about “irresponsible tax cuts” and how cutting taxes is an “experiment.” To proceed as Kansas has — that would be irresponsible, as we know that Kansas has been underperforming relative to other states. No experimentation is needed. We know that Kansas has not done well.

Fourth, we need to make sure that everyone is starting from the same set of facts. Here’s one example: While critics of the new Kansas tax policy focus on the elimination of state income taxes on certain forms of business organization, marginal tax rates were lowered for everyone. Additionally, the standard deduction was increased for everyone, meaning that zero tax is paid on a larger share of everyone’s income.

But one tax was raised. Kansas had a program that rebated sales tax paid on food. This was limited to those with modest incomes or over a certain age. It is generally recognized that the sales tax is a regressive tax, meaning that those with low incomes pay a larger share of their income in tax. Reducing this perceived inequity was the goal of the credit program.

In recognition of this, Kansas should eliminate the sales tax on food, especially if we keep the current high sales tax rate. This eliminates the clunky tax credit program and lets everyone save on food taxes every day, not just at tax filing time.

Critics also say that taxes were raised on some low income families. This argument is based on some tax credit programs that were eliminated, such as the tax credit for child and dependent care expenses, and another tax credit for child day care expenses. It’s important to remember that these programs were implemented as a tax credits, and they are properly categorized as welfare spending accomplished through the tax system. If we want to keep this welfare spending, let’s do it some other way. Spending through the tax system complicates the understanding of government finances.

What Kansas should do

Here’s what the Kansas Legislature needs to do: Keep the current sales tax rate, eliminate sales tax on food, and reduce individual income and corporate income tax rates. Reduce the income tax rates by an amount that would be revenue-neutral, so that state spending does not grow. This moves us towards more of a “Fair Tax” model, which many economists agree is better than taxing income. Elimination of the sales tax on food removes much of the regressivity of the sales tax.

To the extent that the legislature believes it needs other funds, take it from transportation funding. We’ve spent a lot on roads and highways in recent years. It’s enough for now.

Another important thing the legislature needs to do is get serious about reducing government spending. Kansas lost an important chance to save money — although a relatively small amount — when school choice programs failed to pass. These programs, across the country, save state and local governments money. Unfortunately, Kansas legislative leaders did not use this argument.

More ways to save: In 2011 the Kansas Legislature lost three opportunities to save money and improve the operations of state government. Three bills, each with this goal, were passed by the House of Representatives, but each failed to pass through the moderate-controlled Senate, or had its contents stripped and replaced with different legislation.

Each of these bills represented a lost opportunity for state government services to be streamlined, delivered more efficiently, or measured and managed. These goals, while always important, are now essential for the success of Kansas government and the state’s economy.

One bill was called the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, another would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships, and another would have created performance measures for state agencies and report that information to the public. More information on these bills is at Kansas budget solution overlooked.

We have to wonder why these bills — or similar measures — were not introduced and advanced this year when the opposition in the Senate is weaker. These are the types of measures we need to take as a state.

Sales tax increase isn’t necessary

By Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute.

Tax

What a difference a year makes. Last May, Governor Brownback signed historic tax reform legislation that would reduce state income taxes by roughly $800 million in its first full year. As the legislature returns this week, the debate is about how much of the last year’s tax reform will be wiped out. Instead of reducing the cost of government to implement tax reform this year, Governor Brownback and the Senate want to make the 6.3 percent sales tax permanent and eliminate the income tax deduction for home mortgage interest; they also propose 0.5 percent reduction in the income tax on the first $15,000 of taxable income in 2014 and a reduction in all marginal rates beginning in 2017 (after a billion dollar increase in sales taxes) with revenue growth above 4 percent being used to reduce rates thereafter and eventually eliminate income taxes.

The House plan isn’t perfect but it’s better. It allows the sales tax rate to drop to 5.7 percent as promised, proportionally reduces income tax deductions, has more spending reductions and a formula that gradually eliminates the income tax altogether, using annual revenue growth above 2 percent to buy down rates.

The goal of tax reform is to reduce the overall tax burden, not shift it. Consumption taxes are better than income taxes, but taxes will still be too high (and economic growth impaired) until we deal with the real problem of excess spending. But even some self-identified fiscal conservatives don’t want to reduce spending.

Part of their resistance is that many people equate spending less with service cuts, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Per-resident spending varies greatly across all fifty states. Yet, every state has schools, highways, social programs, etc.; some simply do so more efficiently. States with an income tax spend 44 percent more per-resident than those without an income tax. States that spend less, tax less (and grow more). Done well, states can spend less and actually deliver the same or better services.

In fact, Kansas would have spent $2.9 billion less last year if spending were at the same level as the average state without an income tax.

Our “Legislator’s Guide to Delivering Better Service at a Better Price” shows legislators how to use existing cash reserves to ‘buy time’ and implement thoughtful efficiency measures to reduce costs over time. It can be done and it can be done now.

The problem with implementing income tax reductions is one of politics, not economics. As Thomas Sowell says, “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”

Here’s hoping legislators make taxpayer-focused decisions based on sound economics when they return to Topeka this week.

A version of this appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

photo credit: 401(K) 2013 via photopin cc

Kansas must reform KPERS

New research from Kansas Policy Institute reinforces what some have known but many have discounted: The Kansas Public Employee Retirement System is in poor financial shape, and it’s going to cost Kansans a lot to fix it. It is urgent that we enact substantive and meaningful reforms now, rather than later. KPI writes the following in introducing its new study Preventing Bankruptcy in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

Preventing Bankruptcy in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System

It turns out that the $9.2 billion hole found in Kansas’ public pension program will balloon under new accounting standards used by governments across the country.

Under the current standards, Kansas’ pension system (KPERS) is funded at 59.2%, 80% is a generally accepted barometer of pension health. These numbers demonstrate that Kansas has one of the worst funded pension systems in the country.

Unfortunately, the new standards will only make things worse as our funding ratio will drop to 46.1 percent under the new standards.

Each person in Kansas will have to pay $3,285 to fill our KPERS hole under the old standards and things will only get worse.

The executive summary of the study follows.

Recent evidence reveals that the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) is one of the most underfunded pension plans in the country (59 percent funding ratio at the end of 2011) and that there is a high probability the plan will not have sufficient funds to meet pension obligations over the next decade. This funding ratio will deteriorate further under the new accounting standards discussed below. The solution to this funding crises is to bring pension benefits into line with the costs of pension plans for individual employees. A number of states have successfully enacted structural reforms in their state pension plans to accomplish this objective, including defined contribution and hybrid plans.

Unfortunately the recent reforms enacted in KPERS creating a cash balance plan for new employees fails to accomplish that objective. This study provides a roadmap for pension reform in Kansas, the major conclusions of the study are:

1. Use the New GASB Accounting Standard

The new GASB standards to be implemented in 2013 and 2014 will require realistic actuarial assumptions and reporting. It is time for Kansas and other states too incorporate this more realistic data in transparent and timely reporting and to use this data in policy formulation.

2. Enact Structural Reforms

Using more realistic actuarial assumptions, via new GASB standards, most states, including Kansas, will find that they face a funding crises in their state and local pension plans. Kansas legislators must follow the lead of state and local governments that have successfully replaced these defined benefit pension plans with defined contribution or hybrid plans.

3. Bring Public Sector Pension Benefits In Line with Private Pension Benefits

Public sector workers receive wages and salaries equal to or greater than comparable employees in the private sector. The pension and other post employment benefits received by public sector workers are significantly above that received by private sector workers. The outcome of recent pension reforms is to bring convergence of pension benefits in the public and private sector.

4. Legal Challenges to Public Sector Pension Reform

Structural reforms enacted to solve the funding crises in state and local pension plans have been and will continue to be subject to legal challenges, and Kansas is well positioned to meet these legal challenges.

5. Bankruptcy, Not Bailouts

In Kansas there will be tremendous pressure to bailout failed state and local pension systems to avoid bankruptcy. Bailouts of pension plans create all the wrong incentives. If state and local governments cannot manage their pension plans and other financial affairs bankruptcy forces them to address these issues.

6. Launch an Education Campaign

Successful pension reform in other states such as Utah and Rhode Island has required a bi-partisan effort in the legislature and support from all the stakeholders. Generating this support for pension reform in Kansas will require an education campaign. Kansas citizens must understand that the current defined benefit pension plan is not sustainable. Solving the funding crisis in KPERS will require burden sharing by all the stakeholders, including current employees, retirees and new employees.

The full study is at Preventing Bankruptcy in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

Jonah Goldberg, ‘Liberal Fascism’ author, to speak

A press release from Americans for Prosperity Foundation — Kansas. This will be an informative event. I’ll be there.

For Immediate Release — May 6, 2013
Contact: Jen Rezac, 785-354-4237

AFPF-Kansas to host policy luncheon on government overreach, high taxation, over spending

Topeka, Kan. — The Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity Foundation is pleased to announce that bestselling author and columnist Jonah Goldberg will speak in Topeka this week.

Goldberg, an American Enterprise Institute fellow, will address issues of government overreach, and heavy reliance on government, as well as high taxation and over spending.

“Americans are waking up to the fact that our federal government is encroaching further and further into our daily lives,” said AFPF-Kansas State Director Jeff Glendening. “We’re excited to bring Jonah to Kansas to speak to our AFPF citizen leaders, as well as legislators, about this issue and the effects of high taxation and government over spending on everyday citizens.”

Those attending the AFPF-Kansas luncheon will also have the opportunity to hear from AFP Foundation State Policy Manager Nicole Kaeding on Medicaid expansion, and Wichita’s leading conservative talker, radio host Joseph Ashby.

Friday’s luncheon is open to the public, but registration is required. To attend, please register online at afpfks-jonahgoldberg.eventbrite.com.

For those in Wichita, there is a bus trip available. The bus will leave Wichita at 8:30 am and return at 4:00 pm. More information is available when you register.

To boost jobs and prosperity, Kansas should cut spending

In order to increase jobs and prosperity in Kansas, we should seek to reduce state spending as much as possible, thereby leaving more resources in the productive private sector.

Kansas Capitol

In the debate over reducing and eventually eliminating the income tax in Kansas, those who oppose income tax reduction say it will simply shift the burden of taxation to others, in the form of sales and property taxes. This is true only if we decide to keep spending at the same level. We could cut spending in response to reduced revenue, but it is argued that state spending is a good thing, a source of wealth that Kansas should continue to rely on.

The idea that government spending is a generator of wealth and prosperity is true only beyond a certain minimal level of spending. We benefit from government provision of things like national defense, public safety, and a court system. (There are those who believe that even these could be provided by the private sector rather than markets.) But once government grows beyond these minimal core functions, it is virtually certain that markets — that is, free people trading in the private sector — can produce a wider variety of better goods and services at lower cost.

We also have to realize that government spending has a cost that must be paid. Advocates of government spending point to the salary paid to a government worker and how that money gets spent in the economy, producing jobs. These advocates, however, do not recognize the source of the worker’s salary, which is money taken from someone through taxation (or through borrowing and inflation at the federal government level). The loss of that money to government has a cost in the form of the reduced economic activity of those who paid the taxes.

If this loss was economically equivalent to the gain, we might be unconcerned. But there is a huge cost in taxation and government inefficiency that makes government spending a negative-sum proposition.

Another fundamental problem with government taxation and spending is that it is not voluntary. In markets, people voluntarily trade with each other because they feel it will make them better off. That’s not the case with government. I do not pay my taxes because I feel doing so makes me better off, other than for that small part that goes to the basic core functions. Instead, I pay my taxes so that I can stay out of jail. This fundamentally coercive nature of government spending gets it off to a bad start.

Then, ask how that money is spent: Who decides, and how? Jeffrey A. Miron explains: “The political process, alas, does not lend itself to objective balancing of costs and benefits. Most programs benefit well-defined interest groups (the elderly, teachers unions, environmentalists, defense contractors) while imposing relatively small costs per person on everyone else. Thus the winners from excess spending fight harder than the losers, and spending far exceeds the level suggested by cost-benefit considerations.” (Slash Expenditure to Balance the Budget)

An example in Kansas is the special interest group that benefits from highway construction. They formed a group called Economic Lifelines. The group says it was formed to “provide the grassroots support for Comprehensive Transportation Programs in Kansas.” Its motto is “Stimulating economic vitality through leadership in infrastructure development.”

A look at the membership role, however, lets us know whose economic roots are being stimulated. Membership is stocked with names like AFL-CIO, Foley Equipment Company, Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City, Kansas Aggregate & Concrete Associations, Kansas Asphalt Pavement Association, Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas Society of Professional Engineers, and PCA South Central Cement Promotion Association. Groups and companies like these have an economic interest in building more roads and highways, whether or not the state actually needs them. They would happily build a highway to nowhere.

As Miron explained, groups like this will spend almost unlimited money in order to receive appropriations from the government. It’s easier than competing in markets, and that’s a big problem with government spending — decision are made by the centralized few, not the many dispersed actors in markets.

Some argue that without government spending, certain types of goods and services will not be provided. A commonly cited example is education, which accounts for about half of Kansas general fund spending. Would there be schools if not for government? Of course there would be. There are many non-government schools now, even though those who patronize them must first pay for the government schools before paying for their own schools. And there were many schools and educated, literate Americans before government decided it need to monopolize education.

Still, it is argued that government spending on education is needed because everyone benefits from an educated citizenry. Tom G. Palmer explains: “Thus, widespread education generates public benefits beyond the benefits to the persons who are educated, allegedly justifying state provision and financing through general tax revenues. But despite the benefits to others, which may be great or small, the benefits to the persons educated are so great for them that they induce sufficient investment in education. Public benefits don’t always generate the defection of free-riders.”

Those who still argue that government spending in education is for the good of everyone will also need to defend the sagging and declining performance of public schools, persuading us that government schools are producing an educated citizenry. They also need to defend the capture of Kansas spending on schools by special interest groups that benefit from this spending.

Back to the basics: Government spending as economic booster is the theory of the Keynesians, including the administration of Barack Obama. Miron, from the same article cited above, explains the problems with this:

That brings us to the second argument for higher spending: the Keynesian claim that spending stimulates the economy. If this is accurate, it might seem the U.S. should continue its high-spending ways until the recession is over.

But the Keynesian argument for spending is also problematic. To begin with, the Keynesian view implies that any spending — whether for vital infrastructure or bridges to nowhere — is equally good at stimulating the economy. This might be true in the short term (emphasis on might), but it cannot be true over the long haul, and many “temporary” programs last for decades. So stimulus spending should be for good projects, not “digging ditches,” yet the number of good projects is small given how much is already being spent.

More broadly, the Keynesian model of the economy relies on strong assumptions, so we should not embrace it without empirical confirmation. In fact, economists find weak or contradictory evidence that higher government spending spurs the economy.

Substantial research, however, does find that tax cuts stimulate the economy and that fiscal adjustments — attempts to reduce deficits by raising taxes or lowering expenditure — work better when they focus on tax cuts. This does not fit the Keynesian view, but it makes perfect sense given that high taxes and ill-justified spending make the economy less productive.

The implication is that the U.S. may not face a tradeoff between shrinking the deficit and fighting the recession: it can do both by cutting wasteful spending (Medicare, Social Security, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for starters) and by cutting taxes.

The reduced spending will make the economy more productive by scaling government back to appropriate levels. Lower tax rates will stimulate in the short run by improving consumer and firm liquidity, and they will enhance economic growth in the long run by improving the incentives to work, save, and invest.

Deficits will therefore shrink and the economy will boom. The rest of the world will gladly hold our debt. The U.S. will re-emerge as a beacon of small government and robust capitalism, so foreign investment (and talented people, if immigration policy allows) will come flooding in.

In Kansas, we need to scale back government to appropriate levels, as Miron recommends. That means cutting spending, as that is the measure of the size of government. That will allow us to cut tax rates, starting with the income tax. Then we in Kansas can start to correct the long record of sub-par economic performance compared to other states and bring prosperity and jobs here.