In Kansas, a governor is proud of savings and efficiencies.
Can you guess which Kansas governor and administration did these things?
Looked for future highway projects “where it seemed the amount of money set aside exceeded the need, or where the scope of individual projects had changed,” and took credit for $278 million in savings.
Took credit for saving $67 million by adjusting the inflation rates used in estimating future project costs.
Took credit for $306 million in savings by spending reserve funds, deciding that money wasn’t needed just “sitting in the bank.”
Refinanced bonds so that payments would be lower for a few years, but higher afterwards.
Here’s a table of the three votes taken in the Kansas House of Representatives in February and April on HB 2044, titled “Establishing the KanCare bridge to a healthy Kansas program and providing medicaid reimbursement for clubhouse rehabilitation services.” Medicaid expansion, in other words. This expansion is a key part of Obamacare, but not all states have not adopted the plan.
Vote 3 on April 3 was to override the governor’s veto. 84 votes are required for a successful override.
A public opinion poll asks whether Kansans are concerned about school spending, but leaves us wondering why they are concerned.
A public opinion poll commissioned by Kansas Center for Economic Growth asks questions so vague that the results could be interpreted in many ways.
The March 30, 2017 press release on the poll announced: “Nearly all Kansas voters are worried the state is not investing enough public education. Eighty-five percent of Kansas voters feel concerned about the state’s level of spending on public education.”1
“Q.5 Would you say you are very concerned, somewhat concerned, a little concerned, or not at all concerned about the state’s level of spending on public education?”
(The reported results are: Very concerned 63%, Somewhat concerned 20%, A little concerned 5%, Not at all concerned 8%, (Don’t know/refused) 3%)
Let me ask you: Are you concerned about the level of spending on public education? I am. And there might be many reasons why Kansans are concerned.
Some people think the state spends too much
Some people think the state spends too little
Many people know that school spending is a large portion of the state’s budget, so naturally they are concerned, no matter if their opinion is that spending is too high or too low
Some people are concerned that state spending is misdirected and inefficient
There could be other reasons why people are concerned about the level of state spending on education. But this question does not give any guidance as to why people are concerned.
Later in the survey another question was asked: “Q.12 As you may know, the Kansas Supreme Court recently ruled, unanimously, that the state’s spending on public education was unconstitutionally low and needed to be fixed by June 30th. With this in mind, would you say you are very concerned, somewhat concerned, a little concerned, or not at all concerned about the state’s level of spending on public education?”
Still, the question did not ask whether people are concerned because spending is too high or too low. As a result, the answers to the survey questions can be used to advance nearly any agenda.
There has been another vote on this bill, and the table has been updated. Click here.
Here’s a table of the two votes taken in the Kansas House of Representatives in February on HB 2044, titled “Establishing the KanCare bridge to a healthy Kansas program and providing medicaid reimbursement for clubhouse rehabilitation services.” Medicaid expansion, in other words. This expansion is a key part of Obamacare, but not all states have not adopted the plan.
Here’s a table of the two votes taken in the Kansas Senate this week on HB 2044, titled “Establishing the KanCare bridge to a healthy Kansas program and providing medicaid reimbursement for clubhouse rehabilitation services.” Medicaid expansion, in other words. This expansion is a key part of Obamacare, but not all states have not adopted the plan.
A public interest group makes claims about Kansas roads and highways that are not supported by data. It’s not even close.
A fundraising email sent by Save Kansas Coalition makes claims about Kansas roads and highways that readers will recognize as a few of the standard complaints common among Kansas spending and taxation advocates. It’s charitable, though, to call them complaints, because they are actually outright lies.
“Budget cuts and sweeps from the Bank of KDOT have decimated our state’s transportation infrastructure investments.” Decimate means “to reduce drastically” or “to cause great destruction or harm to.”1
Reading that, you might think that spending has been cut by — how much? 10 percent? That doesn’t sound like decimating. 50 percent? 75 percent? That’s more like what decimating means.
So what is the story on Kansas Department of Transportation spending? Nearby is a chart. It shows amounts of money actually spent on road and highway programs, according to KDOT’s annual financial reports. SKC is correct, partially. There have been sweeps from KDOT to the general fund. Those are not a good idea, even though they’ve been practiced for many years. But as shown nearby and in more detail at Spending on roads in Kansas spending has not declined. It been up and down a little, but is higher than it was in 2007 and 2008, before the recession.
In particular, spending on maintenance has been fairly level until dipping a bit in 2016. Spending on preservation rose rapidly until dipping, also in 2016. It’s still twice as high as in the pre-recession years of 2007 and 2008.
Does this sound like spending has been decimated?
By the way, there are sweeps from sales tax to the highway fund. Nearby is another chart showing how much sales tax was transferred to the highway fund. In 2006 the transfer was $98,914. In 2016 it was $517,698, an increase of $418,784 or 423 percent.
SKC also writes: “Whereas we formerly maintained 1200 miles of roadway each year, the state now can only afford 200 miles of upkeep. That means road repair once every 50 years!”
Each year KDOT publishes a list of the road projects underway. I’ve obtained this data in machine-readable form for five years, and I present the relevant data in a nearby table.
(A few definitions: According to KDOT, “The Preservation program protects the public’s investment in its highway system by maintaining the ‘as built’ condition of roads and bridges. Projects in this group range from roadway surfacing rehabilitation and bridge repairs to pavement and bridge replacement.”2 For Modernization, KDOT says “Projects under this program are designed to enhance safety and/or improve roadways by adding shoulders, flattening hills, straightening curves and upgrading intersections on already existing roadways.”3)
While SKC isn’t specific in what it means by “maintained” or “upkeep,” it’s possible it is referring to the category “Non-Interstate Resurfacing (PMS 1R).” As you can see in the table, the number of miles in the program has risen for the past three years, and is far above the 200 miles SKC claims we can afford.
The claims made by Save Kansas Coalition don’t add up. Ironically, SKC’s website promises “A willingness to engage in meaningful discussion, in-depth research and critical analysis is vital to the health of the Kansas economy.” But nothing in the record of relevant data supports these claims — unless SKC has secret data it isn’t willing to share.
Kansas revenue estimates are frequently in the news and have become a political issue. Here’s a look at them over the past decades.
A favorite criticism of liberals and progressives across the nation is that in Kansas, actual revenues to the state’s general fund have fallen short of projections, month after month. Reading most newspaper reports and editorials, one might think that these negative variances are a new phenomenon, and one relished by the Left. As many as a dozen articles on this topic have appeared in the New York Times in the past two years.
The revenue estimates in Kansas are produced by a body known as the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group. It consists of one member each from the Division of the Budget, Department of Revenue, Legislative Research Department, and one consulting economist each from the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Wichita State University.
As described: “This group meets each spring and fall. Before December 4th, the group makes its initial estimate for the budget year and revises the estimate for the current year. By April 20th, the fall estimate is reviewed, along with any additional data. A revised estimate is published, which the Legislature may use in adjusting expenditures, if necessary.”1
The estimates are important because the legislature and governor are required to use them when formulating budgets and spending plans. If the estimates are high, meaning that revenue is less than expected, it’s possible that the legislature or (more likely) the governor will need to make spending cuts. (The other alternative is that leftover funds from prior years may be used, if available.)
If, on the other hand, the estimates are too low, meaning that revenue is higher than expected, the state has collected too much tax revenue. In this case, the state should refund the excess to taxpayers. Some states do that, notably Colorado, although residents may vote to let the state keep the excess.
Some states have true rainy day funds, and the excess revenue might be used to build that fund’s balance. In a true rainy day fund, the fund’s balances can be spent only during specific sets of circumstances.
But in Kansas, the excess revenue is simply called the “ending balance” and is available to spend at the legislature’s whim. That’s what happened in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, when the state spent $340 million and $308 million, respectively, of the ending balance rather than cut spending.
What has been the history of the revenue estimates compared to actual revenue? First, know that making these estimates is not easy. Some of the inputs to the process include the inflation rate in future years, interest rates in future years, and the prices of oil and natural gas in the future. If someone knew these values with any certainty, they could earn huge profits by trading in futures markets.
The state makes the revenue estimates available.2 I’ve presented the results since 1975 in a chart at the end of this article. For each year, two numbers are presented. One it the difference from the Original Estimate and actual revenue. The other is the difference from the Adjusted Final Estimate and actual revenue.
We can see that in fiscal years 2014 and 2016, the variance of the estimates is negative, meaning that revenue was lower than the estimates. The magnitude of these variances, however, is not out of line with the magnitude of the variances of other years, either positive or negative.
In fact, the negative variances — revenue shortfalls, in other words — in the periods 2002 to 2003 and 2009 to 2010 were generally much larger in magnitude than those of recent years. This is of interest as Duane Goossen, who was the budget director during these periods, is a prominent critic of the recent revenue shortfalls. Evidently, he has forgotten the difficulty of creating these estimates.
While Goossen along with newspaper reporters and editorialists use the negative revenue estimate variances as a political weapon against the governor and conservatives, it is in the interest of the people of Kansas that revenue estimates be as accurate as possible. In an effort to produce more accurate revenue estimates, Governor Brownback created a commission to study the issue. That group released its report in October.3
John Todd makes an appearance on The Voice of Reason with Andy Hooser to talk about proposed legislation in Kansas that would be harmful to private property rights. View below, or click here to view on YouTube. Recorded on March 16, 2017.
For more information on this important issue, see In Kansas, the war on blight continues: Kansas governments are trying — again — to expand their powers to take property to the detriment of one of the fundamental rights of citizens: private property rights.
Kansas tax receipts by category, presented in an interactive visualization.
The Kansas Division of the Budget publishes monthly statistics regarding tax collections. I’ve gathered these figures present them in an interactive visualization. In the visualization, there are these available tabs:
Table: A table of data. For each month the two data items supplied by the state are the actual value and the estimated value. This table also holds the computed variance, or difference, between the actual value and the estimated value. A positive number means the actual value was greater than the estimated value.
Collections: Shows monthly collections for each component. Because monthly numbers vary widely, this data is presented as the moving average of the previous 12 months.
Annual Change: Shows the change from the same month of the previous year. A positive value means the value for the month is greater than the same month last year.
Estimates: The Governor’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Working Group provides monthly estimates. This chart shows the variance, or difference, between the actual value and the estimated value. A positive number means the actual value was greater than the estimated value.
Running Total Estimates: This is the cumulative sum of the estimate variances, reset to zero at the start of each fiscal year (July 1).
Running Total Change from Prior Year: This is the cumulative sum of the monthly changes from the prior year, reset to zero at the start of each fiscal year (July 1).
Since July 2014, individual income tax collections have been relatively flat. Corporate income tax collections are on a slight downward trajectory.
Retail sales tax and compensating use tax have been mostly rising. A higher sales tax rate took effect on July 1, 2015, with the rate rising from 6.15 percent to 6.50 percent.
Cigarette taxes rose rapidly since July 2015 when higher tax rates on these products took effect. After peaking, collections are declining.
Severance taxes — tax collected on natural gas and oil as it is extracted from the ground — have been on a downward trend since July 2014 as prices for these products have fallen. This is a sizable tax. In June 2014 collections of this tax were running at about $143 million per year. For February 2017, the rate is $32 million annually.
It may be difficult for us in Kansas to see how the rest of the country views our state. But it’s all about the struggle between those who want more government, and those who want more private sector activity: “… it is clear to most observers of state policy at this point Kansas was, and continues to be, a flashpoint in debates about state tax policy. That flashpoint has served as something of a proxy war between big government advocates and those who would prefer to shrink the size and scope of state government.”
While taxes were cut, the state failed to make the other needed reform: “Spending reductions necessary to implement the plan were eschewed in favor of other tax increases, making any honest judgement of the original plan’s success or failure impossible.”
On the 2012 plan, was it all for business pass-throughs, or for everyone? “Enacted an estimated $4.5 billion in tax relief over five years, about 80 percent of which was for individuals and 20 percent for business pass-through income.”
We have to remember the failure of the legislative process in 2012 and the next year: “It is important to note at this point that the revenue increasing offsets included in the 2013 tax plan were nowhere near as comprehensive as the revenue raising offsets in Governor Brownback’s original 2012 tax reform proposal. It was this discrepancy in revenue raising offsets and the failure to rein in state spending that would ultimately lead to revenue problems for Kansas down the road.”
Credit downgrades are a sign of a mismatch between revenues and expenses. Those who want more spending say the downgrades are caused by a lack of revenue, but we could have cured the mismatch by reforming spending, too: “Contrary to this popularly reported narrative, Moody’s cited much more than just recent tax cuts as the rationale for a downgrade, specifically failure to reduce spending to offset tax cuts, pension liabilities and state debt.
The purpose of tax cuts? Let us keep more resources in the productive private sector: “It is certainly true that in the years following the tax reductions, Kansas did experience lower revenue collections, even lower than what had been projected. But, part of the goal of the Kansas tax reform was to reduce the amount of money taken in by state government and enhance the resources available to the private sector. Importantly, however, was the resistance to any meaningful spending reductions. Even as the 2012 tax reductions were projected to let Kansans keep $4.5 billion more of their own money, the state increased spending in 2012 by $432 million.”
Would more taxes help the Kansas economy? “In a late 2012 literature review on this topic, William McBride, former Chief Economist for the Tax Foundation, found that of 26 peer-reviewed academic studies since 1983, only three fail to find a negative effect on economic growth from taxes.”
The 2015 legislative session: “A block of legislators held out for reductions in the cost of government rather than tax increases but they were unable to get a majority. … The final plan that passed both houses and was signed by Governor Brownback included two main tax increases. The state raised the cigarette tax by 50 cents per pack and increased the sales tax rate from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent. The two tax increase proposals added up to $384 million in new state revenue and were bolstered by $50 million in spending cuts, although there was still a net increase in spending.”
Our legislature failed the people of Kansas: “The first lesson to glean from the Kansas experience is that politics affects policy. The final reforms that passed in 2012 were not the reforms that anybody wanted. Specific tax reform ideas are easily diluted and changed, and without the political will to fix imperfect reforms, unintended consequences can be difficult to avoid.”
Then, politicians should be so boastful. Don’t overpromise. (Ask Barack Obama about that. He said if we don’t pass the ARRA stimulus bill, the unemployment rate would rise above a certain level. Well, the stimulus passed, the unemployment rate went above that level, and it was several years before it fell below. In other words, unemployment was worse with the stimulus than Obama said it would be without the stimulus.) “The second important lesson that can be learned from the Kansas experience is economic growth resulting from bold tax reductions takes time. Governor Brownback’s previous comments about the Kansas tax reforms being ‘a shot of adrenaline’ to the state’s economy continued to hound him throughout the ups and downs of revenue and economic reports. Setting expectations too high or too early can make pushing forward with future reforms nearly impossible, while setting unrealistic expectations can lead to the unwinding of sound economic reforms.”
Finally: “Even though the tax reductions improved economic growth, the lack of commensurate spending reductions led to trouble for the state’s budget. Budget shortfalls and tough negotiations about possible tax increases mean uncertainty for businesses and families, which can hamper some of the positive economic effects of decreasing taxes.”
While total employment in Kansas is growing, two industries are the exception.
Newly revised data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics lets us examine Kansas employment. This data comes from the Current Employment Statistics, which is a monthly survey of employers.1 I’ve gathered this data and have presented it in an interactive visualization. The accompanying charts are derived from that.
The first chart shows the relative change in jobs for each series, using seasonally adjusted values. Total private sector employment is growing. Employment in mining and logging, which is dominated in Kansas by the oil and gas industry, has cratered since its peak in 2014. Manufacturing employment has remained steady since 2010, but at a lower level than in the past.
Looking at manufacturing in more detail, we see that aerospace manufacturing has been on a long downwards trend at the time total manufacturing has remained relatively level. (Aerospace employment is available only as unadjusted data, so it’s shown in a separate chart with unadjusted manufacturing.)
An interactive visualization of Kansas employment by industry.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is an agency of the United States Department of Labor. It describes its mission as: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor is the principal Federal agency responsible for measuring labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy. Its mission is to collect, analyze, and disseminate essential economic information to support public and private decision-making. As an independent statistical agency, BLS serves its diverse user communities by providing products and services that are objective, timely, accurate, and relevant.”1
BLS provides monthly employment statistics. It has just updated revised numbers for 2016. I’ve gathered these for Kansas and present them in an interactive visualization.
This data comes from the Current Employment Statistics, which is a monthly survey of employers.2
The tabs along the top of the visualization hold different views of the data. Employment figures are in thousands. You may view seasonally adjusted or unadjusted data. Some views display the number of jobs, while others display the change in jobs by industry since the first year or month that is selected. When using the charts that display annual averages, be aware that using a time selection with a partial year will not provide accurate results.
Two “industries” that are closely followed are “Total Nonfarm” and “Total Private.” These, obviously, are not industries in themselves, but are sums of other industries. There are other examples like this.
Some Kansas Senators were refreshingly honest about a recent tax bill: They’re coming back for more.
On February 17, 2107, the Kansas Senate voted to pass HB 2178, titled “Substitute for HB 2178 – Concerning income taxation; relating to determination of Kansas adjusted gross income, rates, itemized deductions.” The effect of the bill was to increase taxes.
The vote prevailed 22 to 18. Governor Brownback vetoed the bill. The House overrode the veto, but the Senate did not, with 24 senators voting to override the veto. Two-thirds, or 27 votes, were required.
In explanations of the February 17 vote, some Kansas Senators were honest about their beliefs and their future plans. Which are: First, the bill didn’t raise enough money to suit them. Second: Despite the passage of the bill, they’re coming back for more. (These remarks were made before the Governor’s veto.) Here’s Lynn Rogers, joined by two other senators (emphasis added):
Mr Vice President: This bill does not solve Kansas’ budget problem. It is the best start we have seen in 4 years. But it does not address our borrowing from the Bank of KDOT or KPERS, nor does it address our school finance needs. I appreciate adding the 3rd bracket and closing the LLC loophole. However, the weight of the bill is still on the backs of middle class families. Many of us campaigned on a platform of “fixing Topeka.” Kansans overwhelmingly asked us to work together. I was sorely disappointed in yesterday’s behavior. I am willing to support this as the best we have today. But I warn us all, we will have to return to this chamber to readdress our fiscal state. — LYNN ROGERS
Senators Faust-Goudeau and Francisco request the record to show they concur with the “Explanation of Vote” offered by Senator Rogers on Sub HB 2178.
Also, Marci Francisco, again joined by two others (emphasis added):
Mr. Vice President: I initially voted “Pass” but change my vote to “AYE” on Sub HB 2178. I appreciate the work done in the House to craft a tax bill to eliminate the non-wage income “loophole”, repeal the future formulaic income tax reductions, and second tier for married individuals filing jointly and earning over $30,000 at 5.25%, higher than the current rate of 4.6%. It sets the third tier for married individuals earning over $100,000 at 5.45%, only .2% higher and a full percentage point less than it was in 2012, putting more of the burden on low and middle income Kansans. It continues to make our Kansas tax form complicated because it does not reinstate the deductions for mortgage interest and property tax allowed for on the federal tax form. The bill does not raise enough revenue to balance the current budget. None the less, I vote “AYE” to support this as a first step in this legislative session. I also pledge to continue to work on proposals to bring fairness to the Kansas tax structure and an appropriate amount of revenue to the state. — MARCI FRANCISCO
Senators Kelly and Pettey request the record to show they concur with the “Explanation of Vote” offered by Senator Francisco on Sub HB 2178.
A look at voting behavior in the Kansas House of Representatives regarding an important tax bill.
Recently the Kansas House of Representatives held a series of votes on HB 2178, titled “Substitute for HB 2178 – Concerning income taxation; relating to determination of Kansas adjusted gross income, rates, itemized deductions.” The effect of the bill was to increase taxes.
There were three recorded votes on this bill. On February 15, 2017, the House, acting as Committee of the Whole, passed the bill on a vote of 83 to 39. 63 votes are required for passage. This is one step a bill takes as it becomes law.
On the next day, February 16, the House passed the bill on final action by a vote of 76 to 48. This is the final step the House needs to take to pass a bill into law. (On the next day, the Senate also passed the bill, sending it to the governor.)
The governor vetoed the bill. On February 22, the House considered a motion to pass the bill notwithstanding the governor’s veto. A two-thirds majority — 84 votes — are required to override a veto. This motion passed by a vote of 85 to 40, thereby overriding the governor’s veto. (The Senate also considered an override motion, but it did not pass, so the veto was upheld and this bill did not become law.)
Of interest is the vote-switching in the House as the bill passed through three rounds of votes. In all cases a vote of “Yea” was a vote in favor of making the bill into law. (This is not always the case.) In the nearby table, I’ve shaded the instances where members switched votes.
Data and charts regarding the Kansas general fund.
“The State General Fund receives the most attention in the budget because it is the largest source of the uncommitted revenue available to the state. It is also the fund to which most general tax receipts are credited. The Legislature may spend State General Fund dollars for any governmental purpose.”1
There is a requirement that the general fund have an ending balance of at least 7.5 percent. “Legislation was enacted by the 1990 Legislature to establish minimum ending balances to ensure financial solvency and fiscal responsibility. The legislation requires an ending balance of at least 7.5 percent of total expenditures and demand transfers and requires that the Governor’s budget recommendations and the legislative-approved budget for the coming year adhere to this standard. Often the Legislature suspends this requirement and allows for lower ending balances.”2
“The budget is based on an estimate of annual receipts and the Governor’s recommendation for total expenditures over the course of a fiscal year. However, within any fiscal year, the amount of receipts to the State General Fund varies widely from month to month, and an agency may spend any or all of its appropriation at any time during the fiscal year. In particular, the state must make large expenditures early in the fiscal year for school districts, while meeting the demands for periodic Medicaid reimbursements to providers, as well as making payroll. This makes for an imbalance when compared to when much of the state’s tax revenues are received, such as income tax, mostly recorded in the final quarter of the fiscal year.”3
“Estimates for the State General Fund are developed using a consensus process that involves the Division of the Budget, the Legislative Research Department, the Department of Revenue, and consulting economists from state universities.”4
The sources of data for the following charts and tables are Kansas Budget Reports and Comparison Reports for various years. Figures for fiscal years greater than 2016 are estimates from the Kansas Division of the Budget. Click charts for larger versions.
Kansas Division of the Budget. The Governor’s Budget Report Volume 1, Fiscal Year 2018.http://budget.ks.gov/. ↩
Tanner is Senior Fellow at Cato Institute. The bill in question is HB 2064, titled “Establishing the KanCare bridge to a healthy Kansas program.” It would expand Medicaid eligibility to more people in Kansas. These quoted remarks are from Tanner’s written testimony, which may be read at Should Kansas Expand Its Medicaid Coverage.
As to the cost of Medicaid expansion, Tanner wrote: “Second, while such estimates are concerning enough in themselves, and would almost certainly require a substantial tax hike to finance, there is ample reason to believe that they understate the actual cost. For example, actual enrollments following expansion have exceeded estimates in every state that has expanded Medicaid under the ACA, in most cases by double digits and in some cases by more than 100 percent. In neighboring Colorado, the maximum projected enrollment was 187,000 and as of October of last year enrollment had exceeded 446,000. … In addition, the per enrollee cost has risen faster than predicted.”
Then, there’s the woodwork effect, which costs are covered only at the regular Medicaid reimbursement rate, not the 94 percent citizens might be tempted to believe: “Third, while it may be tempting to focus on the 94 percent FMAP [Federal Medical Assistance Percentage] for newly eligible adults, you should keep in mind that many of those who enroll under expansion will not fall into this category. Rather, they will be previously eligible individuals or families that are lured into the system through the publicity and outreach efforts surrounding expansion. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute have dubbed this the ‘woodwork effect.’ Woodwork enrollees are not eligible for the enhanced FMAP. Instead, Kansas will have to pay 43.79 percent. In states that have expanded Medicaid under ACA, as much as half or more of those who signed up have fallen into this woodwork category.”
Tanner also noted the uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, under the Trump Administration, warning legislators, “You may well be locking yourselves into future spending based on hopes for federal dollars that may never materialize.”
He also noted the studies that have found that being on Medicaid does not result in very good health outcomes, most notable in the Oregon study.
A statewide poll finds little support for raising taxes as a way to balance the Kansas budget.
Kansas Policy Institute has commissioned another public opinion poll gauging the preferences of Kansans. The poll released this week asked questions about how to balance the budget in the current year and next year, raising the gasoline tax, schools, paying for Medicaid, and voting on local tax increases.
In a press release announcing poll results, KPI president Dave Trabert noted, “Once again, scientific public opinion surveys show that special interests pushing for enormous, record-setting tax increases are completely out of step with the general public. Kansans expect government and school districts to make efficient use of their tax dollars. They don’t want their income taxes or gasoline taxes increased. The question is whether legislators will listen to citizens or special interests that want higher taxes for more spending.”
Some may recognize a discrepancy between the results of this poll with last year’s elections for the Kansas House and Senate. Those elections have been widely interpreted as a referendum against an unpopular governor and his policies. This poll, however, finds little support for raising the taxes that the governor and legislature cut.
A possible explanation is that in elections for office, voters are selecting people to serve in office. Voters must choose candidate A or candidate B (or maybe C or D). Voters must take the entire package of positions associated with a candidate. It isn’t possible to select some positions from candidate A, and others from candidate B.
But in a poll with specific and narrow questions, voters can express their preferences with more precision.
There’s a difference between voting for politicians and voting for — or expressing preference for — specific policies and issues. When given a chance, Wichitans have often voted contrary to the wishes of the city council, city hall bureaucrats, and Wichita’s political class. Whether a special tax giveaway to a hotel, a general sales tax increase, reduction of penalties for marijuana possession, or fluoridation of water: Wichitans voted in opposition to the policies that were supported by the people they voted to place in office.
Proposed changes in the Kansas motor fuel tax and sales tax on groceries affects households in different ways.
As part of a revision to the tax regime in Kansas, a bill proposes to raise the motor fuel tax and reduce the sales tax on most types of groceries. (Restaurant meals would not be affected.) The bill is HB 2237.1 It implements most or all of the elements of a plan called “The Path Forward.”2
Excise taxes (the motor fuel tax) and sales taxes are usually regressive, meaning that their impact is felt most severely by lower-income households.3 Data shows that as income rises, so too does spending on motor fuel and food at home. But the rise in spending is not proportional to income. For example, data from BLS (see below for references) tells us that households in the lowest quintile of income spent an average of $939 per year on motor fuel and oil in 2015. For the highest quintile of households, spending was $3,226.
But when we look at this spending as a percent of household income after taxes, for the lowest quintile spending on motor fuel and oil represents 8.2 percent of income. For the highest quintile, it is 2.3 percent. A similar pattern holds for purchases of food for home consumption.
Because of this relationship, taxes on the sale of gasoline and food affect lower-income households proportionally more. What I have done is to estimate the additional cost, as a percent of after-tax income, of the proposed motor fuel tax. As can be seen in the nearby chart, the additional cost ranges from 0.39 percent of income for the lowest-income households to 0.11 percent for upper-income households. This difference, a factor of 3.5, illustrates the regressive nature of sales taxes, and the gasoline tax is just that — a sales tax.
The bill proposing the increase in gasoline tax also proposes a reduction in the food sales tax rate from 6.5 percent to five percent. That tax is also regressive. In 2014, as Wichita was considering adding one cent per dollar to the sales tax already paid, my analysis of spending found this: “The lowest income class of families experience an increase nearly four times the magnitude as do the highest income families, as a percentage of after-tax income. This is the regressive nature of sales taxes illustrated in numbers.”4
A nearby chart shows that the savings from the proposed lower food sales tax ranges from 0.07 percent for high-income households to 0.33 percent for low-income households. This is consistent with the regressive nature of sales taxes: They affect low-income households greatest — when raised, and also when lowered.
Another chart shows the summative effect of the higher fuel tax and lower food sales tax. Of interest, the net effect is highest for the middle 20 percent of households. Note that considering these two taxes, the effect of the proposed bill is to raise taxes for everyone.
Show the math
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a unit of the U.S. Department of Labor,5 has data for household expenditures on gasoline and oil. This data is available for five intervals, or quintiles, of income.6
Then the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy,7 has gasoline prices. It doesn’t have them for Kansas, but it does for the Midwest.8
From these two values, we can calculate the number of gallons of gasoline purchased for each income level. Here, we lose a bit of validity, as the BLS data is for purchases of gasoline and oil. But it’s the data we have, and purchases of gasoline surely dominate purchases of motor oil.
Once we have the number of gallons of gasoline purchased, we multiply by the proposed eleven cents per gallon additional tax. This produces the extra gasoline sales tax cost per household. This is a static calculation and assumes no change in the number of gallons purchased due to the higher cost from the tax, or from any change in gasoline prices for any reason.
Then, the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey also holds income after taxes for the five income levels. Simple division gives us the percent of household income that the additional tax represents.
The BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey also holds data for spending on food at home for the five income levels. From that, we can multiply by 1.5 percent to estimate the amount saved if sales tax on food falls to five percent from 6.5 percent. As with purchases of gasoline, this is a static calculation and assumes no change in behavior from reduced sales tax on groceries. Simple division gives us the percent of household income that the tax savings represents.
Then, we can subtract the food sales tax savings from the additional gasoline tax costs to produce a net calculation.
Kansas House of Representatives, Committee on Taxation. HB 2237, Concerning taxation; relating to income tax, rates, determination of income, tax credits; motor fuels tax, rates, trip permits, distribution; sales and compensating use tax, food and food ingredients.http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2017_18/measures/hb2237/. ↩
It is easy to provide Kansans with written testimony from the Kansas Legislature. At least I think so.
On the Kansas Legislature website, each committee has its own page. On these committee pages there are links for “Committee Agenda,” “Committee Minutes,” and “Testimony.” When I looked at these pages two years ago, I found that in most cases there is no data behind these links.1 I do not know what the statistics would be if I repeated the analysis for this year.
But the written testimony and informational presentations provided to committees are of interest and value to citizens. Most committees — perhaps all — require conferees to supply a pdf or Microsoft Word version of their testimony in advance of the hearing. These electronic documents could be placed online before the committee hearing. Then, anyone with a computer, tablet, or smartphone could have these documents available to them.
As an illustration, a bill from last week, SB31, was of interest to many in Kansas.2 But the page for the committee that heard this bill holds no testimony, for this bill or any other.
I’ve gathered the written testimony on SB31 and present it as a single pdf file for ease of handling. I combined the files and formed an index using PDF Split and Merge Basic, which is free and open source. I shared the file using Google Drive, a free service, or very inexpensive if additional storage is required. I can’t tell you how much time it took to accomplish this task, as I was interrupted several times during the process. If pressed, I’d estimate no more than ten or fifteen minutes.
You may access this document here. I can’t tell you how much time it took to accomplish this task, as I was interrupted several times during the process. If pressed, I’d estimate no more than ten minutes.