Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday May 6, 2011

Wichita downtown sites draw little interest. Wichita Business Journal: “Interest from developers in eight city-owned “catalyst” sites in downtown Wichita was minimal — unexpectedly so. ‘I was a little bit surprised how light the response was,’ says Scott Knebel, downtown revitalization manager for the city of Wichita.” With the city soliciting informal proposals for eight sites, only two proposals were received.

KPERS. It appears that the Kansas Legislature will pass a pension “reform” bill that does not include a shift to a defined-contribution plan for new employees. Instead, the tough decisions that need to be made about the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System have been placed in the hands of a study committee. More information about the seriousness of the KPERS problem is at Economist: KPERS must undergo serious reform and KPERS problems must be confronted. Video is here, with two parts following.

More flexibility for school funds. Kansas Watchdog reports that Kansas schools will now have more flexibility to spend funds that are presently stashed away in various funds. Of interest in the article is a chart showing the growth in these fund balances. School spending advocates protest that these funds are needed to because revenue doesn’t arrvie at the same time bills do, which is true. But these fund balances have been growing, because schools have not been spending all the money they’ve been given. While this bill is a good idea, schools have always been able to tap into these funds by simply contributing less to them, thereby spending down the balances. But schools have not wanted to to do this.

Growth in Kansas spendingGrowth in Kansas spending. Click for a larger view.

Despite “cuts,” spending grows. For all the talk in Kansas of budget cuts, state spending still manages to grow year after year. Kansas Watchdog is again on top of this topic, noting “Each year various adjustments push state spending above the approved budget, but in 2010 that extra spending took a big jump that will require even more spending in the future.” Of particular interest is the chart showing spending rising every year.

Sandy Springs a model. Common Sense with Paul Jacob: “Local governments suffer from a big problem: bigness. Too often they expand their scope of services, and, in so doing, progressively fail to cover even the old, core set of services. You know, like fire and police and roads and such. The solution is obvious. Mimic Sandy Springs. This suburban community north of Atlanta, Georgia, had been ill-served by Fulton County. So a few years ago the area incorporated. And, to fend off all the problems associated with the ‘do-it-all-ourselves’ mentality, the city didn’t hire on a huge staff of civil servants. Instead, it contracted out the bulk of those services in chunks. Now, the roads get paved and the streets are cleaned and the waste is removed better as well as cheaper than ever. Reason Foundation, a think tank known for its privatization emphasis, has been on the story from the beginning. A 2005 appraisal predicted that the town would become a ‘model city.’ That prophecy seems to have been on the money, and a Reason TV video emphasizes this with the shocking fact that the town ‘has no long-term liabilities.’ As the rest of the nation’s cities, counties and states lurch into insolvency, Sandy Springs shows a way out.” … The City of Wichita has had success in outsourcing the mowing of parks. Currently, the city has several dozen pieces of commercial mowing equipment at auction.

States’ war for jobs. Bloomberg Businesweek: “State and local governments eager to recover some of the more than 8 million jobs lost during the recession are giving away $70 billion in annual subsidies to companies, according to calculations by Kenneth Thomas, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. States have long relied on fiscal incentives to lure businesses, or keep existing employers from decamping to other locales. Such largesse is coming under renewed scrutiny during this time of strapped budgets. State deficits could reach a combined $112 billion in the fiscal year starting July 1. ‘The tragic irony of it is that in order to pay for these things, they’re cutting other areas that really are the building blocks of jobs and economic growth,’ says Jon Shure, director of state fiscal strategies for the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. … With the national unemployment rate at 8.8 percent, the threat of a company pulling up stakes is enough to open states’ wallets. ‘States and communities are afraid to play chicken,’ says Jeff Finkle, who heads the International Economic Development Council. … Kansas has offered movie theater chain AMC Entertainment a generous incentives package to move away from Kansas City, Mo., The New York Times reported in April. Officials in Missouri are considering making a counteroffer. Neither the company nor state officials would comment. The bidding war helped prompt an Apr. 5 letter signed by 17 corporate executives asking the governors of the two states to quit offering inducements to lure businesses across state lines. ‘At a time of severe fiscal constraint the effect to the states is that one state loses tax revenue, while the other forgives it,’ the letter said. ‘The only real winner is the business who is ‘incentive shopping’ to reduce costs.'” … Governor Brownback’s economic development plan speaks of “A more uniform business tax policy that treats all businesses equally rather than the current set of rules and laws that give great benefit to a few (through heavily bureaucratic programs) and zero benefit to many.” It will be a while before we know if the state is able to stick to this plan.

Shale gas to be topic in Wichita. This Friday (may 6) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Malcolm C. Harris, Sr., Ph.D., Professor of Finance, Division of Business and Information Technology, Friends University, speaking on the topic: “Shale gas: Our energy future?” Harris also blogs at Mammon Among Friends. … “Shale gas” refers to a relatively new method of extracting natural gas, as reported in the Wall Street Journal: “We’ve always known the potential of shale; we just didn’t have the technology to get to it at a low enough cost. Now new techniques have driven down the price tag — and set the stage for shale gas to become what will be the game-changing resource of the decade. I have been studying the energy markets for 30 years, and I am convinced that shale gas will revolutionize the industry — and change the world — in the coming decades. It will prevent the rise of any new cartels. It will alter geopolitics. And it will slow the transition to renewable energy.” … Critics like the Center for American Progress warn of the dangers: “The process, which involves injecting huge volumes of water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground to fracture rock formations and release trapped gas, is becoming increasingly controversial, with concerns about possible contamination of underground drinking water supplies alongside revelations of surface water contamination by the wastewater that is a byproduct of drilling.”

Economics in one lesson this Monday. On Monday (May 9), four videos based on Henry Hazlitt’s classic work Economics in One Lesson will be shown in Wichita. The four topics included in Monday’s presentation will be The Curse of Machinery, Disbanding Troops & Bureaucrats, Who’s “Protected” by Tariffs?, and “Parity” Prices. The event is Monday (May 9) at 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. The event’s sponsor is Americans for Prosperity, Kansas. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

Voters favor cuts, not tax increases to balance budget. “A survey of Kansas voters conducted on behalf of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce found widespread support for cutting spending rather than raising taxes as the way to balance the Kansas budget. Support was also found for cutting state worker salaries, or reducing the number of state employees.” More at Kansas Chamber finds voters favor cuts, not tax increases to balance budget.

Here’s the Kansas data. “KansasOpenGov.org provides a repository of data about Kansas state and local governments, giving citizens the data they need to hold officials accountable.” More at Kansas OpenGov: Here’s the Kansas data.


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