Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday November 15, 2010

This week at Wichita city council. An Old Town bar faces the possibility of losing its drinking establishment license and two apartment complexes seek city support in the application for housing tax credits. … The old Coleman Company Plant at 250 N. St. Francis faces an obstacle on its path to demolition: The Wichita Historic Preservation Board found that “the demolition of the structure and construction of a surface parking lot does encroach upon, damage, or destroy the environs of the state and national register listed properties by removing distinctive buildings, and altering spatial relationships that characterize the environs.” There were other reasons the board found to oppose the demolition. The building was deemed to be a “character-defining structure.” Furthermore, it is located within 500 feet of historical districts and historical properties. This is the so-called “halo” law, where if your property is located with the environs of another historic property, there are restrictions on what you can do with your property. … In a matter added to the agenda at the last moment, the city will decide whether to pay a Wichita man $925,000 to settle charges that he was injured by actions of the Wichita police department.

Planning commission to look at downtown plan. This week the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission will have a public hearing on the Goody Clancy plan for the revitalization of downtown Wichita. The meeting is Thursday at 1:30 pm in the tenth floor meeting room at Wichita city hall. The agenda for the meeting is here: Metropolitan Area Planning Commission Agenda, November 18, 2010.

Kansas tax policy. Various proposals for modifying Kansas’ tax system are floating about. One aspect in particular that is gaining attention is the multitude of sales tax exemptions, where various classes of economic activity or specific named organizations do not have to pay sales tax on their purchases. In Sunday’s Wichita Eagle Rhonda Holman wrote “selected taxpayers are saving $4.2 billion a year, worsening the tax burden for everybody else.” This number is highly misleading. As I explained earlier this year in Kansas sales tax exemptions don’t hold all the advertised allure: “Analysis of the nature of the exemptions and the amounts of money involved, however, leads us to realize that the additional tax revenue that could be raised is much less than spending advocates claim, unless Kansas was to adopt a severely uncompetitive, and in some cases, unproductive tax policy.” … An example is the exemption whereby manufacturers don’t pay sales tax on component parts used in producing final products, with an estimated $2,248.1 million in lost sales tax revenue. If Kansas were to eliminate this exemption, we could very quickly say goodbye to all our manufacturers. … Another example is government not paying sales tax on its purchases, worth an estimated $449.9 million in lost revenue. Reporting from Kansas Reporter on a special committee formed to look at Kansas tax policy is at Kansas tax reform waits on Brownback plans, lawmakers say.

“Big Ditch” builder to address Pachyderms. At this Friday’s (November 19) meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club, M. S. “Mitch” Mitchell will speak on the topic “The Big Ditch, 60 Years Later.” Otherwise known as the Wichita-Valley Center Flood Control Project, the project is responsible for flood control in Wichita, and Mitchell was there at its building. The public is welcome at Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Why I will not teach to the test. A California public school teacher explains why he will not “teach to the test” despite that state’s emphasis on “value added” teacher assessments: “The state tests being used to evaluate student progress — and, in turn, the effectiveness of teachers — virtually ensure mediocrity. … As teachers, we want to know if we are doing a good job. We want to know our strengths and our weaknesses. We welcome accountability. Frankly, I am embarrassed by how hard teachers’ unions have fought to protect weak teachers. It is shameful. But scoring all teachers based on a system that pushes educators to produce memorizers instead of thinkers is not the answer. Worse, it actually rewards mediocre teaching.” No doubt about it, evaluating teachers in public schools is a problem. Being insulated from competition, school administrators may evaluate teachers on all sorts of things except what really matters: how well they do their job. See In public schools, incentives matter.

Tracking federal tax dollars. According to the Wall Street Journal: “A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 40% thought foreign aid was one of the two largest federal-budget expenses. In reality, Uncle Sam spends $14 on Medicare — itself the second-largest expense — for every dollar spent on foreign aid.” To help citizens understand how federal money is spent, the Journal highlighted an analysis by Third Way, which describes itself as “the leading moderate think-tank of the progressive movement. Top categories for spending? Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the national debt. Then some several categories of military spending, which if consolidated, would move higher. The Journal article is Tracking Your Federal Tax Dollars ; the ThirdWay study is at Tax Receipt: Knowing What You Paid For.

Rasmussen key polls. “Lame duck” session of Congress: “Most voters think Congress should wait until the new members take office in January before tackling any major new legislation, but even more expect Democrats to try to pass major legislation anyway in the upcoming lame-duck session.” More here. … Support for investigation of Obama Administration is not high; breaks down on party lines: Voters Have Mixed Feelings About GOP Plans to Investigate Obama. But voters support investigating the new health care law passed earlier this year: Most Voters Favor Investigation of Health Care Law’s Potential Impact.

One more vote. The Center for Individual Freedom has launched an initiative called “The 60% Solution,” a proposal for a Constitutional Amendment requiring: a federal balanced budget annually, a 60% vote in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to raise the debt ceiling, and a 60% vote in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to increase taxes or impose new taxes. More information may be found at One More Vote, the name referring to the fact that Congress in 1995 fell just one vote short of endorsing a balanced budget amendment and sending it to the states for ratification. But CFIF warns against a simple balanced budget amendment: “A balanced budget amendment, in the wrong hands or crafted in the wrong form, can unfortunately provide a vehicle for big-government advocates to rationalize higher taxes.”

Wichita Eagle opinion line.“We have term limits, via voting. We need better-informed voters. Voters need to educate themselves as to the issues and the people who are running for certain offices.” This sentiment is repeated after each election. The fact that voters, at least according to this opinion, don’t inform themselves year after year is a strong argument for term limits.


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