Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday December 1, 2010

Tax incentives questioned. In a commentary in Site Selection Magazine, Daniel Levine lays out the case that tax incentives that states use to lure or keep jobs are harmful, and the practice should end. In Incentives and the Interstate Competition for Jobs he writes: “Despite overwhelming evidence that state and local tax incentives are having little to no positive effect on promoting real economic growth anywhere in the country, states continue to up the ante with richer and richer incentive programs. … there are real questions as to whether the interstate competition for jobs is a wise use of anyone’s tax dollars and, if not, then what can be done to at least slow down this zero sum game?” As a solution, Levine proposes that the Internal Revenue Service classify some types of incentives as taxable income to the recipient, which would reduce the value and the attractiveness of the offer. Levine also correctly classifies tax credits — like the historical preservation tax credits in Kansas — as spending programs in disguise: “Similarly, when a ‘tax credit’ can be sold or transferred if unutilized it ceases to have a meaningful connection to state tax liability. Instead, in such circumstances the award of tax credit is merely a delivery mechanism for state subsidy.” In the end, the problem — when recognized as such — always lies with the other guy: “Most state policy makers welcome an opportunity to offer large cash incentives to out-of-state companies considering a move to their state but fume with indignation when a neighboring state uses the same techniques against them.”

Yoder: No business as usual. Kansas Watchdog reports on a speech by newly-elected U.S. Congressman Kevin Yoder from the Kansas third district. Said Yoder: “Business as usual has to stop in Washington.” They always say this. Let’s hope Yoder and the other new representatives from Kansas mean it, and can resist the inevitable pressures. Remember the assessment of Trent Lott, a former Senate majority leader and now a powerful lobbyist, as reported in the Washington Examiner: “‘We don’t need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples,’ Lott told the Washington Post, referring to the conservative South Carolina senator who has been a gadfly for party leadership and a champion for upstart conservative candidates. ‘As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.’”

Kansas revenue outlook was mixed in November . From Kansas Reporter: “Kansas’ economy and the state government’s cash flow continued to struggle in November, preliminary tax revenue numbers indicated Tuesday. A Kansas Department of Revenue calculation of state tax receipts during November showed the state collected $384 million in taxes during the month, a whisker-thin $783,000, or 0.2 percent, less than forecasters calculated just three weeks ago, but nearly $30 million, or 8.5 percent more than in November, 2009.” The 8.5 percent growth from a year ago is partly from the increase in the state’s sales tax. “This suggests that actual retail sales activity, on which state officials are counting to hit future revenue targets, may be trailing year-earlier levels by about 2.4 percent.”

Teacher organization offers alternative to KNEA . “The Kansas Association of American Educators says it offers the benefits of a union membership, but doesn’t involve itself in partisan issues.” More at Kansas Reporter.

Kansas education officials may overstate student performance. Kansas schools claim rapidly rising test scores while other measures of student performance remain largely unchanged, even falling in some years. Kansas Watchdog reports: “There are nagging questions about the validity of claims based on state assessments and the tests are only one measure of the education system’s performance. Several national education watchdogs and the U.S. Department of Education have questioned the rigor of state tests, proficiency standards, graduation rates and graduates preparation for college and the workforce.” The story is Kansas Education Officials May Overstate Student Performance.


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