Kansas senate candidate forum

Voice for Liberty Radio 150x150From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: A candidate forum for Republican Candidates for Kansas Senate.

For Kansas Senate District 27, the candidates are Gene Suellentrop and Lori Graham. For Kansas Senate District 31, the candidates are Carolyn McGinn and Renee Erickson. This is an audio presentation recorded June 3, 2016.

District 27 is Sedgwick County: Cities: Andale, Colwich, Goddard(part), Maize(part) and Wichita(part); Townships: Attica(part), Delano(part), Park(part), Sherman and Union. A map is here.

District 31 is Harvey County (all), Sedgwick County: Cities: Bel Aire(part), Bentley, Kechi(part), Maize(part), Mount Hope, Park City, Sedgwick, Valley Center and Wichita(part); Townships: Eagle, Grant, Greeley, Kechi(part), part), Park(part) and Valley Center. A map is here.

Campaign websites are here:

Wichita water statistics update

The Wichita ASR water project produced little water during the first four months of 2016. There were many days when river flow was adequate.

An important part of Wichita’s water supply infrastructure is the Aquifer Storage and Recovery program, or ASR. This is a program whereby water is taken from the Little Arkansas River, treated, and injected in the Equus Beds aquifer.1 2 That water is then available in the future as is other Equus Beds water.

With a cost so far of $247 million, the city believes that ASR is a proven technology that will provide water and drought protection for many years. In 2014 the city recommended that voters approve $250 million for its expansion, to be paid for by a sales tax.3 Voters rejected the tax in the November 2014 election.

Spring 2016 production

Flow of the Little Arkansas River at Valley Center. The ASR project is able to draw from the river when the flow is above 30 cfs at this measurement station.
Flow of the Little Arkansas River at Valley Center. The ASR project is able to draw from the river when the flow is above 30 cfs at this measurement station.
For the months of January through March 2016, the ASR project recharged no water. (Click charts for larger versions.)

In April 2016, the ASR project recharged 22,226,150 gallons of water.4 The design capacity for ASR is 30,000,000 gallons per day, so production for the entire month of April is less than one day’s design capacity.

The ASR project is able to draw from the Little Arkansas River when the flow is above 30 cfs. As can be seen in the chart of the flow of the river, the flow was above this level every day. In April, there was adequate river flow for ASR to operate every day of the month, counting only those days when the flow was above 30 cfs for the entire day. There were many days in January, February, and March with adequate river flow, but no water was recharged during these months.5

ASR project background and production

According to city documents, the original capacity of the ASR phase II project to process water and pump it into the ground (the “recharge” process) was given as “Expected volume: 30 MGD for 120 days.” That translates to 3,600,000,000 (3.6 billion or 3,600 million) gallons per year. ASR phase II was completed in 2011.

Gallons of Water Recharged Through Recharge Basins and Wells during Wichita ASR Phase II, cumulative since July 2013.
Gallons of Water Recharged Through Recharge Basins and Wells during Wichita ASR Phase II, cumulative since July 2013.
At a city council workshop in April 2014, Director of Public Works and Utilities Alan King briefed the council on the history of ASR, mentioning the original belief that ASR would recharge 11,000 acre feet of water per year. But he gave a new estimate for production, telling the council that “What we’re finding is, we’re thinking we’re going to actually get 5,800 acre feet. Somewhere close to half of the original estimates.” The new estimate translates to 1,889,935,800 (1.9 billion) gallons per year.6

Based on experience, the city has produced a revised estimate of ASR production capability. What has been the actual experience of ASR? The U.S. Geological Survey has ASR figures available here. I’ve gathered the data and performed an analysis. (Click charts for larger versions.)

Gallons of Water Recharged Through Recharge Basins and Wells during Wichita ASR phase II, monthly.
Gallons of Water Recharged Through Recharge Basins and Wells during Wichita ASR phase II, monthly.
I’ve produced a chart of the cumulative production of the Wichita ASR project compared with the original projections and the lower revised projections. The lines for projections rise smoothly, although it is expected that actual production is not smooth. The second phase of ASR was completed sometime in 2011, but no water was produced and recharged that year. Further, 2013 was a drought year, so to present ASR in the best possible light, I’ve prepared a chart starting in July 2013. That was when it started raining heavily, and data from USGS shows that the flow in the Little Arkansas River was much greater. Still, the ASR project is not keeping up with projections, even after goals were lowered.

On the chart of monthly production, the horizontal line represents the revised annual production projection expressed as a constant amount each month. This even rate of production is not likely, as river flow varies. In the three years that ASR phase II has been in production, that monthly target been exceeded in three months.

ASR days of flow and work through April 2016.
ASR days of flow and work through April 2016.

ASR operating efficiency through April 2016.
ASR operating efficiency through April 2016.
Two nearby charts give an idea of the efficiency of operation of the ASR project. (Click charts for larger versions.) For each month, I counted how many days had a river flow above 30 cfs at every measurement for the day. (The flow is measured several dozen times a day.) If a day had all measurements above 30 cfs, I counted that as a day of adequate river flow. I then calculated the number of days of work actually accomplished using the water produced each month, the number of days of adequate river flow for the month, and the ASR design capacity.

As can be seen in the charts, the ASR project is operating far below its design goal.

At one time the city was proud enough of the ASR project that it maintained an informative website at wichitawaterproject.org. That site no longer exists.
At one time the city was proud enough of the ASR project that it maintained an informative website at wichitawaterproject.org. That site no longer exists.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. Wichita Area Future Water Supply: A Model Program for Other Municipalities. Available at www.wichita.gov/Government/Departments/PWU/UtilitiesDocuments/WICHITA%20AREA%20FUTURE%20WATER%20SUPPLY.pdf.
  2. City of Wichita. Equus Beds Aquifer Storage and Recovery Project. Available at www.wichita.gov/Government/Departments/PWU/Pages/PublicWaterSupply.aspx.
  3. City of Wichita. Plans and Background on Proposed 1 cent Sales Tax. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/City-Sales-Tax-Information.pdf.
  4. United States Geological Survey. Equus Beds Water Recharge. Available at ks.water.usgs.gov/water-recharge.
  5. United States Geological Survey. USGS 07144200 L ARKANSAS R AT VALLEY CENTER, KS. Available at waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?site_no=07144200.
  6. Wichita City Council Workshop, April 8, 2014. Video available at wichitaks.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=2548.

Wichita school spending

Spending by the Wichita public school district, adjusted for inflation and enrollment.

Has spending by the Wichita public school district risen or fallen? A nearby chart shows recent spending figures. These figures are expressed on a per-student basis using full-time equivalent enrollment, adjusted to reflect changes in the consumer price index.

Wichita school district, selected spending statistics. Click for larger.
Wichita school district, selected spending statistics. Click for larger.
(Current expenditures do not include facility acquisition and construction service, debt principal retirement, interest expense, and other expense. Over the past ten years, total expenditures per student have averaged $2,219 per year more than current expenditures.)

Should anyone want to politicize these figures, note that the years of decline were under a Democratic governor and a one cent per dollar sales tax increase. For the past three years, these three measurements of spending have risen each year.


Spending data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, Miscellaneous Statistics, page 122.
Enrollment data from Kansas State Department of Education, available at http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/data_warehouse/total_expenditures/d0259exp.pdf.
Data adjusted for inflation using Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wichita school district spending on administration

Could the Wichita public school district reduce spending on administration to previous levels?

In fiscal 2006 (the school year ending in 2006), the Wichita public school district spent $32,799,723 on administration. The amount rose and fell and rose again, with the district spending $42,353,120 in 2015.

Wichita school district spending on administration. Click for larger.
Wichita school district spending on administration. Click for larger.
If we express these figures on a per-student basis and adjust them for inflation, the district spent $851 in 2006, and $896 in 2015. Like spending in total dollars, that figure rose, then fell, and then rose again.

Could the Wichita public school district cut administration spending to 2006 levels, on a per-student, inflation-adjusted basis?

If the district could do this, that would reduce costs by $45 per student. With FTE enrollment for 2015 at 47,254.4, the district could save $2,126,448. Or it could use those savings to offset reductions in spending in other areas.

It’s up to the Wichita school district to decide.


Spending data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, Miscellaneous Statistics, page 122.
Enrollment data from Kansas State Department of Education, available at http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/data_warehouse/total_expenditures/d0259exp.pdf.
Data adjusted for inflation using Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wichita student/teacher ratios

Despite years of purported budget cuts, the Wichita public school district has been able to improve its student/teacher ratios.

When discussing school funding, there is controversy over how spending should be measured. What funds are included? Is KPERS included? Should we adjust for enrollment and inflation? What about bond and interest funds and capital outlay?

The largest expenditures of schools — some 80 percent nationwide — is personnel costs. In Kansas, and Wichita in particular, we’re told that budget cuts are causing school class sizes to increase.

When we look at numbers, we see that the Wichita school district has been able to reduce its student/teacher ratios substantially over the last ten years. (Student/teacher ratio is not the same statistic as class size.) There have been a few ups and downs along the way, but for all three school levels, the ratios are lower than they were ten years ago, and by substantial margins.

This means that Wichita schools have been able to increase employment of teachers at a faster rate than enrollment has risen.

So however spending is categorized in funds, whether KPERS contributions are included or not, whether the funding comes from state or local sources, whether spending is adjusted for inflation, the Wichita school district has been able to improve its student/teacher ratios.

Data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, Miscellaneous Statistics, page 122, and CAFR from other years.

Wichita Public School District, Student Teacher Ratios, through 2015
Wichita Public School District, Student Teacher Ratios, through 2015

At Pachyderm: Chapman Rackaway on the Kansas primary elections

Voice for Liberty radio logo square 02 155x116On Friday May 20, 2016, Professor Chapman Rackaway of Fort Hays State University briefed members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club on the August primary elections. Two surprises: Will Jerry Moran have a Republican challenger, and who does Dr. Rackaway believe Donald Trump should select for a running mate? This is an audio presentation. Accompanying visual aids are here.

Shownotes

Kansas state school board member should practice what he preaches

By Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute.

District 9 Kansas State School Board member Jim Porter published the following piece outlining what he considers to be deceptive statements about school funding and state taxes. He urges political leaders to “tell the whole story” but doesn’t practice what he preaches, as we found a dozen deceptive statements in his piece.

We are consistently hearing from those political leaders who are resisting what many of us consider to be the adequate funding of education that Schools are receiving more state support than ever and that support is increasing every year. Typically they say that people need to know the facts. Well, that is part of the story and although not a false statement it is certainly deceptive. I will make an attempt to explain the part of the story that they are not telling.

Continue reading at Kansas Policy Institute.

Towards government transparency in Wichita: Legal notices

Kansas law requires publication of certain notices in newspapers, but cities like Wichita could also make them available in other ways that are easier to use.

Legal publications in the Wichita Eagle, occupying nearly the entire page.
Legal publications in the Wichita Eagle, occupying nearly the entire page.
Do you read the legal publications in your local newspaper? Often they are lengthy. Many pertain to just one person or company. All are supplied using ink expressed as fine print on the chemically processed flesh of dead trees.

But some legal publications are important and of interest to the general public.

Kansas law requires that many legal notices must be printed on a newspaper. That law needs to be changed. As you might imagine, newspapers resist this reform, as it might mean a loss of revenue for them. (That’s right. Newspapers don’t print these notices as a public service.)

Although the law requires publishing notices in a newspaper, it doesn’t prohibit publishing them in electronic form. If governmental agencies would make their legal publications available in ways other than the newspaper, citizens would be better served.

The City of Wichita does some posting of legal notices on its website. Under the City Clerk section, there is a page titled “Legal Notices” that holds notices of bidding opportunities. (Curiously, that page isn’t found when you search for “legal notices” on the city’s site.) So this is good, but the notices that are important to most people are not on the city’s website.

Posting all city legal notices on the city’s website would be easy to do. It would be quite inexpensive. The material is already in electronic form. The notices would become searchable through Google and other methods. Government transparency would increase. Interested parties could capture and store notices this material for their own use. Once people get used to this method of publication, it will make it easier to get state law changed.

So why doesn’t the City of Wichita post its legal notices on its website?

In Wichita, more sales tax hypocrisy

Another Wichita company that paid to persuade you to vote for higher taxes now seeks to avoid paying those taxes.

Next week the Wichita City Council will consider issuing industrial revenue bonds to benefit a local company. In Kansas, IRBs are not a loan of money from government. Instead, the bonds are a vehicle for conveying property tax abatements, and often sales tax exemptions. 1 The applicant company is Hijos, LLC/JR Custom Metal Products, Inc.

City documents give the value of abated taxes at $44,900 for the first year. Following years will probably be similar.

Besides property tax breaks, industrial revenue bonds can convey an exemption from paying sales taxes on purchases. City documents don’t state the amount of sales tax the company might avoid paying. But documents state the bonds will be used to fund capital equipment in the amount of $2,686,000. Sales tax on that is $201,450.

City documents also state this expansion will add 13 new jobs over the next five years at an average wage of $41,995.

Like several other companies that have received an exemption on paying sales tax on their purchases, 2 3 4 5 JR Custom Metals advocated for you to pay more sales tax. During the campaign for the one cent per dollar Wichita sales tax in 2014, this company contributed $1,000 to persuade voters to approve the tax.

JR Custom Metals contribution to Yes Wichita, the group that campaigned for the Wichita sales tax.
JR Custom Metals contribution to Yes Wichita, the group that campaigned for the Wichita sales tax.

But now it seeks to avoid paying all sales tax on these purchases. It has done this several times in the recent past.

The jobs are welcome. But this incident and many others like it reveal a capacity problem, which is this: We need to be creating nine jobs every day in order to make any significant progress in economic growth. 6 If it takes this much effort and the forgiveness of hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes to create 13 jobs over five years, how much effort and subsidy will it take to create the many thousands of jobs we need to create every year?

  1. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Spirit Aerosystems tax relief. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/spirit-aerosystems-tax-relief/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, campaigning for a tax, then asking for exemption from paying. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/campaigning-for-tax-then-asking-for-exemption-from-paying/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, pro-sales tax campaign group uses sales tax-exempt building as headquarters. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-pro-sales-tax-campaign-group-uses-sales-tax-exempt-building-headquarters/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Union Station TIF provides lessons for Wichita voters. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/union-station-tif-provides-lessons-wichita-voters.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economic development and capacity. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-economic-development-capacity/.

Best cities for job growth 2016

A computation of job growth in cities produces familiar results for Wichita.

NewGeography.com has released its Best Cities for Job Growth rankings for 2016. It is described as a “performance measure of job growth over the recent, medium, and longer term.” MSAs are assigned an index value calculated from job growth rates measured several ways.

Of 98 midsized MSAs, Wichita ranked 78 out of 98. That’s five spots higher in ranking from the year before. Considering all 421 MSAs, Wichita ranked 298.

Wichita’s economic development efforts need reform. The city has taken several initiatives such as forgoing cash incentives, taking a regional approach, and reorganizing its economic development agencies. In some cases, these reforms are merely window dressing. For others, the same groups of politicians, bureaucrats, and civic leaders are still in charge. We hope, somehow, that the same policies and people will produce something other than what has earned Wichita’s low ranking.

HB 2615 is a Bi-Partisan Healthcare Solution that Governor Sam Brownback should Support

By Andrew Brown, Foundation for Government Accountability

This site recently published an extensive critique of HB 2615, a bill that would protect doctors and health care professionals providing free charity care and reward them with a minor licensing incentive, and the author encouraged Gov. Brownback to veto the bill. Mr. Weeks has graciously allowed me, as a supporter who worked on behalf of HB 2615, to issue a response to his article. I truly appreciate the opportunity to present another side.

I agree that we do need to reconsider and reform occupational licensure across the board and we absolutely should expect medical professionals to stay current in their field. And while Continuing Medical Education credits are one way, they aren’t the only way to achieve that goal. In fact, Kansas already allows doctors to receive CME credits for a range of non-educational activities.

What’s more important though is the stifling effects abusive medical malpractice lawsuits which often benefit lawyers more than patients can have on the amount of free care doctors and health care professionals are willing to give. This means doctors and others offer less charity than they otherwise would while our low-income neighbors struggle to get access to the health care services they need. HB 2615 seeks to change this by reducing government barriers and freeing medical professionals to provide high-quality care to those who need it most.

HB 2615 doesn’t increase regulations on medical professionals, but eases the burden of existing continuing education regulations and rewards them for giving their time and talents to voluntarily serve those who can’t afford care. It also extends liability protections provided by the Kansas Tort Claims Act to medical professionals who choose to volunteer serving those in need so that the fear of a frivolous lawsuit doesn’t stand in the way of doing good.

Although Kansas currently requires physicians to participate in 50 hours of continuing medical education annually (which they often pay for out of their own pockets), the law divides continuing education hours into two categories.

Category I hours are the kind we typically think of when it comes to continuing education — the structured, academic lectures or workshops where physicians get up to speed on the latest medical research and techniques. 1 Every Kansas physician is required to earn 20 hours of Category I credit each year. 2 This doesn’t change with HB 2615.

The remaining 30 hours, then, may be earned from Category II, which is considerably more flexible. 3 A physician can earn Category II hours in a number of ways like “participating in journal clubs,” having “patient-centered discussions with other health care practitioners,” and (my personal favorite) “using searchable electronic databases in connection with patient care activities.” 4 The hours that physicians would earn for charitable care provided under HB 2615 fall under Category II, meaning that they will still have to earn the same 20 hours of critical Category I hours in order to maintain licensure. If we allow physicians to earn Category II credits for writing journal articles or Googling a patient’s symptoms, why shouldn’t we reward them with a few Category II hours for voluntarily providing a child with an inhaler to provide relief from his asthma symptoms, or treating a mother’s high blood pressure?

HB 2615 is a proven bi-partisan solution that works to provide care to our friends and neighbors in need by reducing regulatory barriers and unleashing the power of charity to immediately improve access to quality medical care. In 1993, the state of Florida instituted the nation’s first volunteer health services program, which served as the model for HB 2615. Since that time, volunteers in the Sunshine State have provided more than $2.8 BILLION in care to those in need. Each year, nearly 500,000 free patient visits are provided by the state’s top medical professionals valued at more than $300 million. 5 All this happened not through a government program, but because the government recognized that the local community was better equipped to handle a problem, so it got out of the way.

While the data is impressive, HB 2615 is about changing lives. Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with a doctor in Orlando who has dedicated her career to providing volunteer medical services. She told me a powerful story of a truck driver who lost his job because of severe diabetes. Since he was unable to work, he did not have insurance to get the care he needed to get his diabetes under control. Fortunately, he lived in the community where this doctor worked and he was able to get the treatment and care he needed. Eventually, his health improved, which allowed him to go back to work. Thanks to the efforts of this doctor and the volunteer health services program, this man is now working, providing for his family, and has health insurance coverage so that he can stay healthy and working. HB 2615 would bring more stories like this to Kansas.

If Governor Brownback wants to chalk up another win for individual liberty, signing HB 2615 is the best way to do it. This action would send a message that Kansas not only trusts its medical professionals to care for the needs of medically indigent citizens, but that they are better able to provide this care than any government program or insurance company could ever dream.

Andrew Brown is an attorney and Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Government Accountability.


Notes

  1. K.A.R. 100-15- 4(b)
  2. K.A.R. 100-15- 5(a)(1)(A)
  3. Id.
  4. K.A.R. 100-15- 4(c)
  5. Patrick Ishmael and Jonathan Ingram, “Volunteer Care: Affordable Health care without Growing Government,” The Foundation for Government Accountability, Oct. 27, 2015, available at thefga.org/download/Volunteer-Care-Research-Paper.pdf.

Wichita city council campaign finance reform

Some citizen activists and Wichita city council members believe that a single $500 campaign contribution from a corporation has a corrupting influence. But stacking dozens of the same $500 contributions from executives and spouses of the same corporation? Not a problem.

On December 1, 2015 the Wichita City Council considered an ordinance regarding campaign finance for city elections. A Wichita Eagle article on the topic started with: “A proposed change in city ordinance would allow corporations, labor unions and political action committees to have a greater influence on Wichita politics. For years, city elections have remained insulated from the power of those groups, unlike national and state elections, because Wichita ordinance specifically forbids them from contributing to local campaigns.” 1

The city believed the proposed action was necessary to comply with recent court rulings. Under the proposed ordinance — which was passed by the council — corporations, labor unions, and political action committees would be able to make a single campaign contribution per election cycle of up to $500, the same limit as for individuals.

During the council meeting, citizens testified as to the terrible consequences should the council pass this ordinance. Here are a few excerpts taken from the minutes of the meeting:

  • “Citizens United has unleashed Frankenstein monsters purchasing our government with their pocket money.”

  • “Stated corruption and conflicts of interest have become institutionalized and what City legal counsel suggests will sell the Council and the City of Wichita to the highest bidder.”

  • “Stated according to a lengthy report last week, by the Pew Research Center, across party lines people are distrustful and concerned about big money in politics.”

  • “Stated big money does not donate, it invests and buys democracy. Stated she is asking the City Council to keep big money out of the City Council elections.”

  • “Allowing big money into City elections is a concern.”

  • “Stated the City has been independent and has a freedom from influence that the state and the nation do not enjoy. Stated you will then be under the thumb of people who want to control you. which is scary to those of them who are highly opposed to this situation and hopes that the Council will think of them and how this vote will benefit them.”

  • “Stated the League [of Women Voters] has studied campaign finance over the years at all three levels. Stated they are currently involved in the study of money and politics and their position currently reads that they want to improve the methods of financing political campaigns in order to ensure the public’s right to know and combat corruption and undue influence, which is their biggest concern.”

In its reporting after the meeting, the Eagle reported more concern: 2

But those who oppose the measure said they were concerned about opening up local elections to party-affiliated groups like PACs and about transparency since PACs do not have to report their individual donors.

“Individuals should decide elections, not corporations,” Frye said.

Several members of the public spoke against the changes.

“People in the shadows are going to be pulling your strings,” said Russ Pataki.

“It’s very worrisome what big money has done to state and national politics. The city has been independent (of that),” said Lynn Stephan to the council before the vote. “You have a freedom from influence the state and nation don’t enjoy.”

So, people are concerned about the corrupting influence of political campaign donations from corporations and political action committees. Citizens — and the Wichita Eagle — believe that currently the city council is free from this influence.

But the reality of city council campaign financing is different.

Stacked campaign contributions received by James Clendenin from parties associated with Key Construction. Click for larger version.
Stacked campaign contributions received by James Clendenin from parties associated with Key Construction. Click for larger version.
In my testimony at the December 1 meeting, I explained that there are a few corporations that stack campaign contributions in a way that circumvents prohibitions. Although I did not mention it at the meeting, sometimes campaign finance reporting laws allowed this to happen without disclosure until after relevant action had happened. To illustrate, here is a timeline of events involving just one company and its campaign contributions.

2008 and 2009
Executives of Key Construction and their spouses make six contributions to the Lavonta Williams campaign, totaling $3,000.

2010 and 2011
Executives of Key Construction and their spouses make eight contributions to the Carl Brewer campaign, totaling $4,000. Brewer was Wichita mayor running for re-election in 2011.

Executives of Key Construction and their spouses make eight contributions to the Jeff Longwell campaign, totaling $4,000.

2012
The City of Wichita is preparing to build a new airport terminal with a cost of around $100 million. Key Construction and Dondlinger and Sons Construction are two bidders. The contract is controversial. Dondlinger submitted a lower bid than Key, but it was alleged that Dondlinger’s bid did not meet certain requirements.

January 24, 2012
Executives of Key Construction and their spouses make six contributions to the James Clendenin campaign, totaling $3,000.

Stacked campaign contributions to Lavonta Williams from Key Construction associates. Click for larger version.
Stacked campaign contributions to Lavonta Williams from Key Construction associates. Click for larger version.
April 2, 2012
On this day and the next, executives of Key Construction and their spouses make eight contributions to the Jeff Longwell campaign for Sedgwick County Commission, totaling $4,000. At the time, Longwell was a Wichita city council member.

April 17, 2012
On this day and the next, executives of Key Construction and their spouses make eight contributions to the Lavonta Williams campaign, totaling $4,000.

July 16, 2012
An executive of a Michigan construction company and his wife contribute $1,000 to Longwell’s campaign for county commission. The company, Walbridge, is partnering with Wichita-based Key Construction to bid on the Wichita airport terminal contract.3

July 17, 2012
The Wichita city council votes in favor of Key Construction and Walbridge on a dispute over the airport terminal contract, adding over $2 million to its cost. Brewer, Longwell, Williams, and Clendenin participated in the meeting and voted. City documents state the job of the council this day was to determine whether the staff who made the decision in favor of Key Construction “abused their discretion or improperly applied the law.”4

July 20, 2012
An additional $2,250 in contributions from Walbridge executives to the Jeff Longwell campaign for Sedgwick County Commission campaign is reported.

January 2013
Williams and Clendenin file campaign finance reports for the calendar year 2012. This is the first opportunity to learn of the campaign contributions from Key Construction executives and their spouses during 2012. For Williams, the Key Construction-related contributions were the only contributions received for the year. Clendenin received contributions from Key Construction-related individuals and parties associated with one other company during the year.

Is there a pattern? Yes. Key Construction uses its executives and their spouses to stack individual contributions, thereby bypassing the prohibition on campaign contributions from corporations. This has been going on for some time. It is exactly the type of corrupting influence that citizens are worried about. It has been taking place right under their eyes, if they knew how or cared to look. And Key Construction is not the only company to engage in this practice.

Just to summarize: The Wichita city council was charged to decide whether city officials had “abused their discretion or improperly applied the law.” That sounds almost like a judicial responsibility. How much confidence should we have in the justice of a decision if a majority of the judges have taken multiple campaign contributions from executives (and their spouses) of one of the parties?

In some ways, it is understandable that citizens might not be aware of this campaign contribution stacking. The campaign finance reports that council members file don’t contain the name of contributors’ employers. It takes a bit of investigation to uncover the linkage between contributors and the corporations that employ them. For citizens, that might be considered beyond the call of duty. But we should expect better from organizations like the League of Women Voters.

Certainly there is no excuse for the Wichita Eagle to miss or avoid things like this. Even worse, it is disgraceful that the Eagle would deny the problem, as it did in its November 23 article quoted above.

In summary, some citizen activists — most council members, too — believe that a single $500 campaign contribution from a corporation has a corrupting influence. But stacking dozens of the same $500 contributions from executives and spouses of the same corporation? Not a problem.

Political campaign contributions are a form of speech and should not be regulated. What we need are so-called pay-to-play laws, which regulate the linkage between campaign contributions and council member participation in matters that benefit donors.5

Either that, or we need council members with sufficient character to recognize when they should refrain from voting on a matter.


Notes

  1. Ryan. Kelsey. Wichita City Council considers changes to campaign finance, salaries. Wichita Eagle, November 23, 2015. Available at www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article45993895.html.
  2. Ryan, Kelsey. Wichita council votes to change local campaign finance law, raise council salaries. Wichita Eagle, December 1, 2015. Available at www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article47329045.html.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Michigan company involved in disputed Wichita airport contract contributes to Jeff Longwell. Voice for Liberty. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/michigan-company-involved-in-disputed-wichita-airport-contract-contributes-to-jeff-longwell/.
  4. Wichita City Council agenda packet for July 17, 2012.
  5. Weeks, Bob. *Kansas needs pay-to-play laws.” Voice for Liberty. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/kansas-needs-pay-to-play-laws/.

Electioneering in Kansas?

An op-ed written under the banner of a non-profit organization appears to violate the ban on electioneering.

In a recent Wichita Eagle op-ed, former state budget director and senior fellow at the Kansas Center for Economic Growth Duane Goosen offered some wise advice to Kansas voters: “Before voting, check out legislative candidates carefully.”1

But he then follows immediately with this: “If a candidate supported Brownback’s fiscal experiment and wants to stay the course, being a financially literate voter requires marking your ballot for somebody else.”

This seems to cross a line, that line being electioneering by non-profit organizations. KCEG itself is not a recognized non-profit organization. Instead, it is a side project of Kansas Action for Children, Inc., which is a section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.

In exchange for their tax exempt status, these organizations face certain restrictions. In particular, the Internal Revenue Service says these organizations are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”2

The IRS says voter education activities conducted in a non-partisan manner are allowed. But: “On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.”3

The candidates Goossen recommends voting against, while not named in his op-ed, are a clearly-defined set. Their names appear in news stories, editorials, the Journal of the House of Representatives and other places. This is an example of “oppose a candidate in some manner,” and is where Goossen appears to cross the line from voter education to electioneering.

  1. Goossen, Duane. Governor, lawmakers flunk financial literacy. Wichita Eagle, May 7, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article76165857.html.
  2. Internal revenue service. The Restriction of Political Campaign Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations. Available at www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Charitable-Organizations/The-Restriction-of-Political-Campaign-Intervention-by-Section-501(c)(3)-Tax-Exempt-Organizations.
  3. ibid.

Kansas economic development programs

Explaining common economic development programs in Kansas.

TIF projects: Some background
Tax increment financing disrupts the usual flow of tax dollars, routing funds away from cash-strapped cities, counties, and schools back to the TIF-financed development. TIF creates distortions in the way cities develop, and researchers find that the use of TIF means lower economic growth. Click here.

Tax increment financing (TIF) resources
Resources on tax increment financing (TIF) districts. Click here.

STAR bonds in Kansas
The Kansas STAR bonds program provides a mechanism for spending by autopilot, without specific appropriation by the legislature. Click here.

Industrial Revenue Bonds in Kansas
Industrial Revenue Bonds are a mechanism that Kansas cities and counties use to allow companies to avoid paying property and sales taxes. Click here.

Community Improvement Districts in Kansas
In Kansas Community Improvement Districts, merchants charge additional sales tax for the benefit of the property owners, instead of the general public. Click here.

In Kansas, PEAK has a leak
A Kansas economic development incentive program is pitched as being self-funded, but is probably a drain on the state treasure nonetheless. Click here.

Government intervention may produce unwanted incentives
A Kansas economic development incentive program has the potential to alter hiring practices for reasons not related to applicants’ job qualifications. Click here.

City of Wichita
City of Wichita’s economic development page is here. The Sedgwick County/City of Wichita Economic Development Policy is here.

State of Kansas
A page at the Kansas Department of Commerce with incentive programs is here.

Another bill Kansas Governor Sam Brownback should veto

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has another opportunity to promote and protect individual liberty by blocking expansion of an ever-growing regulatory state.

It took a bit of legislative wrangling, but on Sunday May 1 HB 2615 passed the Kansas Senate by a vote of 40 to zero, and the Kansas House of Representatives by 115 to seven. In its final form, the bill allows physicians and dentists to satisfy a portion of their continuing education requirements by providing charity care to medically indigent persons.1

This bill provides an opportunity to examine and reconsider the purpose of occupational licensure. Most fundamentally: In the case of physicians and dentists, we trust them with our health, our very lives. Can’t we trust them to do whatever they believe is necessary to stay up-to-date in their field without the government requiring a specific number of hours of continuing education? By the way, how does the state of Kansas know how many hours of continuing education are necessary to stay current? Is it the same in all branches of medicine and dentistry? That’s what the Kansas regulations imply.

In Kansas, physicians must participate in 50 hours of continuing medical education annually. This education requirement is satisfied by participating in “activity designed to maintain, develop, or increase the knowledge, skills, and professional performance of persons licensed to practice a branch of the healing arts.”2

But HB 2615 will let physicians satisfy 20 hours of this requirement by providing 40 hours of health care to needy people. Having doctors perform routine medical care — doing their daily job, in other words — doesn’t seem likely to advance the “knowledge, skills, and professional performance” of doctors, which is the stated goal of the regulation.

We have, therefore, a regulation that has a plausibly reasonable purpose — ensuring that physicians and dentists are up-to-date in professional knowledge — instead being used by the state to “encourage” them to provide free labor.

Charity is good. It’s wonderful. It’s why I regularly engage in charitable activity. But it isn’t charity when government is forcing you to do something. I have a feeling that many healthcare professionals already provide much charitable care. But now Kansas wants them to enter into an agreement with the Secretary of Health and Environment to provide gratuitous services if they want credit for performing care as a way to avoid continuing education requirements. Again: If continuing medical education is necessary, why let it be avoided by providing charity care? By allowing the performance of routine medical care to substitute for continuing education, isn’t the state creating a risk to physicians’ regular patients?

Governor Brownback has shown by his veto of SB 338 this year that he has the capacity to appreciate individual rights. In 2012 his veto of SB 353 shows he has an appreciation of the harm of burdensome regulation.

Now, Governor Brownback has another opportunity to promote individual liberty and block the expansion of an ever-growing regulatory state.


Notes

  1. “The bill would allow charitable healthcare providers and dentists to fulfill one hour of continuing education credit for performance of two hours of gratuitous service to medically indigent persons if the provider signs an agreement with the Secretary of Health and Environment (Secretary) to provide gratuitous services. Healthcare providers would be allowed to fulfill a maximum of 20 continuing educational credits through gratuitous service per licensure period, and dentists would be allowed to fulfill a maximum of 6 continuing educational credits through gratuitous service per licensure period.” Kansas Legislature. HB 2615, Fourth conference committee report brief, May 1, 2016. Available at www.kslegislature.org/li/b2015_16/measures/documents/ccrb_hb2615_03_may1.pdf.
  2. Kansas State Board of Healing Arts. K.A.R. 100-15. (2016). Ksbha.org. Available at http://www.ksbha.org/regulations/article15.shtml#kar100154.

WichitaLiberty.TV: John Chisholm on entrepreneurship

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Author John Chisholm talks about entrepreneurship, regulation, economics, and education. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 119, broadcast May 8, 2016.

Shownotes

Wichita mayor’s counterfactual op-ed

Wichita’s mayor pens an op-ed that is counter to facts that he knows, or should know.

In the pages of the Wichita Eagle Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell wrote: “The city of Wichita has held its mill levy steady for the past 22 years.”1

That’s the mayor’s opinion. The facts, as can be easily found in government documents, are that the Wichita mill levy rises nearly every year.2 Since 2005 it has risen every year.

Change in Wichita mill levy rates, year-to-year and cumulative. Click for larger version.
Change in Wichita mill levy rates, year-to-year and cumulative. Click for larger version.
The mayor, city council, and bureaucrats say they have not taken action to raise the mill levy. They also say the mill levy is set by the county. All this is true.

But the county sets the mill levy based on two factors, one the city controls: The amount it decides to spend. The other factor, the assessed valuation of property, is not controlled by the city. So it is understandable that the mill levy may vary by small amounts from year to year when the two numbers are melded to form the actual mill levy. Some years the levy might rise, and in some years, it may fall. If it is a truly random matter, we should expect that over time the number of rising years and falling years should be equal, and that the overall change should be near zero.

But in Wichita, the mill levy rises nearly every year. And over time, since 1995, it has risen by 4.46 percent.

Wichita mill levy, percent dedicated to debt service. Click for larger version.
Wichita mill levy, percent dedicated to debt service. Click for larger version.
(Besides that, there has been a shift in the application of property tax revenue, with revenue was diverted from debt service to current spending. As recently as 2007 the city devoted 31 percent of property tax revenue to debt service. In 2015 it was 26 percent.)

What should concern Wichitans about their mayor’s op-ed is that he knows these facts. Or, at least he should. Despite the data that is readily available in the city’s comprehensive annual financial reports, Mayor Longwell has chosen to remain misinformed and/or uninformed, and to spread that to citizens.

Following are excerpts from the minutes of the August 7, 2012 council meeting, which Jeff Longwell attended as council member, and following that, video.

Wichita City Council, August 7, 2012

Bob Weeks 2451 Regency Lakes Court stated we say the City has not raised its mill levy in a long time and thinks it is true that this Council has not taken action to raise the mill levy, but it has increased. Stated in 2002 the City’s mill levy was 31.845 and last year 32.359, which is an increase of about half a mill or 1.6 percent. Stated we should also recognize that property tax revenue increased from about $83 million to $118 million dollars or 42 percent. Stated we did not experience anything near that in the rate of growth of population or inflation? even the two put together. Stated in the City sales tax collection for the same years, $41 million to about $55 million or 34 percent increase. Stated City revenues have increased quite a bit even though the Council has not taken explicit action to increase either the sales tax rate or the property tax rate. Stated another thing he is concerned about is shifting one mill of property tax revenue from the debt service fund to the general fund. Stated over the past years since 2007 there has been a shift of about 2.5 mills, which is more than the explicit policy of one mill, which will be ending over the next two years. Stated we have not delayed paying off debt in the sense that we have not made our scheduled bond payments but that 2.5 mills could have been used to retire debt instead of supporting current spending. Stated we could have repurchased some of our outstanding bonds or we could have used that money to pay for things that we borrowed for. Stated we need to realize that we have been not taking advantage of opportunities to retire longterm debt and had been redirecting that spending to current fund spending, which is where Cowtown and the Nature Center come from. Stated we need to be aware of these types of things as we make the policies going forward.

Mayor Brewer asked staff to explain the figures that Mr. Weeks was talking about.

Kelly Carpenter Finance Director stated regarding the mill levy, they started out at 10 mills in the capital improvement plan. Stated they reduced that down to 7.5 mills and now we are gradually increasing that mill levy back up in the debt service fund to 8.5 mills over the next two years.

Council Member O’Donnell stated he was referring that the mill levy has actually increased.

Kelly Carpenter Finance Director stated the overall mill levy has not increased within the last 19 years. Stated there has been a shift between the general fund and the debt service fund but the overall mill levy of the 32 mills has not increased.

Council Member O’Donnell asked Mr. Weeks to return to the podium and asked where his figures are from.

Bob Weeks stated from the 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, page H17. Stated they are the numbers that he extracted from that report. Stated it may not be that this Council took an action to raise the mill levy but somehow it did increase.

Council Member O’Donnell asked staff to answer that.

Mark Manning Finance Department the mill levy is set by the county and what they tell the Council each year is that the mill levy in the proposed budget is not changed from the mill levy certified by the county, the prior year. Stated they do not know what the mill levy will be for 2013 right now and will not know until November when the county finalizes its evaluation. Stated it may be slightly higher or lower and that is why you see those annual fluctuations. Stated Mr. Weeks is correct? some years it goes up and some years it goes down a little bit. Stated it does fluctuate and there is nothing we can do to control that but the general policy has been to keep it level for the last 19 years.

  1. Mayor Jeff Longwell: Property tax lid needs exemption for public safety. Wichita Eagle. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article74286642.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita property tax rate: Up again. Voice For Liberty in Wichita. Available at.wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-property-tax-rate-up-again/.

Individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas