wind-power-turbine-closeup

Energy subsidies for electricity production

Kansas wind turbinesWhen comparing federal subsidies for the production of electricity, it’s important to look at the subsidy values in proportion to the amount of electricity generated. That’s because the scales vary widely. For example, in 2010 for the United States, as can be seen in the accompanying table, coal accounted for the production of 1,851 billion kWh (or megawatt hours) of electricity production. That’s 44.9 percent of all electricity produced. Solar power accounted for the production of 1,851 billion kWh, which is 0.025 percent of all electrical production.

Solar power, however, received 8.2 percent of all federal subsidies, or about 328 times its share of production.

Click table for larger version.

Click table for larger version.

The nearby table and chart are based on data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), Direct Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy in Fiscal Year 2010 through the Congressional Research Service, along with the author’s calculations.

Of particular interest is wind power, as it is receives subsidy in the form of cash equivalent tax credits, and many states (including Kansas) have mandates forcing its use. For the year covered in the table, wind accounted for 2.3 percent of U.S. electricity generation. It received 42.0 percent of federal energy subsidies.

Electricity production and subsidy, 2010

Wichita council meeting may proceed without quorum

Wichita City Council chambers

Wichita City Council chambers

Tomorrow’s meeting of the Wichita City Council may proceed without a quorum. Or not.

Sec. 2.04.270 of the Wichita city code defines a quorum as “a majority of the members-elect of the council who shall be authorized to transact ordinary and usual city business at any council meeting.” That means four members. But the code doesn’t say anything about whether those members must be present in the council chambers, or may they participate remotely by telephone or other method.

Generally, assembling a quorum by including remote members is not legal. It’s not allowed in the Kansas Legislature, and also not in the United States Congress. (If you’ve seen season 2 of “House of Cards” there is a dramatic episode based on this principle.)

So will Tuesday’s meeting of the council be legitimate, in the sense of having a quorum present?

Maybe not. The city may realize there’s a problem, as the agenda packet recommends the council take this action: “Open the public hearing for public comment on the creation of a TBID, receive public comment, close the public hearing, and direct staff to return with an ordinance if appropriate.”

Generally, a meeting like this would have the recommendation to close the public hearing and pass the ordinance. So the city may contend that tomorrow’s meeting is only for the purpose of conducting a statutorily-required public hearing. Any actual lawmaking with ordinance-passing will be done later. Whether this makes the meeting legal, I don’t know.

apple-chalkboard-books

Kansas school finance lawsuit reaction

apple-chalkboard-booksFollowing is news coverage and reaction to the Kansas school finance lawsuit Luke Gannon, et al v. State of Kansas.

Press release from Kansas Supreme Court
The court declared certain school funding laws fail to provide equity in public education as required by the Kansas Constitution and returned the case to Shawnee County District Court to enforce the court’s holdings. The court further ordered the three-judge panel that presided over the trial of the case to reconsider whether school funding laws provide adequacy in public education — as also required by the constitution. … The court set a July 1, 2014, deadline to give the Legislature an opportunity to provide for equitable funding for public education. If by then the Legislature fully funds capital outlay state aid and supplemental general state aid as contemplated by present statutes, i.e., without withholding or prorating payments, the panel will not be required to take additional action on those issues. But if the Legislature takes no action by July 1, 2014, or otherwise fails to eliminate the inequity, the panel must take appropriate action to ensure the inequities are cured.

The full opinion

Court Orders Kansas Legislature to Spend More on Schools New York Times
Kansas’s highest court ruled on Friday that funding disparities between school districts violated the state’s Constitution and ordered the Legislature to bridge the gap, setting the stage for a messy budget battle in the capital this year. … Most of the attention in the case, Gannon v. Kansas, had been focused on the trial court’s order to raise base aid per student to $4,492, a 17 percent increase over the current level, to provide an adequate education for all Kansas students. On Friday, the Supreme Court held that the district court had not applied the proper standard to determine what constituted an adequate funding level and asked the lower court to re-examine that issue. “Regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy in education” under the State Constitution, the decision read.

Kansas must heed court’s call for fairer school funding Kansas City Star.
The Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance ruling Friday cast a bright light on the Legislature’s willful failure to meet its funding obligations to poorer school districts and their students. The state’s duty to promote equity in public education is well established. A previous court ruling ordered legislators to provide payments to districts with low tax bases to help lessen the gap between them and districts that can more easily raise money through property taxes. But in 2010 the Legislature cut off equalization money meant to help poorer districts with capital needs. A year later, lawmakers even amended a statute to excuse themselves from providing money for that purpose through 2017. They also reduced and prorated supplemental payments to help less wealthy districts meet day-to-day needs.

Court declares Kansas’ school funding levels unconstitutional Los Angeles Times
The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s current levels of school funding are unconstitutional, and ordered the Legislature to provide for “equitable funding for education” by July 1. The long-anticipated ruling was a victory for education advocates in the state, but it may be a short-lived one as the Legislature has vowed to defy court orders on the subject. … According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kansas is spending 16.5% less per student, or $950 per pupil, on education in 2014 than it did in 2008.

Kansas Supreme Court finds inequities in school funding, sends case back to trial court Wichita Eagle
The Kansas Supreme Court found some unfairness — but not necessarily too few dollars — in the state’s funding of schools and sent a mammoth school-finance case back to a lower court for further action. The court found disparities between districts to be unconstitutional and set a July 1 deadline for lawmakers to address that. But it stopped short of saying the state is putting too few dollars in the pot, leaving that issue for another day. … Both school advocates and Republican lawmakers declared partial victory in the wake of the ruling in the lawsuit brought by the Wichita school district and others against the state. But they offered strikingly different interpretations of the decision.

Kansas Supreme Court on school finance: A summary of the ruling Lawrence Journal-World

Court decision gives little clarity on adequacy of K-12 funding Topeka Capital-Journal
Plaintiffs and interested third parties articulated different interpretations of Friday’s school finance ruling, with some saying it is a call for more K-12 funds and conservative groups saying there is no rush.

KS Supreme Court: Legislators made ‘unconstitutional’ school funding choices Kansas Watchdog
In a long-awaited decision, the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday ruled that state lawmakers created “unconstitutional” and “unreasonable wealth-based disparities” by withholding certain state aid payments to public schools. … While the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court decision regarding the state’s failure to equitably disburse capital outlay and supplemental general payments to Sunflower State schools, it stopped short of issuing a decree for specific funding to meet the Legislature’s constitutional requirement to provide an “adequate” education.

Governor Sam Brownback and legislative leadership outline opportunity for progress following Kansas Supreme Court Ruling on Education Funding (full press release)
Today Governor Sam Brownback, joined by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ray Merrick and other legislators responded to the Kansas Supreme Court ruling on the Gannon vs Kansas case. “We have an opportunity for progress,” Governor Brownback said. “My commitment is to work with legislative leadership to address the allocation issue identified by the court. We will fix this.” The court has set out steps for the legislature to end the lawsuit by July 1, 2014. It affirms the Constitutional requirement for education to be “adequate” and “equitable.” “Our task is to come to resolution on capital outlay funding and local option budgets before July 1,” said Senate President Wagle. “We now have some clarity as we work toward resolution of issues that began years ago under prior administrations.”

Davis comments on Gannon ruling
The court today made it clear that the state has not met its obligation to fund Kansas schools in equitable way. It is time to set it right and fund our classrooms.

Kansas Policy Institute
Statement from Dave Trabert, the president of Kansas Policy Institute, in response to Gannon v. State of Kansas:
“We’re encouraged that the Court ruled that total spending cannot be used to measure adequacy. This is especially important because spending is currently based on deliberately-inflated numbers in the old Augenblick & Myers report. To this day, no one knows what it costs for schools to achieve required outcomes while also making efficient use of taxpayer money. “The next step in helping each student succeed while acting responsibly with taxpayer money is to model a K-12 Finance Commission on the KPERS Study Commission. The Legislature and Governor Brownback should determine what schools need to achieve required outcomes while organized and operating in a cost-effective manner, including appropriate equity measures, and fund schools accordingly.”

Americans for Prosperity-Kansas
The Kansas chapter of the grassroots group Americans for Prosperity released the following statement in response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance decision handed down today:
“For years, those demanding more education spending have ignored anything other than the base state aid per pupil which is only part of overall education funding,” said AFP-Kansas State Director Jeff Glendening. “We are pleased that the Supreme Court has specifically directed that ‘funds from all available resources, including grants and federal assistance, should be considered,’ and that ‘total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy.’
“In light of the Court’s ruling that ‘adequacy’ of education is determined by student outcomes rather than spending, and adopted standards similar to those adopted by the legislature in 2005, now is the time to consider how we are spending education dollars.
“Kansans are spending more than an average of $12,700 per student, and K-12 education currently makes up more than half of our state budget. Despite that, less than 60 percent of education dollars actually make it into the classroom. To meet the educational standards set out by the Legislature and Supreme Court, and give every Kansas child the opportunity they deserve, we must do better.
“We know that the discussion of school finance is not over, and will continue to play out in the courts as the Supreme Court sent the issue of ‘adequacy’ back to the District Court. It’s our hope that the lower court will carefully look at student outcomes and local spending decisions, rather than automatically demanding more state spending, and recognize its role in the constitutionally-defined separation of powers.”

Kansas National Education Association
We are disappointed that today’s announcement by the Kansas State Supreme Court prolongs a resolution of the school finance issue. It didn’t deal directly with the current critical need in Kansas public schools. Together, the citizens of Kansas made sacrifices at a time when the state and national economy were in crisis. During that time Kansans came together and dealt with staggering cuts to education, believing the promise of full restoration to public school funding once the state economy had rebounded.

Kansas Supreme Court rules in school finance case Kansas Health Institute
Kansas’ top court today released its long-awaited decision in the school finance case and while the ruling settled little for now, both sides in the litigation said they found things to like about it.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, whose office defended the state in Gannon v. State of Kansas, said he didn’t believe the mixed decision would necessarily require the Legislature to spend more on K-12 schools, though that would be one option for making the state’s school finance formula constitutional again. … But representatives of the school districts that took to court claiming state aid dollars have been unequal and inadequate said they felt confident they would win the remainder of their points at retrial and that the Legislature would need to authorize an added $129 million in K-12 spending by July 1 to meet the standards spelled out in the unanimous decision. “We are not concerned about this. All of our proof at trial was presented using the correct standard that the court now directs to be used,” at retrial, said John Robb an attorney for the four public school districts that sued the state.

Kansas Supreme Court issues ruling on school finance Wichita Public Schools
The Kansas Supreme Court issued its ruling on the school finance lawsuit on March 7. It upholds the concept that the legislature must adequately fund schools in Kansas and that the funding must be distributed equitably. It requires the Kansas Legislature to fund capital outlay and Local Option Budget equalization by July 1, 2014. That means immediate increases in some state funding for education. … “Overall, we think this is a great ruling for Wichita and Kansas kids,” said Lynn Rogers, BOE member. “It upholds the concept that the State of Kansas is responsible for adequately and equitably funding our students’ education.” Rogers said that the lawsuit is for all Kansas students and that they deserve a quality education regardless of where they live in the state. “The education we provide is the foundation for our workforce and the future of Kansas,” said Superintendent John Allison. “If we don’t give our students a quality education now, we will pay for it in the future.”

In Wichita, West Bank apartments seem to violate ordinance

city-council-chambers-sign-mediumLast year the Wichita City Council selected a development team to build apartments on the West Bank of the Arkansas River, between Douglas Avenue and Second Street. But city leaders may have overlooked a Wichita City Charter Ordinance that sets aside this land to be “open space, committed to use for the purpose of public recreation and enjoyment.”

Click for larger version.

Click for larger version.

The building of apartments on this land would seem to be contrary to the language of this ordinance.

Section 10, paragraph (b) of Charter Ordinance No. 144 defines two tracts of land and specifies restrictions on their future use. The proposed apartment development, as can be seen in the nearby illustration, lies in the second tract. The ordinance says this land “shall be hereafter restricted to and maintained as open space.”

Following is the relevant portion of Charter Ordinance No. 144. Emphasis is added.

SECTION 1. Charter Ordinance No. 125 of the City of Wichita is hereby amended to add the following section:

“Section 10. (a) All real property subject to this Section and owned by the City of Wichita or the Board of Park Commissioners shall be subject to the restrictions on use established by this Section. Such restrictions shall apply to such property owned on the date of this ordinance and shall continue to apply to the property whether owned by the City, Board of Park Commissioners, or some other person or entity. These restrictions may hereafter be reduced to a less restrictive use or removed from any or all of the property by action of two-thirds of the members elect of the governing body. Any such action to reduce or remove restrictions shall be by resolution of the governing body.

“(b) This Section shall apply to that property located between McLean Boulevard and the Arkansas River and between Central Avenue and Douglas Avenue. The street boundaries shall continue to apply in the event of the relocation of any street.

That portion of the property North of Second Street shall be hereafter restricted to public use, meaning that such property shall be publicly owned and accessible to the public.

That portion of the property South of Second Street shall be hereafter restricted to and maintained as open space, committed to use for the purpose of public recreation and enjoyment.

WichitaLiberty.TV.19

WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita’s missing water, beyond politics and special interests

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The people of Wichita have told officials that water is an important issue. What has the city done in this regard? Then, Wichita Mayor Brewer Carl says it’s time to put politics and special interests aside. Is our political leadership capable of this? Episode 34, broadcast March 9, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Kansas Judicial Center

We can predict the loser in the Kansas school lawsuit

The Kansas Supreme Court will hand down the school finance decision Friday.

The Kansas Supreme Court will hand down the school finance decision Friday.

No matter which side wins the Kansas school finance lawsuit, we already know who loses: Kansas schoolchildren. The last time schools won a suit, the state lowered its standards for schools.

Talking about school spending is easy, even though most Kansas public school spending advocates refuse to acknowledge the totality of spending. (Or if they acknowledge the total level, they may make excuses for the spending not being effective.) Advocating for more spending is easy. It’s easy because the Kansas Constitution says the state must spend on schools. Parents want more spending, and so do teachers, public employee unions, and children. It’s easy to support more spending on schools because anyone who doesn’t is demonized as anti-child, anti-education, and even anti-human.

But the focus on school spending lets the Kansas public school establishment off the hook too easily. Any and all shortcomings of Kansas schools can be blamed on inadequate funding. That’s what the establishment does.

The focus on school spending also keeps attention away from some unfortunate and unpleasant facts about Kansas schools that the establishment would rather not talk about. Kansas needs to confront these facts for the sake of Kansas schoolchildren. If the court orders more spending and the legislature complies, not much is likely to improve, but the public school establishment will say everything that’s wrong has been fixed.

The focus on spending

First, citizens are generally misinformed on Kansas school spending. In surveys, most people usually guess that schools spend less than half of the correct amount. It’s a problem not only in Kansas; it’s a nationwide issue.

Then, there is a tenuous connection between increased school spending and better student outcomes. Many studies point out the rapid rise in school spending over the decades, but test scores are flat.

Even liberal think tanks realize the school class size is not an important factor.

Even liberal think tanks realize the school class size is not an important factor.

Public school spending advocates say that increased spending will allow smaller class sizes. But class size reduction is very expensive and produces only marginal benefits compared to other strategies. The Center for American Progress — normally in favor of anything that increases government spending — wrote this in its 2011 report The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction

The evidence on class size indicates that smaller classes can, in some circumstances, improve student achievement if implemented in a focused way. But CSR [class size reduction] policies generally take exactly the opposite approach by pursuing across-the-board reductions in class size at the state or federal level. These large-scale, untargeted policies are also extremely expensive and represent wasted opportunities to make smarter educational investments. Large-scale CSR policies clearly fail any cost-benefit test because they entail steep costs and produce benefits that are modest at best.

The CAP report tells readers what does work to improve student outcomes:

Researchers agree that teacher quality is the single most important in-school determinant of how much students learn. Stanford economist Eric A. Hanushek has estimated that replacing the worst 5 percent to 8 percent of teachers with average teachers would dramatically boost achievement in the United States.

KNEA: There are no bad teachers.

KNEA: There are no bad teachers.

But Kansas ranks low in policies regarding teacher quality. The current lawsuit doesn’t address issues like teacher quality or other specific reforms that will actually help Kansas schoolchildren. By the way, the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) believes there are no bad teachers.

What Kansas did after the last lawsuit

Consider what Kansas did the last time schools won a lawsuit: The state lowered its school standards. Simply put, Kansas didn’t have rigorous standards for its schools, and it lowered them after the last court decision.

national-center-education-statistics-state-mapping-naep

The National Center for Education Statistics produces a report titled Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. (NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.)

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. The conclusion of NCES is that Kansas school standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains. (View below, or click here to view in HD at YouTube.)

For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

A similar question was considered for math: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of mathematics standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the mathematics assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased (the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change).”

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its mathematics grade 4 assessment between 2005 and 2009, but the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change.”

For mathematics, NCES judges that some standards were weakened, and some did not change.

In its summary of Kansas reading standards, NCES concluded: “In both grades, Kansas state assessment results showed more positive changes in achievement than NAEP results.” For mathematics, the summary reads: “In grade 4, Kansas state assessment results showed a change in achievement that is not different from that based on NAEP results. In grade 8, state assessment results showed a more positive change.”

In other words: In three of four instances, Kansas is claiming positive student achievement that isn’t apparent on national tests.

Following are two examples of charts from the NCES study where Kansas school standards rank compared to other states. Click on them for larger versions.

Kansas Grade 4 Reading Standards

Kansas Grade 4 Math Standards 01

Coming to Wichita for business. (Click for a larger version.)

Wichita seeks to add more tax to hotel bills

Wichita City Hall.

Wichita City Hall.

The city of Wichita wants hotel guests to make a “marketing investment” in Wichita by paying a “City Tourism Fee.”

This Tuesday the Wichita City Council will hold a public hearing regarding the formation of a Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID).

Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau

The main characteristic of the proposed TBID is that it will add 2.75 percent tax to most hotel rooms sold in the City of Wichita. The funds would go to Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau to be used to enhance that agency’s marketing efforts. The tax is estimated to raise $2.5 million per year.

What is the motivation of the city’s hotel operators to assent to this added tax on their product? City documents state: “Go Wichita estimates that the new marketing investment could result in a 6% rise in hotel occupancy and a growth of $12 million in hotel revenue.”

What the city calls a “marketing investment” will appear on hotel bills as the “City Tourism Fee,” according to city documents.

How to succeed in business by having others pay for your advertising

When most business firms want to increase their business through advertising, they pay for it themselves. They don’t tack on an additional “advertising fee” to customer’s bills.

But not so with Wichita hotels. Unlike most businesses, Wichita hotels propose to have someone else pay for their advertising.

On top of that, the city and the hotels don’t have the integrity to label the added tax to let customers know its true purpose. Instead, the tax will appear on customer bills as a “City Tourism Fee.” If hotel customers are angry at the fee, well, who is to blame? The hotel, which is merely collecting what city code says it must? Visitors to Wichita likely won’t know the real reason for the tax, which is to shift expenses to someone else through the mechanism of government.

Clever. I wonder if other industries will try something like this? Also: Will the Wichita hotels that currently engage in advertising reduce their spending on advertising, now that a government agency is in charge and taxpayers are footing the bill?

Who pays this tax

City leaders argue that taxes like hotel taxes are largely paid for by people from out of town. Whether that is a wise strategy is debatable. People and business firms notice these taxes. Wichita hotel owner Jim Korroch is an advocate of the new Wichita tax. But he told the Wichita Eagle recently “You know, I used to like to take my girls shopping at the Legends in Kansas City. I thought that was a great deal with the outlet malls, but for the first time I’ve looked at my receipts, and it isn’t. They charge almost 20 percent at the Legends with that district.” So he noticed — eventually — the high taxes charged.

Coming to Wichita for business. (Click for a larger version.)

Coming to Wichita for business. (Click for a larger version.)

If the tourism fee is implemented, some hotels in Wichita that are located in community improvement districts (including one Korroch owns) will have taxes totaling 17.9 percent added to customer bills.

Here’s something else regarding the myth of shifting hotel taxes to people from out of town. Are there are any Wichita business firms that have employees who live in other cities, and those employees travel to Wichita on business and stay in hotels? Often these hotel bills are paid by the employee and then reimbursed by the Wichita company they work for. So as far as a hotel knows, and as far as any marketing analysis might show, someone from Fresno spends a few days in a Wichita hotel. This person might work for Cargill Beef’s Fresno facility and have traveled to Wichita to visit the headquarters of Cargill Meat Solutions. In the end, the hotel bill and taxes are paid by Cargill Meat Solutions, a Wichita company.

Do any Wichita business firms employ consultants who travel to Wichita and stay in hotels, and those hotels bills are part of the consultants’ billable expense? In the end, who pays those taxes? A Wichita business firm does.

So at the public hearing, I hope someone asks the question: How often are these taxes actually paid by Wichita companies? Does the city know the answer to this?

Further: Isn’t it a sham to call this tax a “City Tourism Fee” when hometown companies are paying hotel bills for their employees and consultants to come to Wichita for business?

More secret spending

It is the position of Go Wichita that the agency doesn’t have to conform to the Kansas Open Records Act. The City of Wichita backs this interpretation of the law. Thus, we will have more taxpayer funds spent in secret.

The bureaucrats profit

Writing in Public Choice — A Primer Eamonn Butler explains the motivations of bureaucrats:

In terms of what bureaucrats actually do pursue, Niskanen suggested that budget maximisation provided a fair measure. It is an approximation to the objective of profit in the market context. And it provides a simple proxy for all the other things that go with a large and growing budget — such as job security, promotion prospects, salary increases and so on.

In their pursuit of these benefits, bureaucrats are just as much players in the political process as any other interest group — and they have no free-rider problem because their group is so well defined that they can easily keep the benefits of their lobbying to themselves. …

Bureaucrats can also rely on the political support of the interest groups that depend on the grants and programmes that they administer, and which would almost certainly like to see those budgets increased; and they can rely on the support of the commercial businesses that supply goods and services to the programmes that the agencies administer.

We see these characteristics revealing themselves: A government agency seeking to expand its budget and power, at the expense of taxpayers.

money-bag-struggle

Special interests struggle to keep special tax treatment

Detail of stairway in Kansas Capitol.

Detail of stairway in Kansas Capitol.

When a legislature is willing to grant special tax treatment, it sets up a battle to keep — or obtain — that status. Once a special class acquires preferential treatment, others will seek it too.

When preferential tax treatment is granted, that is, when government says someone doesn’t have to pay taxes, it’s usually the case that someone else has to pay. That’s because governmental bodies usually don’t reduce their spending in response to the tax breaks they give. Spending stays the same (or rises), but someone isn’t paying their share. Therefore, others have to make up the missing tax revenue.

In Kansas, SB 72 has been passed by the Senate and may be considered by the House of Representatives. This bill would, according to its supplemental note “provide a property or ad valorem tax exemption on all property owned and operated by a health club.” In effect, this bill would give all health clubs the same property tax exemption that the YMCA enjoys on its fitness centers.

When the legislature uses tax law to achieve goals, the statute book becomes complicated as illustrated by the many special sales tax exemptions in Kansas. K.S.A. 79-3606 details the special sales tax exemptions that the legislature has granted. In order to list them all, the statute has sections labeled from (a) through (z), then from (aa) through (zz), then from (aaa) through (zzz), and finally from (aaaa) through (gggg).

Some of these sections are needed and valuable, such as the section that exempts manufacturers from paying sales tax on component parts and ingredients used to build final products. It is supposed to be a retail sales tax, after all.

But then there are sections like this: “(vv) (18) the Ottawa Suzuki Strings, Inc., for the purpose of providing students and families with education and resources necessary to enable each child to develop fine character and musical ability to the fullest potential.”

I have no doubt that this organization is engaged in useful work and that there should be more of this. But what about all the other organizations engaged in similar activities, and which are undoubtedly as deserving of the same tax break? Should they be penalized because they did not have the temerity to ask?

In the area of property taxation, we find many similar circumstances, where two businesses that seem to be similarly situated are treated very differently by the tax collector.

For example, Wesley Medical Center, one of Wichita’s principal hospitals, is Wichita’s second-largest property taxpayer, with taxable assessed value representing 0.90 percent of the total of such property in Wichita.

One hospital has many millions in property, but is not taxed on that property.

One hospital has many millions in property, but is not taxed on that property.

But another large Wichita Hospital, Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, has assets valued at over $115 million, yet pays no property tax. For the mill levy rate that applies to its address, this represents about $3.5 million in property tax savings. (It did pay a Sedgwick County Solid Waste User Fee of $8.91.)

How can we meaningfully distinguish between Wesley and St. Francis Hospitals? Does one provide more charity care than the other? Does the non-profit hospital charge lower rates? (I’d be surprised if so.) Does St. Francis impose less of a burden on city and county resources such as fire and police protection than does Wesley? Since Wesley attempts to earn a profit and St. Francis purportedly does not, does that make Wesley evil and St. Francis saintly? Why do we exempt St. Francis from millions of property tax, yet insist it pay $8.91 in solid waste user fees?

A scene from a non-profit retirement living center.

A scene from a non-profit retirement living center.

We find other examples: A luxury retirement community (Larksfield Place) with real property valued at $27,491,440 pays no property tax, except for $5.95 in the solid waste user fee. Less than a mile away, Sedgwick Plaza, a senior living center, has a valuation of $5,067,350 for its real property, and was billed $70,080.51 in property tax, including its solid waste user fee of $972. Despite — or perhaps due to — its non-profit status, Larksfield Place is able to provide its president a salary of over $130,000.

A Goodwill thrift store on West Central in Wichita has real property valued at $696,600, but paid no property taxes except for $5.94 solid waste user fee. On the other side of town, a small thrift store on East Douglas has real property valued at $113,800. It pays $3,437 in property tax, including its solid waste user fee.

These differences in what seem to be properties in similar situations are not justifiable under any theory of taxation, one of which is that similar situations are taxed similarly. The YMCA’s fitness centers are difficult to distinguish from others in Wichita — except for the YMCA’s rarefied tax-exempt status.

The slippery slope

Here’s the danger: Should SB 72 pass and all health clubs start enjoying the same tax privileges as the YMCA, shouldn’t we then expect to see for-profit hospitals like Wesley Medical Center ask to be relieved of their tax burden, using the same logic? If the legislature were to deny that request, how could it possibly explain its reasoning to citizens?

In defense of its tax exempt status, the YMCA says it engages in many charitable activities. I’m sure that’s true, and we’d like to keep those activities. Perhaps the YMCA would consider separating its fitness centers from the rest of its operations. Separate the business-like activities from the charitable. The YMCA can use the “profits” from its fitness centers to finance its charitable activities. To the extent it does that, it will avoid paying state and federal income tax on its profits.

But property taxes are something different from income taxes. The YMCA benefits from all the things the city (and other taxing jurisdictions) provide, ranging from public safety to schools to security for the mayor’s trip to Ghana. When it doesn’t pay its share, others have to pay. That means that others — you and me, for example — have less money available for the charitable (and other) activities they feel important. Even worse, I am forced to subsidize the charitable activities that the YMCA (or the Methodist Church, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc.) chooses to fund. This is especially true in Kansas, where low-income households pay a regressive sales tax on food.

When the YMCA — or any non-profit, for that matter — escapes taxation that other similar organizations must pay, it means that we all subsidize the charitable activities of these non-profits. It sustains a system in which special interest groups lobby to keep their advantages, and those who are not similarly blessed spend lavishly on campaign contributions and other lobbyists. Even when the organization is widely respected, as is the YMCA, this is wrong. It leads to cynicism as citizens realize that our laws are not applied uniformly, and that special interests feel they can buy their way to special treatment.

For their business-like activities, the YMCA, Larksfield Place, and Goodwill thrift stores should pay property taxes so they shoulder the same burden that the rest of us struggle under. That will spread the cost of government fairly, and let ordinary people themselves decide how to contribute their after-tax dollars.

wichita-taxi regulations

Regulation failure leads to tragedy in Wichita

wichita-taxi regulations

When the Wichita City Council passed new taxicab regulations in 2012, the focus was on dirty cabs and slovenly drivers who were not acting as goodwill ambassadors for the city. Mayor Carl Brewer said he was “tired” of hearing complaints about drivers.

So the council passed new regulations regarding taxicabs, including the requirement that drivers attend customer service training provided by Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau. Other regulations determine taxicab office staffing levels and level of supervision.

Bryon Scott Spohn, a taxi driver accused of raping a passenger.

But something very important slipped through the cracks. The Wichita Eagle has reported the city didn’t competently enforce regulations designed to protect passenger safety:

A Wichita taxicab driver now in prison for raping a passenger last year shouldn’t have been allowed to operate a taxi in the first place.

That’s because at the time Bryon Scott Spohn applied for a taxi driver’s license in late 2012, he was on a state sex offender registry for possession of child pornography. A city ordinance that went into effect in July 2012 says a taxi driver’s license shall not be issued to anyone who “is now or has ever been registered as a sexual offender with any state, county or local government.”

Spohn shouldn’t have received a taxi license but did because the new change banning registered sex offenders wasn’t communicated to staff members doing background checks on taxi driver applicants, city officials told The Eagle on Friday. The city has fixed the problem that led to the oversight in Spohn’s case, they said. Taxi driver in prison for raping passenger was on sex offender registry, March 3, 2014

The regulations regarding customer service training were implemented. But the really important regulations? Lack of oversight, says the city.

I wonder: Who is regulating the regulators?

WichitaLiberty.TV.24

WichitaLiberty.TV: Government planning, taxes, and carbon

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The City of Wichita held a workshop where the Community Investments Plan Steering Committee delivered a progress report to the city council. The document holds some facts that ought to make Wichitans think, and think hard. Then: What is the purpose of high tax rates on high income earners? Finally: Advances in producing oil and natural gas make for a more competitive and carbon-efficient economy. Episode 33, broadcast March 2, 2014. View below, or click here to view on YouTube.

Corporate cronyism harms America

As the Wichita Business Journal features an interview with Charles Koch today, here’s a repeat of his article from September 2012 in which he address many of the same topics as covered in the WBJ interview.

“The effects on government are equally distorting — and corrupting. Instead of protecting our liberty and property, government officials are determining where to send resources based on the political influence of their cronies. In the process, government gains even more power and the ranks of bureaucrats continue to swell.”

The editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal by Charles G. Koch, chairman of the board and CEO of Wichita-based Koch Industries contains many powerful arguments against the rise of cronyism. The argument above is just one of many.

In his article, Koch makes an important observation when he defines cronyism: “We have a term for this kind of collusion between business and government. It used to be known as rent-seeking. Now we call it cronyism. Rampant cronyism threatens the economic foundations that have made this the most prosperous country in the world.”

“Rent-seeking” was always a difficult term to use and understand. It had meaning mostly to economists. But “cronyism” — everyone knows what that means. It is a harsh word, offensive to many elected officials. But we need a harsh term to accurately describe the harm caused, as Koch writes: “This growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining not just our economy and our political system, but the very foundations of our culture.”

The entire article is available at the Wall Street Journal. Koch has also contributed other articles on this topic, see Charles G. Koch: Why Koch Industries is speaking out and Charles Koch: The importance of economic freedom.

Charles G. Koch: Corporate Cronyism Harms America

When businesses feed at the federal trough, they threaten public support for business and free markets.

By Charles G. Koch

“We didn’t build this business — somebody else did.”

So reads a sign outside a small roadside craft store in Utah. The message is clearly tongue-in-cheek. But if it hung next to the corporate offices of some of our nation’s big financial institutions or auto makers, there would be no irony in the message at all.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the role of American business is increasingly vilified or viewed with skepticism. In a Rasmussen poll conducted this year, 68% of voters said they “believe government and big business work together against the rest of us.”

Businesses have failed to make the case that government policy — not business greed — has caused many of our current problems. To understand the dreadful condition of our economy, look no further than mandates such as the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “affordable housing” quotas, directives such as the Community Reinvestment Act, and the Federal Reserve’s artificial, below-market interest-rate policy.

Far too many businesses have been all too eager to lobby for maintaining and increasing subsidies and mandates paid by taxpayers and consumers. This growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining not just our economy and our political system, but the very foundations of our culture.

With partisan rhetoric on the rise this election season, it’s important to remind ourselves of what the role of business in a free society really is — and even more important, what it is not.

Continue reading at The Wall Street Journal

wichita-business-journal-cover-2014-02-28

Wichita Business Journal remodels, features Charles Koch interview

wichita-business-journal-cover-2014-02-28

The Wichita Business Journal has, it its own words, “reinvented” itself, and starts its new life with features on Koch Industries and an extended interview with Charles Koch.

To get started, the weekly newspaper has made its complete digital edition available to read at no charge. Click here for access.

The interview with Koch is wide-ranging, covering the business interests of Koch Industries and Koch’s political involvement, detailing his relationship with Americans for Prosperity. An example quote: “When you start attacking cronyism and people’s political interests, it gets nasty.”

Water faucet

Where’s Wichita’s water?

Water faucet

As part of the Community Investments Plan process, citizens have told the City of Wichita they’re concerned about future water supply.

Through both the mailed survey and direct feedback obtained in citizen forums, creating a reliable source of water was the top priority, according to city documents released this week.

Those who have been paying attention might be surprised that there is a water crisis, and that citizens are concerned. That’s because when Bob Knight was mayor, he was told that Wichita had sufficient water for the next 50 years. That was about ten years ago.

More recently, the city prepared a document last March titled Wichita Area Future Water Supply: A Model Program for Other Municipalities. It touts an expensive investment that is part of a “plan to ensure that Wichita has the water it needs through the year 2050 and beyond.”

The project boasted of is the City of Wichita Aquifer Storage and Recovery Program or ASR. Its cost, so far for Phases I and II, is $247 million. Two more phases are contemplated.

City of Wichita Aquifer Storage and Recovery Program schematic diagram.

City of Wichita Aquifer Storage and Recovery Program schematic diagram.

Reading the document, published just last spring, one might be led to believe that everything is fine, water-wise: “In 1993 the Wichita City Council adopted an Integrated Local Water Supply Plan that identified cost effective water resources that would be adequate to meet Wichita’s water supply needs through the year 2050.”

But this month the Wichita Eagle reported “Wichita’s $240 million aquifer storage and recovery program — promoted to taxpayers in the early 1990s as a way to supply the city with water for 50 years — could soon be relegated to serving as a bit player in the city’s long-term water future.”

Later in the same article, the newspaper reported “The ASR project has been plagued by problems, city officials said, including equipment failures and a significant drought that idled the project because of low water levels in the Little Arkansas River.”

Despite this investment on nearly one-quarter billion dollars, and despite the plan’s boasts, Wichitans have been threatened with huge fines for excessive water usage. The Wichita City Council forced citizens to spend up to $1 million so that other people may install low-water usage appliances, and city decorative fountains were dry for a time in an effort to save water. Fortunately, not all the potential rebates were claimed.

What went wrong? Where’s Wichita’s water?

Last summer there was severe drought for a time, and it was easy to attribute Wichita’s water problems to that lack of rain. But that’s not the message we’re getting now.

It appears that the plans the city made for a future water supply were not adequate, and the spending to implement the plan has been, largely, wasted.

Located across the street from the Transit Center, the city-owned garage on William Street suffers from maintenance issues that diminish its value for its intended use: retail space.

As landlord, Wichita has a few issues

Located across the street from the Transit Center, the city-owned garage on William Street suffers from maintenance issues that diminish its value for its intended use: retail space.

Located across the street from the Transit Center, the city-owned garage on William Street suffers from maintenance issues that diminish its value for its intended use: retail space.

Commercial retail space owned by the City of Wichita in a desirable downtown location was built to be rented. But most is vacant, and maintenance issues go unresolved.

At one time it was thought that the Wichita city-owned parking structure in the 400 block of East William Street would house retail shops along the street. But the present state of the property should cause us to be wary of government economic development efforts.

As reported by the Wichita Eagle twenty years ago on Wednesday, October 20, 1993:

The council also approved a plan to spend about $76 a square foot to construct roughly 6,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor of the parking garage. The space would lease for an estimated $8.70 a square foot.

Council member Sheldon Kamen questioned that part of the plan. ”I just can’t visualize spending $76 a square foot,” he said. “If I was a developer I wouldn’t spend $76 a square foot for retail space on William street.”

Council member Joan Cole disagreed with Kamen, calling $8.70 a “very good price” that would attract tenants. ”It is my feeling there are small operations that would find this kind of small space very attractive,” she said.

(Adjusted for inflation, these prices would be $122 and $14 today)

What has been the results of the city’s venture into commercial real estate? As can be seen in this video from September, a Wichita city government office occupied some of the space, but the office had moved to another location. Now, Wichita Festivals occupies some of the space, but much is still empty.

Rusted awnings near retail space in the city-owned garage on William Street in Wichita,

Rusted awnings near retail space in the city-owned garage on William Street in Wichita,

Inspecting the building last September, I found that this city-owned property had maintenance issues that might, in some circumstances, be considered as contributing to blight. As can be seen in the nearby photos taken this week (click them for larger versions), maintenance hasn’t improved in the nearly six months since then. Maybe that’s why there’s apparently little demand to rent this space.

At the city-owned garage on William Street in Wichita, a duct tape repair is still in use after six months.

At the city-owned garage on William Street in Wichita, a duct tape repair is still in use after six months.

It’s not as though the building has many of advantages that city planners tell us are needed for a vital downtown Wichita. There are hundreds of state employees parking in the garage each workday. It’s adjacent to the block with the Eaton Hotel and the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, the agency charged with promoting downtown. This retail space is right across the street from the city’s bus transit center. It’s also one block away from the Intrust Bank Arena, which was promoted as a driver of commerce and activity for the surrounding area. Its Walk Score — a measure promoted by city planners — is 71, which is deemed “Very Walkable.”

Considering all the advantages this government-owned property has, it’s failing. It’s becoming blighted. The best thing the city could do is sell this property so that the benefits of markets and the profit-and-loss system can replace city bureaucrats.

In Wichita, citizens want more transparency in city government

Wichita city hall

In a videographed meeting that is part of a comprehensive planning process, Wichitans openly question the process, repeatedly asking for an end to cronyism and secrecy at city hall.

As part of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Comprehensive Plan, the City of Wichita held a number of focus groups meetings. Their purpose, according to city documents, was to provide “information on the components of the Plan and provide input on a draft survey.”

(Some indication of the reverence given to the plan to city planners may be inferred by the city’s use of capitalization when referring to it.)

The community meetings were structured in a way reminiscent of the Delphi method, described in Wikipedia as “a structured communication technique, originally developed as a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts.” Others have a more skeptical view, believing that the Delphi technique leads citizens to believe they have participated in community democratic decision-making when in reality, that is not the goal of the process.

In October Americans for Prosperity-Kansas invited the city to hold a focus group meeting. Video from the meeting is below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Dave Barber, who is Advanced Plans Manager at Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department, facilitated the meeting. Susan Estes of AFP was the meeting organizer and host. Mike Shatz is the videographer. His description of the meeting is “The City of Wichita is holding a series of meetings to gain input from the public on future spending plans. The meetings are based off a survey the city conducted, which, by all accounts, was full of loaded questions geared towards promoting the programs that city officials want to see. In this meeting, one of the first in the series, citizens openly question the process and repeatedly ask for an end to cronyism and secrecy at city hall.”

Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan logo.

Wichita planning documents hold sobering numbers

Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan logo.

Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan logo.

This week the City of Wichita held a workshop where the Community Investments Plan Steering Committee delivered a progress report to the city council. The documents hold information that ought to make Wichitans think, and think hard. The amounts of money involved are large, and portions represent deferred maintenance. That is, the city has not been taking care of the assets that taxpayers have paid for.

The time frame of this planning process is the period 2013 to 2035. Under the heading “Trends & Challenges” we find some troubling information. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer hinted at the problem last year in his State of the City Address when he said the city would need to spend $2.1 billion over 30 years on maintenance and replacement of water and sewer systems. The city’s performance measure report also told us that our pavement condition index has been deteriorating, and is projected to continue to decline.

So if we’ve been paying attention, it should not have been a surprise to read this in the presentation: “Decades of under-investment in infrastructure maintenance … 38% of Wichita’s infrastructure is in ‘deficient/fair’ condition.”

The cost to remedy this lack of maintenance is substantial. The document says that on an annual basis, Wichita needs to spend $180 million on infrastructure depreciation/replacement costs. Currently the city spends $78 million on this, the presentation indicates.

The “cost to bring existing deficient infrastructure up to standards” is given as an additional $45 to $55 million per year.

This is a lot of money. To place these numbers in context, here are some figures that help illustrate Wichita city finances:

Property tax collected in 2013: $105 million
Budgeted 2014 expenditures for fire department: $44 million
Budgeted 2014 expenditures for police department: $79 million

It’s thought that an additional one cent per dollar city sales tax would generate around $80 million per year.

The amounts by which the city is deficient in maintaining its assets is staggering, compared to other expenses the city has. The size of the deficiency overwhelms possible sources of new revenue. A one cent per dollar increase in sales tax would not cover the deficiencies in maintaining our current assets. Then, remember the things Wichita wants to increase spending on — a new library, economic development, expanded public transit, new convention center, economic development, and perhaps other things.

The report lists three scenarios for future growth: Maintaining current trends, constrained suburban growth, and suburban and infill growth mix. Whenever we see words like “constrained” we need to be cautious. We need to be on guard. The Wichita Eagle reported this: “In the city’s recently completed series of 102 public meetings, citizens were clear, City Manager Robert Layton said: Redevelop the core. We’ve had enough suburban growth for awhile.”

It’s unclear how closely the findings from the public meetings reflects actual citizen preference. Cynics believe that these meetings are run in a way that produces a predetermined outcome aligned with what city officials want to hear. At any rate, when you ask people about their preferences, but there is no corresponding commitment to act on their proclaimed preferences, we have to wonder how genuine and reliable the results are.

There is a very reliable way to find out what people really want, however. Just let them do it. If people want to live downtown on in an inner city neighborhood, fine. If they want suburban-style living, that’s fine too. Well, it should be fine. But reading between the lines of city documents you get the impression that city planners don’t think people should live in suburban-style settings.

Sometimes we don’t have to read between the lines. Sometimes the attitude of planners is explicit. In 2010 the city — actually the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation — employed Goody Clancy, a Boston-based planning firm, to help plan the revitalization of downtown Wichita. In the article Goody Clancy market findings presented to Wichita audience I reported on some of what the planners said. For example, David Dixon, the Goody Clancy principal for this project, told how that in the future, Wichitans will be able to “enjoy the kind of social and cultural richness” that is found only at the core. “Have dinner someplace, pass a cool shop, go to a great national music act at the arena, and then go to a bar, and if we’re lucky, stumble home.”

This idea that only downtown people are socially and culturally rich is an elitist attitude that we ought to reject. By the way, when I presented to the Wichita City Council on this topic, I noted that no council members, except for possibly one, lived in neighborhoods that might be described as in “the core.”

Other speakers from Goody Clancy revealed a condescending attitude towards those who hold values different from this group of planners. One presenter said “Outside of Manhattan and Chicago, the traditional family household generally looks for a single family detached house with yard, where they think their kids might play, and they never do.”

This, again, is an elitist attitude. No, it’s worse than that. It’s condescending. It reveals that the professional planning class thinks that the ordinary people of Wichita can’t decide for themselves what they really want. Somehow, people are duped into buying homes that don’t really meet their needs, and they’re not smart enough to realize that. That is the attitude of the professional planning class. It’s an elitism that Wichitans ought to reject.

The planning process

The planners tells us that the process is based on data. “Data-driven” is a term they use. But when we look under the covers at the data, we realize that we need to be very skeptical of claims.

Returning to the Goody Clancy plan for downtown Wichita, the principal planner used Walk Score in a presentation delivered in Wichita. Walk Score is purported to represent a measure of walkability of a location in a city. Walkability is a key design element of the master plan Goody Clancy has developed for downtown Wichita.

Walk Score is not a project of Goody Clancy, as far as I know, and Dixon is not responsible for the accuracy or reliability of the Walk Score website. But he presented it and relied on it as an example of the data-driven approach that Goody Clancy takes.

Walk Score data for downtown Wichita, as presented by planning firm Goody Clancy. Click image for a larger version.

Walk Score data for downtown Wichita, as presented by planning firm Goody Clancy. Click image for a larger version.

The score for 525 E. Douglas, the block the Eaton Hotel and Wichita Downtown Development Corporation is located in and mentioned by Dixon as a walkable area, scored 91, which means it is a “walker’s paradise,” according to the Walk Score website.

But here’s where we can start to see just how bad the data used to develop these scores is. For a grocery store — an important component of walkability — the website indicates indicates a grocery store just 0.19 miles away. It’s “Pepsi Bottling Group,” located on Broadway between Douglas and First Streets. Those familiar with the area know there is no grocery store there, only office buildings. The claim of a grocery store here is false.

There were other claimed amenities where the data is just as bad. But the chairman of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation at that time said that Walk Score has been updated. I should no longer be concerned with the credibility of this data, he told me through a comment left on my website.

He was correct in one regard: Walk Score had been updated. For the same location the walk score was revised to 85%, which is considered “very walkable.” The “grocery store” is no longer the Pepsi Bottling Group. It’s now “Market Place,” whose address is given as 155 N. Market St # 220.

Someone strolling by that location would notice that address, 155 N. Market number 220, is the management office for an office building whose name is Market Place.

Still no grocery store. Nothing even resembling a grocery store.

I looked this week at the Walk Score website. It’s been updated and redesigned. Now for the same block in the heart of downtown Wichita the walk score is 74, which is “very walkable,” according to the site. In a narrative explanation, the site says this: “The closest grocery stores are Ray Sales Co, Market Place and The Hot Spot Detox Shop.”

Ray Sales Co., in the shadow of Intrust Bank Arena.

Ray Sales Co., in the shadow of Intrust Bank Arena.

I don’t know if you’ve been to Ray Sales, but it’s a tiny store with a very limited product selection. It’s not the type of place that will attract people to downtown Wichita. We know that because officials say a grocery store is one of downtown’s most pressing needs, despite the existence of Ray Sales.

Market Place is listed again as evidence of a grocery store in downtown Wichita. Remember, Market Place is the name of an office building located on Market Street. It’s not a grocery store.

The third location listed as a grocery store is a shop that sells kits to help people pass drug tests. It’s nothing like a grocery store.

Again, David Dixon and Goody Clancy did not create the Walk Score data. But they presented it to Wichitans as an example of the data-driven, market-oriented approach to planning that they use. Dixon cited Walk Score data as the basis for higher real estate values based on the walkability of the area and its surrounding amenities. But anyone who relies on the evidence Dixon and Goody Clancy presented would surely get burnt unless they investigated the area on their own.

Keep in mind that the presentation of this Walk Score data was made after Goody Clancy staff had spent considerable time in Wichita. That someone there could not immediately recognize how utterly bogus the data is: That should give us cause for concern that the entire planning process is based on similarly shoddy data and analysis.

Constraining growth

Returning to the city’s presentation: How does the city “constrain” suburban growth? By taking away the freedom for people to live where they want. Why would the city want do that? City leaders say that suburban development is expensive. It’s not sustainable. Suburban living depends on the personal automobile. And remember the attitude of the professional planners Wichita Downtown Development Corporation hired: People can’t be trusted to know what they really want for themselves.

Special taxes paid on a residential home.

Special taxes paid on a residential home.

If it really is more expensive to develop new suburban areas, the city should simply charge what it costs. To some extent this already happens. Anyone who builds a new home in a new area will pay for the residential street and other infrastructure through special taxes. If the city feels it needs to charge for building arterial streets to serve new suburban areas, it should do so. But the city should realize that people spending their own money to buy or rent a residence — this is the best indication of their true preferences. What people say in focus groups or on paper survey forms is nowhere near as reliable.

Community input

The survey that Wichita used has its own problems. Here’s an example of a question respondents were asked to agree or disagree with: “Local government, the school district, community organizations and the business community should work together to create an investment climate that is attractive to business.”

The meaning of an attractive investment climate means different things to different people. Some people want an investment climate where property rights are respected, where government refrains from meddling in the economy and transferring one person’s property to another. An environment free from cronyism, in other words. But the Wichita way is, unfortunately, cronyism, where government takes an active role in managing economic development. We in Wichita never know when our local government will take from us to give to politically-favored cronies, or when city hall will set up and subsidize a competitor to your business.

Wichita flights compared to the nation.

Wichita flights compared to the nation.

Sometimes the questions are misleading. A question relating to the subsidy program at the Wichita airport read “I’m willing to pay increased taxes or fees to support investment … that uses public dollars to reduce the cost and increase the number of commercial flights at Mid-Continent Airport.”

This is an example of a question which has a false premise. Since the subsidy programs have been in place, the number of flights from the Wichita airport has declined, not increased as the question would lead readers to believe. See Wichita flight options decrease, despite subsidies and Wichita airfare subsidy: The negative effects.

Leadership of city fathers

On these and other issues, the Wichita Eagle quoted mayor Brewer: “We’ve put them off for too long. We didn’t want the challenges. We didn’t want the tax bills. But now, to maintain our quality of life, we’ve got to catch up.”

It’s almost as if the mayor is speaking as a bystander. But he’s been mayor for nearly seven years, and was on the city council before that time. During that time, he and other city leaders have boasted of not increasing property taxes. While the property tax rate has been stable, property tax revenue has increased due to development of new property and rising assessment values. In spite of this, the city has a huge backlog of deferred maintenance. The way to interpret this is that the city has really been engaging in deficit spending under Brewer’s leadership. We didn’t spend what was needed to maintain our assets, and now the mayor tells us we need to increase spending to make up for this.

The economist Milton Friedman told us that it’s more important to look at government spending rather than the level of taxation. That’s because spending must eventually be paid for, either through current taxes or future taxation. The federal government generate deficits and can pay for spending through creating inflation. Fortunately, cities and states can’t do that.

But, as we’ve seen, cities like Wichita can incur costs without paying for them. This is a form of deficit spending. By deferring maintenance of our infrastructure, the city has pushed spending to future years. The report released this week gives an idea of the magnitude of this deferred spending: It’s huge.

This form of deficit spending is “off the books” and doesn’t appear in city financial statements. But it’s real, as the mayor now admits. The threat to our freedom to live where we want is real, too. We must be watchful and diligent.

Pompeo responds to Washington’s attacks on Koch Industries

From the office of U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo.

Statement from Congressman Mike Pompeo on Washington’s Attacks on Koch Industries

WASHINGTON — Congressman Mike Pompeo issued the following statement on the unwarranted attacks on Koch Industries in light of the efforts to reform the Internal Revenue Service:

“The IRS’s targeting of individuals demonstrates the administration’s lawlessness at its worst. Public officials have a responsibility to uphold the Constitution and use their office to protect the rights of Americans, rather than attack them for their political advocacy. Silencing critics through government muscle, as the IRS has done, runs counter to every founding principle of the United States of America.

“Yet opponents of the House’s effort to hold the IRS accountable have doubled down and continued to attack two private citizens, Charles and David Koch, as deserving of such government abuse. Senator Reid’s attacks today from the Senate floor are reprehensible.  This cannot be tolerated — not for these two great men or for any individual who disagrees with those in power.

“The Kochs’ Wichita-based company employs close to 60,000 people in manufacturing jobs. These predominantly middle-class employees live in nearly all 50 states and are a benefit to the communities they work and live in. They are good people and good neighbors, my neighbors, and deserve protection under the law that is equal to those lawmakers who seek to marginalize them.

“The jobs created by this company are a far greater benefit to the middle class than any wasteful Washington program. We should be taking lessons from hardworking Americans in the private sector instead of continuing to play politics with people’s lives.”

Earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused the Kochs of funding ads critical of the Affordable Care Act’s disastrous implementation that he claims are “completely untrue,” a claim that contradicts the thrust of most news coverage of the rollout.

For more information, contact:
JP Freire | Director of Communications and Speechwriter
Office of Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas)
107 Cannon HOB| Washington, D.C. 20515
Office (202) 225-6216 | Fax (202) 225-3489
JP.Freire@mail.house.gov

Click image for larger version.

The relevance of income tax rates

Bar char statistics

Jim Pinkerton, the journalist, Fox News contributor, and co-founder of the RATE (Reforming America’s Taxes Equitably) Coalition told an audience this: “The purpose of high taxes on the rich is not to get the rich to pay money, it’s to get the middle class to feel better about paying high taxes.”

Pinkerton was speaking last week at a conference titled “The Tax & Regulatory Impact on Industry, Jobs & The Economy, and Consumers” produced by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. His remarks, as he told the conference attendees, were based on the work of economist F.A. Hayek. Others have also noted that changes to marginal tax rates often have little impact on the amount of taxes actually paid. The top marginal tax rate — that’s the rate that applies to high income earners on most of their income — was above 90 percent during most of the 1950s. From 2003 to 2012 it was 35 percent, and is now 39.6 percent.

The top marginal tax rate is the rate that applies to income. It’s not the same as what is actually paid. This fact is unknown or ignored by those who clamor for higher taxes on the rich. They often cite the rising prosperity of the 1950s as caused by the high marginal tax rate in effect at the time.

A common mistake is equating tax rates with the tax actually paid. For many taxpayers, there is a direct relationship. For those who earn a paycheck, there’s not much they can do to change the timing of their income, find tax shelters, or shift income to capital gains. When income tax rates rise, they have to pay more. But rich people can use these (and other) strategies to reduce the taxes they pay.

Click image for larger version.

Click image for larger version.

In The purpose of high tax rates on the rich I showed that despite wide fluctuations in the top marginal tax rate, the tax revenue collected since World War II is remarkably constant, when measured as a percent of gross domestic product.

This is not the only way to consider the effect of tax rates. Using data from the Internal Revenue Service and Congressional Budget Office, I developed two charts. One shows the share of total federal taxes paid by top income earners, in this case the top five percent and the top one percent. For the range of years for which CBO provides data, the top marginal income tax rate has varied widely and has mostly fallen, and the share of federal taxes paid by top income earners has risen slightly.

Click image for larger version.

Click image for larger version.

A second chart shows the average federal tax rate for these two groups of top earners. The average federal tax rates paid by top earners has varied much less than the variation in tax rates.

As Pinkerton told the Franklin Center conference attendees, high tax rates make the middle class feel better about paying their own taxes. They may take comfort in the fact that someone else is worse off — that rich people are paying higher tax rates. But as the data shows, it’s a misconception that high tax rates mean rich people actually pay taxes at correspondingly higher rates.

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American economy is more competitive and carbon-efficient, says economist

Stephen Moore. Credit: Willis Bretz/Heritage Foundation

Stephen Moore. Credit: Willis Bretz/Heritage Foundation

The oil and gas boom in America boosts our competitiveness in the world economy while at the same time reducing carbon emissions, says economist Stephen Moore.

Moore recently left the Wall Street Journal to accept a position at Heritage Foundation as chief economist. He presented to an audience at a conference titled “The Tax & Regulatory Impact on Industry, Jobs & The Economy, and Consumers” produced by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

A large portion of his presentation was on energy and its important role in the economy, and how radical environmentalists — the “green” movement — are harming our economy and people. An irony, he said, is that while President Barack Obama is in the “hip pocket” of radical environmentalists, he is presiding over the greatest oil and gas boom in American history. This boom is proceeding in spite of government, not because of it.

Moore emphasized the importance of energy costs to low-income people. Rising energy costs are like taxes on them, he said, while the wealthy can more easily absorb higher energy costs. “To be green is to be against capitalism, against progress, against poor people, against jobs.”

The boom in oil and gas production in America, made possible by horizontal drilling and fracking, is ahead of the rest of the world. While European countries have in the past embraced green energy technologies, these policies have failed, and the countries are retreating from them. Now, European countries want to use American drilling technologies, he said.

The lower electricity prices in America are a competitive advantage over Europe and China. German auto manufacturers are shutting plants in Europe and moving them to the United States, he said.

Of radical environmentalist groups. Moore said: “They don’t even care about global warming. If they really cared about global warming, they would be cheerleading fracking. Because fracking is making natural gas the new fuel for America. And guess what? Natural gas emits less carbon. It’s a great antidote to global warming.”

(According to the U.S. Energy information Administration, when generating electricity, coal emits from 2.08 to 2.18 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour electricity generated. Natural gas emits 1.22 pounds, or about 43 percent less carbon dioxide.)

Moore went on to tell the attendees that it is the United States that has reduced its carbon emissions the greatest amount in the last five years. He said this is remarkable in light of the fact that the U.S. didn’t sign the Kyoto Treaty, the U.S. didn’t implement cap-and-trade, and didn’t implement a carbon tax. “You would think these environmental groups would be applauding natural gas. Now these environmentalist groups have a new campaign called ‘beyond natural gas,’” he said.

Moore explained that at first, environmentalists said they could accept natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to solar power and wind. They were in favor of natural gas, he said, up until the time it became cheap and plentiful. Now, they are against gas. “My point is, the left and environmentalists are against any energy source that works.”

Over the past six years the U.S. has spent $100 billion promoting wind and solar power, but these two sources together account for just 2.2 percent of electricity generation. Even if the country were to quadruple the portion of electricity generated by these two renewable sources over the next 10 to 20 years, the nation would still need to get 90 percent of its electricity from other sources. Moore was doubtful that the country could quadruple the output from wind and solar.

Trends in carbon emissions

To further investigate the topics Moore raised, I gathered data from Global Carbon Atlas and prepared interactive visualizations using Tableau Public. You may access and use the visualizations by clicking here. Following are static excerpts from the visualizations. Click on each image for a larger version.

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Looking at the amount of total carbon emissions, we see two important facts. First, after rising slowly, carbon emissions by the United States have declined in recent years. Second, carbon emissions by China are soaring. China surpassed the U.S. around 2005, and the gap between the two countries is increasing.

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Note also that carbon emissions in India are rising. Emissions in most advanced economies are steady or falling. These trends are emphasized in the chart that shows carbon emissions for each country indexed from a common starting point. Emissions from China and India are rapidly rising, while emissions from countries with advanced economies have risen slowly or have declined.

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Click image for larger version.

A chart that shows the carbon emissions efficiency of countries, that is, the carbon emitted per unit of GDP, shows that in general, countries are becoming more efficient. Advanced economies such as the U.S., Japan, and Germany have an advantage in this metric. These countries emit about one-fourth as much carbon per unit GDP as does China.

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The chart of carbon emissions per person in each country show that the United States leads in this measure. In 2011, the U.S. emitted about 17 tons of carbon dioxide per person. China was at 6.6, and India at 1.7. But, the trend in the U.S. is downward, that is, less carbon emitted per person. In China and India, the trend is up, and rising rapidly in China.

WichitaLiberty.TV.20

WichitaLiberty.TV February 23, 2014

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: There are efforts to have the Kansas Legislature expand the open records law to include the spending records of several taxpayer-funded agencies, but the City of Wichita wants to keep the records secret. Then, did you know the Kansas teachers union has a media response team? Finally, Arthur Brooks makes the moral case for free enterprise. Episode 32, broadcast February 23, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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The purpose of high tax rates on the rich

Taxes

“The purpose of high taxes on the rich is not to get the rich to pay money, it’s to get the middle class to feel better about paying high taxes.”

This is what Jim Pinkerton, the journalist, Fox News contributor, and co-founder of the RATE (Reforming America’s Taxes Equitably) Coalition told an audience at a conference titled “The Tax & Regulatory Impact on Industry, Jobs & The Economy, and Consumers” produced by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

Pinkerton was referring to the economist F.A. Hayek. Others have also noted that changes to marginal tax rates often have little impact on the amount of taxes actually paid. The top marginal tax rate — that’s the rate that applies to high income earners on most of their income — was above 90 percent during most of the 1950s. From 2003 to 2012 it was 35 percent, and is now 39.6 percent.

The top marginal tax rate is the rate that applies to income. It’s not the same as what is actually paid. This fact is unknown or ignored by those who clamor for higher taxes on the rich. They often cite the rising prosperity of the 1950s as caused by the high marginal tax rate in effect at the time.

The mistake the progressives make is equating tax rates with the tax actually paid. For many people, there is a direct relationship. For workers who earn a paycheck, there’s not much they can do to change the timing of their income, find tax shelters, or shift income to capital gains. When income tax rates rise, they have to pay more. But rich people can use these and other strategies to reduce the taxes they pay.

But as Pinkerton told the conference attendees, the high tax rates make the middle class feel better about paying their own taxes. They may take comfort in the fact that someone else is worse off, at least based on the misconception that high tax rates mean rich people actually pay correspondingly higher tax.

In 2010 W. Kurt Hauser explained in The Wall Street Journal: “Even amoebas learn by trial and error, but some economists and politicians do not. The Obama administration’s budget projections claim that raising taxes on the top 2% of taxpayers, those individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning $250,000 or more, will increase revenues to the U.S. Treasury. The empirical evidence suggests otherwise. None of the personal income tax or capital gains tax increases enacted in the post-World War II period has raised the projected tax revenues. Over the past six decades, tax revenues as a percentage of GDP have averaged just under 19% regardless of the top marginal personal income tax rate. The top marginal rate has been as high as 92% (1952-53) and as low as 28% (1988-90). This observation was first reported in an op-ed I wrote for this newspaper in March 1993. A wit later dubbed this ‘Hauser’s Law.’”

Incentives matter, economists tell us. People react to changes in tax law. As tax rates rise, people seek to reduce their taxable income. A common strategy is to make investments in economically unproductive tax shelters. There is less incentive to work, to save and build up capital stocks, and invest. These are some of the reasons why tax rate hikes usually don’t generate the promised revenue.

Click image for larger version

Click image for larger version

The subtitle to Hauser’s article is “Tax revenues as a share of GDP have averaged just under 19%, whether tax rates are cut or raised. Better to cut rates and get 19% of a larger pie.” The nearby chart illustrates. The top line, the top marginal tax rate in effect for year year, varies widely. The other two lines show total taxes and federal income taxes as a percent of gross domestic product. Since World War II, these lines are fairly constant, even as the top marginal tax rate varies.

Data is from Bureau of Economic Analysis (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) along with my calculations.

Wichita City Hall.

Wichita’s legislative agenda favors government, not citizens

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This week the Wichita City Council will consider its legislative agenda. This document contains many items that are contrary to economic freedom, capitalism, limited government, and individual liberty. Yet, Wichitans pay taxes to have someone in Topeka promote this agenda. I’ve excerpted the document here, and following are some of the most problematic items.

Agenda: Existing economic development tools are essential for the continued growth and prosperity of our community.

First. The premise of this item is incorrect. We don’t have growth and prosperity in Wichita. Compared to a broad group of peer metropolitan areas, Wichita performs very poorly. See For Wichita’s economic development machinery, failure for details.

Second: In general, these incentives don’t work to increase prosperity. Click here for a summary of the peer-reviewed academic research that examines the local impact of targeted tax incentives from an empirical point of view. “Peer-reviewed” means these studies were stripped of identification of authorship and then subjected to critique by other economists, and were able to pass that review.

Third: Wichita leaders often complain that Wichita doesn’t have enough “tools in the toolbox” to compete effectively in economic development. The city’s document lists the tools the city wants the legislature to protect:

  • GWEDC/GO WICHITA: Support existing statutory records exemptions
  • Industrial Revenue Bond tax abatements (IRBX)
  • Economic Development Exemptions (EDX)
  • Tax Increment Financing (TIF)
  • Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) Bonds
  • Community Improvement Districts (CID)
  • Neighborhood Revitalization Area (NRA) tax rebates
  • Special Assessment financing for neighborhood infrastructure projects, facade improvements and abatement of asbestos and lead-based paint.
  • State Historic Preservation Tax Credits (HPTC)
  • State administration of federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC)
  • High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP) tax credits
  • Investments in Major Projects and Comprehensive Training (IMPACT) grants
  • Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) program
  • Economic Revitalization and Reinvestment Act bonding for major aviation and wind energy projects
  • Kansas Industrial Training (KIT) and Kansas Industrial Retraining (KIR) grants
  • Network Kansas tax credit funding
  • State support for Innovation Commercialization Centers in Commerce Department budget

That’s quite a list of incentive programs. Some of these are so valuable that Kansas business leaders told the governor that they value these incentives more than they would value elimination of the state corporate income tax.

Agenda: GWEDC/GO WICHITA: Support existing statutory records exemptions

This may refer to the city wanting to prevent these agencies from having to fulfill records requests under the Kansas Open Records Act. (If so, I wonder why the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation was left off.) City leaders say Wichita has an open and transparent government. But Kansas has a weak records law, and Wichita doesn’t want to follow the law, as weak as it is. This is an insult to citizens who are not able to access how their taxes are spent. For more on this issue, see Open Records in Kansas.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council opposes any legislative attempts to restrict the taxing and spending authority of local governments.

As Wichita city leaders prepare to ask for a higher sales tax rate in Wichita, we can hope that the legislature will save us from ourselves. At best, we can hope that the legislature requires that all tax rate increases be put to popular vote.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council opposes any restrictions on the use of state and/or local public monies to provide information to our citizens and to advocate on their behalf.

This is the taxpayer-funded lobbying issue. As you can see in this document, many of the things that Wichita city leaders believe people want, or believe that will be good for their constituents, are actually harmful. Additionally, many of the methods the city uses to engage citizens to determine their needs are faulty. See In Wichita, there’s no option for dissent for an example. Also, see Wichita survey questions based on false premises.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council supports the current framework for local elections, continuing the current February/April schedule of local primary and general elections, as well as the local option allowing non-partisan elections.

The present system of non-partisan elections held in the spring results in low voter turnout that lets special interest groups exercise greater influence than would be likely in fall elections. See my legislative testimony in Kansas spring elections should be moved.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council supports the development of appropriate state and local incentives to nurture and preserve arts activity throughout the City of Wichita and the State of Kansas.

Translation: The city knows better than you how to provide for your entertainment and cultural edification, and will continue to tax you for your own benefit.

Agenda: Public support and awareness of the possibility of passenger rail service connecting Oklahoma City and Wichita/Newton has grown over the past two years.

I’m not sure where the claim of public support and awareness growing comes from, but people are definitely not informed about the economics of passenger rail. In 2010, when the state rolled out several plans for this passenger rail service link, I reported as follows:

Expansion of rail service in Kansas is controversial, at least to some people, in that any form of rail service requires taxpayer involvement to pay for the service. First, taxpayer funding is required to pay for the start-up costs for the service. There are four alternatives being presented for rail service expansion in Kansas, and the start-up costs range from $156 million up to $479 million.

After this, taxpayer subsidies will be required every year to pay for the ongoing operational costs of providing passenger rail service. The four alternatives would require an annual operating subsidy ranging from $2.1 million up to $6.1 million. Taking the operating subsidy and dividing by the estimated number of passengers for each alternative, the per-passenger subsidy ranges from $35 up to $97 for every passenger who uses the service.

It would be one thing if tickets sales and other revenue sources such as sale of food and beverage paid for most of the cost of providing passenger rail service, and taxpayers were being asked to provide a little boost to get the service started and keep it running until it can sustain itself. But that’s not the case. Taxpayers are being asked to fully fund the start-up costs. Then, they’re expected to pay the majority of ongoing expenses, apparently forever.

Also, in Amtrak, taxpayer burden, should not be expanded in Kansas I reported on the Heartland Flyer route specifically. This is from 2010, but I doubt much has changed since then.

For the Heartland Flyer route, which runs from Fort Worth to Oklahoma, and is proposed by taxpayer-funded rail supporters to extend into Kansas through Wichita and Kansas City, we find these statistics about the finances of this operation:

Amtrak reports a profit/loss per passenger mile on this route of $-.02, meaning that each passenger, per mile traveled, resulted in a loss of two cents. Taxpayers pay for that.

But this number, as bad as it is, is totally misleading. Subsidyscope calculated a different number. This number, unlike the numbers Amrak publishes, includes depreciation, ancillary businesses and overhead costs — the types of costs that private sector businesses bear and report. When these costs are included, the Heartland Flyer route results in a loss of 13 cents per passenger mile, or a loss of $26.76 per passenger for the trip from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City.

Asking the taxpayers of Wichita to pay subsidies each time someone boards an Amtrak train: This doesn’t sound like economic development, much less a program that people living in a free society should be forced to fund.

Kansas school employment

Kansas school employment: The statistics and the claims

School

Claims made about Kansas schools don’t match the state’s statistics.

Responding to the State of the State Address delivered by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Kansas House of Representatives Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis provided figures regarding Kansas public schools, telling Kansans: “On top of that, public school class sizes are growing, [and] teachers have been laid off by the thousands.”

Statistics from Kansas State Department of Education, however, show that school employment has rebounded, both in terms of absolute numbers of teachers and certified employees, and the ratios of pupils to these employees.

Kansas school employment

The story is not the same in every district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen. (This ratio is not the same statistic as average class size, but it’s the data we have. Plus, if schools are hiring teachers at a rate higher than the increase in students, we should expect class sizes to fall.)

Kansas school employment ratios

The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee). Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

There’s also this to consider about class size. In 2011 the Center for American Progress released a report about class size reduction in schools and the false promise it holds for improving student achievement. (The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction)

It’s quite astonishing to see CAP cite evidence from Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution and Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Hoover. These two researchers are usually condemned by the public education establishment and bureaucracy, including teachers unions. These are some of the key constituents CAP usually caters to.

In a nutshell, class size reduction produces very little benefit for students. It’s also very expensive, and there are other things we should be doing instead if we really want to increase student achievement.

The report summarizes the important studies in class size reduction. The upshot is that there is only one study showing positive results from class size reduction, and that effect was found only among the early grades. The effect decreased after a few years, even though small class sizes were still used.

The report also notes that class size reduction is very expensive to implement. Because it is, the report says we should look to other ways to increase student achievement, such as policies relating to teacher effectiveness: “The emerging consensus that teacher effectiveness is the single most important in-school determinant of student achievement suggests that teacher recruitment, retention, and compensation policies ought to rank high on the list.”

On teacher quality and teacher effectiveness: When Sandi Jacobs of National Council for Teacher Quality appeared in Kansas a few years ago, we learned that Kansas ranks below average on its policies that promote teacher quality.

In the example she illustrated, third graders who had teachers in the top 20 percent of effectiveness for the next three years went from the 50th percentile in performance to the 90th. For students with teachers in the lowest 20 percent for the same period, their performance dropped from the 50th percentile to the 37th percentile. More on this topic is at Kansas ranks low in policies on teacher quality.

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Kansas school test scores must be evaluated considering demographics

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When comparing Kansas school test scores to those of other states, it’s important to consider disaggregated data. Otherwise, we may form an inaccurate and unfounded impression of Kansas schools.

Kansas school leaders are proud of Kansas schools, partly because of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks pretty high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation. An illustrative video is available here, or at the end of this article.

Data for the 2013 administration of the test was just released. I’ve gathered scores and made them available in a visualization that you can use by clicking here. The most widely available NAEP data is for two subjects: reading and math, and for two grades, fourth and eighth. The video presents data for Kansas, Texas, and the average for national public schools. I choose to compare Kansas with Texas because for several reasons, Kansas has been comparing itself with Texas. So let’s look at these test scores and see if the reality matches what Kansas school leaders have said.

Looking at the data for all students, you can see why Kansas school leaders are proud: The line representing Kansas is almost always the highest. This data considers the state as a whole, and ignores important statistical considerations.

NAEP makes data available by ethnic subtypes. If we present a chart showing black students only, something different appears. Now Texas is higher than Kansas in all cases in one, where there is a tie.

If we consider Hispanic students only: Texas is higher in some cases, and Kansas and Texas are virtually tied in two others. National public schools is higher than Kansas in some cases.

Considering white students only, Texas is higher than Kansas in three of four cases. In some cases the National public school average beats or ties Kansas.

So we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

How can this be? The answer is Simpson’s Paradox. A Wall Street Journal article explains: “Put simply, Simpson’s Paradox reveals that aggregated data can appear to reverse important trends in the numbers being combined.”

The Wikipedia article explains: “A paradox in which a trend that appears in different groups of data disappears when these groups are combined, and the reverse trend appears for the aggregate data. … Many statisticians believe that the mainstream public should be informed of the counter-intuitive results in statistics such as Simpson’s paradox.”

In this case, the confounding factor (“lurking” variable) is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of students in ethnic groups. For example, in Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 33 percent. This large difference in the composition of students is what makes it look like Kansas students perform better on the NAEP than Texas students.

But looking at the scores for ethnic subgroups, which state would you say has the most desirable set of NAEP scores? It’s important to know that aggregated data can mask or hide underlying trends.

Here’s a question for you: Have you heard Kansas school leaders talk about this? Or do they present Kansas NAEP test scores without considering the different makeup of the states?

Zoltán Kész of Free Market Foundation of Hungary.

In Hungary, the rise of nationalism and racism

Zoltán Kész of Free Market Foundation of Hungary.

Zoltán Kész of Free Market Foundation of Hungary.

Zoltán Kész will speak at the Wichita Pachyderm Club on Friday February 21. The public is welcome to attend. For more information on this event, see Hungarian activist to address Pachyderms and guests.

In Hungary, nationalism and racism are rising problems. The Free Market Foundation of Hungary, co-founded by Zoltán Kész fights against these problems. Last November Kesz was in Wichita and I visited with him and a small group.

I asked about economic freedom in Hungary, noting that according to the economic freedom of the world report, Hungary was about in the middle of the European countries, although it is moving in the wrong direction. Kesz said that is right. Hungary had a very good economy in the 1990s, but in the past 13 or 14 years the country has been going in the wrong direction. The government in Hungary has a two-thirds majority he said, which means it can pass any law. The government passed a flat tax, but there are so many other taxes added on that he said it’s not really a flat tax. The flat, or value-added, tax is 27 percent.

Kesz said that while the government in Hungary says it is a conservative government, there have been recent developments that are contrary to free-market principles. For example, private pensions were nationalized in 2010. The government heavily regulates utility prices, and soon all utility companies will be nonprofit.

A serious and growing problem in Hungary is racism. In 2006, the Jobbik party, a group that is openly anti-Jew and anti-Roma (Gypsy) became popular. In 2010 it had 15 percent of the vote in the Hungarian parliament and is the third largest party. The country is very homogeneous, Kesz said, surrounded by Hungarians in other countries. An estimate is that about eight percent are Roma. There are about 100,000 Jews in Hungary, which has a total population of ten million.

The Jobbik party in Hungary — which Kesz described as far-right — is nationalistic and criticizes the loss of territory after World War I. It stirs up emotions for a larger Hungary and for getting the old empire back. Economically, Jobbik rejects globalism and foreign investment, and supports more government redistribution of income and wealth.

Very troubling is the radical, neo-Nazi aspect of Jobbik. The party blames Jews and Gypsies for the problems in Hungary. Kesz told of demands by one Jobbik member of parliament who demanded a list of Jews in the legislature. Leaders of Jobbik have said that Jews should be put in cattle wagons and shipped away to labor camps.

Recent surveys have reported that Jobbik attracts 33 percent of university students, and 52 percent of those say that in some cases they would prefer dictatorship rather than democracy.

It’s hard to overstate how serious is the problem of the rise of racism and nationalism in Hungary. In his recommendation of the free market foundation of Hungary, Tom G. Palmer said “The backsliding towards authoritarian statism and even primitive collectivism in the heart of Europe is extremely disturbing and so it is truly inspiring to see the work that the Free Market Foundation is doing. I was very active in the region as communism was crumbling and remember vividly the struggle of Hungarians to free themselves from the horrors of Communism.”

Last year Zoltan Kesz was named “Liberty Entrepreneur of the Year” by Atlas Economic Research Foundation. You can view his short speech nearby, or click here to view at YouTube.

File folder and documents

Kansas Open Records Act and the ‘public agency’ definition

Update: The bill has been referred to another committee, and the February 19 hearing is canceled.

File folder and documents

Despite the City of Wichita’s support for government transparency, citizens have to ask the legislature to add new law forcing the city and its agencies to comply with the Kansas Open Records Act.

Open records laws allow citizens to ask government agencies for records. While these laws are valuable, we find that in practice governmental agencies find many ways to avoid filling records requests. Because the City of Wichita does not live up to the standards of open government — even through it proclaims its support for government transparency — citizens are working to have the law changed.

Locally, the City of Wichita is proud to be an open and transparent governmental agency, its officials say. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer often speaks in favor of government transparency. For example, in his State of the City address for 2011, he listed as an important goal for the city this: “And we must provide transparency in all that we do.” When the city received an award for transparency in 2013, a city news release quoted Wichita City Manager Robert Layton:

“The City Council has stressed the importance of transparency for this organization,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “We’re honored to receive a Sunny Award and we will continue to empower and engage citizens by providing information necessary to keep them informed on the actions their government is taking on their behalf.”

Contrary to what the mayor and manager say, when we look at some specific areas of government transparency, we find that the city’s efforts are deficient. That’s a problem, because citizen watchdogs and journalists need access to records and data.

The City of Wichita has created several not-for-profit organizations that are controlled by the city and largely funded by tax money. The three I am concerned with are the Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

I have asked each organization for checkbook-level spending data. Each has refused to comply, using the reasoning that they are not “public agencies” as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. But consider the WDDC: At the time I made my records request, its percent of revenue derived from taxes was well over 90 percent in every year but one. In many years the only income WDDC received was from taxes and a small amount of interest earned.

The Wichita city attorney backs these organizations and their interpretation of the law. So do almost all city council members. After 14 months investigating this matter at my request, the Sedgwick County District Attorney agreed with the city’s position.

So what is the next step? The Kansas Attorney General is of no help in this matter. His office refers all cases to the local District Attorney. That’s a problem right there, and there is some talk that the AG may open a small bureau to work with records requests problems.

One course of action open to me as a citizen watchdog is to raise thousands of dollars to fund a lawsuit. The irony of this is that citizens will find their own tax dollars being used against them as the city and other agencies defend secrecy.

Another course of action is persuading the city and these agencies to release the records. While these agencies believe the law doesn’t require them to release the records, the law does not prohibit or restrict releasing the records. They could fulfill requests if they wanted to. That would be in line with what the mayor and city manager say they want for Wichita. I and others have tried that.

But that didn’t work. The true attitude of the city was expressed eloquently by Wichita Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner last month in a television news story about the inability of citizens to see how their money is being spent by these organizations. Meitzner said “The public doesn’t need to know about day-to-day spending.”

The vice mayor also told the reporter that these organization have review boards. Therefore, citizen oversight is not necessary. These boards, however, are usually filled with insiders whose interests may not be aligned with the interests of citizens and promoting good government.

Another course of action is to change the law, and that’s what I and others are trying to do. This week a committee of the Kansas House of Representatives will hear testimony on HB 2567, which will expand the definition of public agency.

The current law says this in defining what agencies are subject to the open records law: “‘Public agency’ means the state or any political or taxing subdivision of the state or any office, officer, agency or instrumentality thereof, or any other entity receiving or expending and supported in whole or in part by the public funds appropriated by the state or by public funds of any political or taxing subdivision of the state.”

The proposed law contains this additional definition: “Further, on and after July 1, 2014, ‘public agency’ shall include any nonprofit organization supported in whole or in part by public funds, which organizations are engaged in economic development, tourism or general marketing activities for the state or any political or taxing subdivision of the state or any office, officer, agency or instrumentality thereof.”

This language, if passed into law, would appear to bring the three problematic agencies under the Kansas Open Records Act. That doesn’t mean that they’ll have to turn over all and any records that are asked for, as the Kansas Open Records Act contains many exclusions. But we should be able to get spending data and other records that will help citizens oversee the operation of their government and the spending of tax dollars.

It’s a little distressing that citizens have to pass new legislation in order to get government to behave well. Citizens have to resort to these measures even though city leaders say they value open and transparent government.

Following is the testimony I will deliver this week.

Testimony to house of Representatives Committee on Judiciary as proponent of HB 2567, concerning public records.
Bob Weeks, February 19, 2014

Chairman Kinzer and members of the Committee:

Thank you for this opportunity to present testimony in support of HB 2567, regarding the Kansas Open Records Act.

Cities and other local governmental bodies have set up non-profit organizations to conduct business such as economic development. These agencies, as in the case of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, may in some years receive as much as 98 percent of their revenue from taxation. They often have only one client, that being the governmental agency that provides their tax revenue. They perform functions that are governmental in nature. Yet the Sedgwick County District Attorney says they are not public agencies for purposes of the Kansas Open Records Act. Based on that, these agencies, particularly the WDDC, have refused to fulfill my records requests. This flies in the face of the Legislature’s declared intent in the preamble of the Act: “It is declared to be the public policy of the state that public records shall be open for inspection by any person unless otherwise provided by this act, and this act shall be liberally construed and applied to promote such policy.”

There can be large amounts of money involved. The City of Wichita may soon add a 2.75 percent tax to hotel bills as a “City Tourism Fee.” These new taxpayer-provided funds, estimated at $2.5 million per year, would be spent by Go Wichita Convention and Tourism Bureau. This agency, despite receiving nearly all its revenue from taxation, maintains that it is not a public agency as defined by the Kansas Open Records Act. It refused to fulfill my records request.

Citizen watchdogs and journalists need the ability to examine the spending of tax money. When government creates quasi-governmental bodies that are almost totally funded through taxes and then refuses to disclose how that money is spent, we have to wonder why the city doesn’t want citizens to know how this money is spent.

Recently the vice mayor of Wichita told a television news reporter that these organization have review boards. Therefore, citizen oversight is not necessary. These boards, however, are usually filled with insiders whose interests may not be aligned with the interests of citizens and promoting good government.

There is much that Kansas can, and should do, to strengthen its Open Records Law to give citizen watchdogs and journalists better access to records and documents. Restricting the ability of local governments to erect a protective wall under the guise of non-profit corporations that are almost totally funded by taxation is an important step.

I have additional information about the Kansas Open Records Act and its problems at wichitaliberty.org/open-records.

Respectfully submitted,
Bob Weeks

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Voice for Liberty Radio: Rally for school choice

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In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: This week children and parents rallied for school choice in the Kansas Capitol. This broadcast features two speakers. First is Derrell Bradford, who is Executive Director at Better Education for New Jersey Kids. The second speaker is Chiquita Coggs, who started a charter school in Kansas City, Kansas that had its charter withdrawn.

This is podcast episode number 12, released on February 16, 2014. Here’s selections from a rally for school choice at the Kansas Capitol, February 11, 2014.

Shownotes

Derrell Bradford, Better Education for Kids
Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
Moving Kansas Schools from Monopoly to Free Choice
Weak Charter School Law Works Against Taxpayers’ Interests

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WichitaLiberty.TV February 16, 2014

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The controversy surrounding the residence of a long-time senator from Kansas raises issues of term limits and the ability of citizens to exercise the power of initiative and referendum. Then, the seen and the unseen applied to economic development in Wichita, and why do we rely on certain experts. Episode 31, broadcast February 16, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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Economic development in Wichita, steps one and two

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Critics of the economic development policies in use by the City of Wichita are often portrayed as not being able to see and appreciate the good things these policies are producing, even though they are unfolding right before our very eyes. The difference is that some look beyond the immediate — what is seen — and ask “And then what will happen?” — looking for the unseen.

Thomas Sowell explains the problem in a passage from the first chapter of Applied economics: thinking beyond stage one:

When we are talking about applied economic policies, we are no longer talking about pure economic principles, but about the interactions of politics and economics. The principles of economics remain the same, but the likelihood of those principles being applied unchanged is considerably reduced, because politics has its own principles and imperatives. It is not just that politicians’ top priority is getting elected and re-elected, or that their time horizon seldom extends beyond the next election. The general public as well behaves differently when making political decisions rather than economic decisions. Virtually no one puts as much time and close attention into deciding whether to vote for one candidate rather than another as is usually put into deciding whether to buy one house rather than another — or perhaps even one car rather than another.

The voter’s political decisions involve having a minute influence on policies which affect many other people, while economic decision-making is about having a major effect on one’s own personal well-being. It should not be surprising that the quantity and quality of thinking going into these very different kinds of decisions differ correspondingly. One of the ways in which these decisions differ is in not thinking through political decisions beyond the immediate consequences. When most voters do not think beyond stage one, many elected officials have no incentive to weigh what the consequences will be in later stages — and considerable incentives to avoid getting beyond what their constituents think and understand, for fear that rival politicians can drive a wedge between them and their constituents by catering to public misconceptions.

The economic decisions made by governing bodies like the Wichita City Council have a large impact on the lives of Wichitans. But as Sowell explains, these decisions are made by politicians for political reasons.

Sowell goes on to explain the danger of stopping the thinking process at stage one:

When I was an undergraduate studying economics under Professor Arthur Smithies of Harvard, he asked me in class one day what policy I favored on a particular issue of the times. Since I had strong feelings on that issue, I proceeded to answer him with enthusiasm, explaining what beneficial consequences I expected from the policy I advocated.

“And then what will happen?” he asked.

The question caught me off guard. However, as I thought about it, it became clear that the situation I described would lead to other economic consequences, which I then began to consider and to spell out.

“And what will happen after that?” Professor Smithies asked.

As I analyzed how the further economic reactions to the policy would unfold, I began to realize that these reactions would lead to consequences much less desirable than those at the first stage, and I began to waver somewhat.

“And then what will happen?” Smithies persisted.

By now I was beginning to see that the economic reverberations of the policy I advocated were likely to be pretty disastrous — and, in fact, much worse than the initial situation that it was designed to improve.

Simple as this little exercise may sound, it goes further than most economic discussions about policies on a wide range of issues. Most thinking stops at stage one.

We see stage one thinking all the time when looking at government. In Wichita, for example, a favorite question of city council members seeking to justify their support for government intervention such as a tax increment financing (TIF) district or some other form of subsidy is “How much more tax does the building pay now?” Or perhaps “How many jobs will (or did) the project create?”

These questions, and the answers to them, are examples of stage one thinking. The answers are easily obtained and cited as evidence of the success of the government program.

But driving by a store or hotel in a TIF district and noticing a building or people working at jobs does not tell the entire story. Using the existence of a building, or the payment of taxes, or jobs created, is stage one thinking, and no more than that.

Fortunately, there are people who have thought beyond stage one, and some concerning local economic development and TIF districts. And what they’ve found should spur politicians and bureaucrats to find ways to move beyond stage one in their thinking.

An example are economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman, who have studied tax increment financing extensively. Their article Tax Increment Financing: A Tool for Local Economic Development states in its conclusion:

TIF districts grow much faster than other areas in their host municipalities. TIF boosters or naive analysts might point to this as evidence of the success of tax increment financing, but they would be wrong. Observing high growth in an area targeted for development is unremarkable.

So TIFs are good for the favored development that receives the subsidy — not a surprising finding. What about the rest of the city? Continuing from the same study:

If the use of tax increment financing stimulates economic development, there should be a positive relationship between TIF adoption and overall growth in municipalities. This did not occur. If, on the other hand, TIF merely moves capital around within a municipality, there should be no relationship between TIF adoption and growth. What we find, however, is a negative relationship. Municipalities that use TIF do worse.

We find evidence that the non-TIF areas of municipalities that use TIF grow no more rapidly, and perhaps more slowly, than similar municipalities that do not use TIF.

In a different paper (The Effects of Tax Increment Financing on Economic Development), the same economists wrote “We find clear and consistent evidence that municipalities that adopt TIF grow more slowly after adoption than those that do not. … These findings suggest that TIF trades off higher growth in the TIF district for lower growth elsewhere. This hypothesis is bolstered by other empirical findings.”

Here we have an example of thinking beyond stage one. The results are opposite of what one-stage thinking produces.

Some city council members are concerned about creating jobs, and are swayed by the promises of developers that their establishments will employ a certain number of workers. Again, this thinking stops at stage one. But others have looked farther, as has Paul F. Byrne of Washburn University. The title of his recent report is Does Tax Increment Financing Deliver on Its Promise of Jobs? The Impact of Tax Increment Financing on Municipal Employment Growth, and in its abstract we find this conclusion regarding the impact of TIF on jobs:

Increasingly, municipal leaders justify their use of tax increment financing (TIF) by touting its role in improving municipal employment. However, empirical studies on TIF have primarily examined TIF’s impact on property values, ignoring the claim that serves as the primary justification for its use. This article addresses the claim by examining the impact of TIF adoption on municipal employment growth in Illinois, looking for both general impact and impact specific to the type of development supported. Results find no general impact of TIF use on employment. However, findings suggest that TIF districts supporting industrial development may have a positive effect on municipal employment, whereas TIF districts supporting retail development have a negative effect on municipal employment. These results are consistent with industrial TIF districts capturing employment that would have otherwise occurred outside of the adopting municipality and retail TIF districts shifting employment within the municipality to more labor-efficient retailers within the TIF district.

While this research might be used to support a TIF district for industrial development, TIF in Wichita is primarily used for retail development. And, when thinking beyond stage one, the effect on employment — considering the entire city — is negative.

It’s hard to think beyond stage one. It requires considering not only the seen, but also the unseen, as Frederic Bastiat taught us in his famous parable of the broken window. But over and over we see how politicians at all levels of government stop thinking at stage one. This is one of the many reasons why we need to return as much decision-making as possible to the private sector, and drastically limit the powers of politicians and governments.

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Viewing the seen and unseen

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The lesson of the book “Economics in One Lesson” by Henry Hazlitt is this: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

(The Ludwig von Mises Institute has published an edition of this book which is available at no cost at its website; click here. Amanda BillyRock has illustrated most of the chapters in video. Click here for the playlist.)

Looking beyond what we see at first glance, that’s important. And considering everyone, not just some small group, is important too. You may be familiar with the term “special interest group.” A local example might be the Wichita Area Builders Association, which represents homebuilders. The purpose of groups like this — and I’m sorry to have to single out this group — is to represent their members, and them alone. So last year the Builders Association was able to persuade the Wichita City Council to pass a program that rebates Wichita property taxes on new homes for a few years. This makes it easier to sell these new homes. Homes which are built, of course, by members of the Wichita Area Builders Association.

Did the city council consider the long term effects of this policy, such as the effect on tax revenue in future years? Did the council consider the “Cash for Clunkers” effect, in which incentive programs induce people to buy now, only to depress sales in later years after the program ends? The answer is either a) No, the council did not consider these effects, or b) The council decided to ignore these effects.

Then, what about the effect on other groups besides the builders? Did the council consider that by offering savings when buying these select new homes, it likely reduced the appeal and value of all other homes across the city? Did the council consider that these new homes will require services like police and fire protection, but since they don’t contribute property tax, other taxpayers have to pay to provide these services?

And what about setting another precedent, that when business is not doing well, a special interest group appeals to government for special favors?

This is an example of the city council considering only the immediate effects of a policy, and also the effects on only a single group — the self-interested homebuilders. Things like this happen all the time.

Remember how Hazllitt said these groups will argue “plausibly and persistently?” That happened. As an example, Wichita State University economists prepared an analysis showing that this rebate program benefited the city. Did that analysis consider the long-term effects or only the immediate effects of the policy? Did that analysis consider the effects on all groups? I’m afraid that if we could look under the hood of these models, we’d find that they suffer from the problems Hazlitt warns about.

And the president of the Builders Association argued persuasively before the council. That’s an example of when Hazlitt wrote about a special interest group: “It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case.”

Hazlitt told us what we need to do in these cases, writing: “In these cases the answer consists in showing that the proposed policy would also have longer and less desirable effects, or that it could benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups.”

broken-window-glassSpecial interest groups expend lot of effort to get government to look at the seen and skip the unseen. That’s a reference to the famous parable of the broken window from chapter two of “Economics in One Lesson.” Ahe child who threw a rock through the window of the bakery. The crowd that gathered around the broken window: Someone suggested that the damage is actually a good thing, because the windowmaker now has work to do and earns money. And the windowmaker in turn will spend his new income somewhere else, and so forth. Economic development professionals who make arguments for subsidies to business call this the multiplier effect. It creates what they call indirect impacts.

A few years ago in an effort to drum up taxpayer subsidies for arts, a national organization — a special interest group — made this argument:

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A theater company purchases a gallon of paint from the local hardware store for $20, generating the direct economic impact of the expenditure. The hardware store then uses a portion of the aforementioned $20 to pay the sales clerk’s salary; the sales clerk respends some of the money for groceries; the grocery store uses some of the money to pay its cashier; the cashier then spends some for the utility bill; and so on. The subsequent rounds of spending are the indirect economic impacts.

Thus, the initial expenditure by the theater company was followed by four additional rounds of spending (by the hardware store, sales clerk, grocery store, and the cashier). The effect of the theater company’s initial expenditure is the direct economic impact. The subsequent rounds of spending are all of the indirect impacts. The total impact is the sum of the direct and indirect impacts.

That is the same argument made to excuse the destruction of the broken window in the bakery. Doesn’t this sound plausible? But Hazlitt, echoing Bastiat before him, notes this: The baker was going to buy a suit of clothes, and buying that suit would set off its own chain of economic activity.

But now he must spend that money on fixing the broken window. The new window is what is seen. The unbought suit of clothes is more difficult to see. It is the unseen.

If the window was not broken, the baker has a functional window and a new suit of clothes. After the window is broken, however, all the baker has is a replacement window. No new suit of clothes is purchased.

As Hazlitt summarized: “The glazier’s gain of business, in short, is merely the tailor’s loss of business. No new ‘employment’ has been added. The people in the crowd were thinking only of two parties to the transaction, the baker and the glazier. They had forgotten the potential third party involved, the tailor. They forgot him precisely because he will not now enter the scene. They will see the new window in the next day or two. They will never see the extra suit, precisely because it will never be made. They see only what is immediately visible to the eye.”

In the case I cited above, it’s easy to see the benefit granted to the homebuilders. But the economic activity that does not take place because of the diversion of resources to the homebuilders? Where is that? It is unseen.

When the theater company spends $20 of taxpayer-provided money to buy paint: Where did that $20 come from? Isn’t it possible that a homeowner might have bought the same gallon of paint, but now is not able to because he must pay taxes to support the theater company? It’s easy to see the theater production with its taxpayer-funded painted set. It’s not easy to see the house that sits unpainted for a year to pay for the theater company’s paint. That is the seen and unseen.

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Open Records in Kansas

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Kansas has a weak open records law. Wichita doesn’t want to follow the law, as weak as it is.

As citizen watchdogs, I and others need access to information and data. The City of Wichita, however, has created several not-for-profit organizations that are largely funded by tax money. The three I am concerned with are the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

I have asked each organization for checkbook-level spending data. Each has refused to comply, using the reasoning that they are not “public agencies” as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. But consider the WDDC: When I made a request for records, its percent of revenue derived from taxes was well over 90 percent every year but one. In many years the only income WDDC received was from taxes and a small amount of interest earned. Click here to see how much of WDDC’s revenue comes from taxes.

The Wichita city attorney backs these organizations and their interpretation of the law. So do almost all city council members. After 14 months investigating this matter, the Sedgwick County District Attorney agreed with the city’s position. (Click here to read the determination.) The only course of action open to me is to raise thousands of dollars to fund a lawsuit.

Citizen watchdogs and others need the ability to examine the spending of tax money. When government creates quasi-governmental bodies that are almost totally funded through taxes, and then refuses to disclose how that money is spent, we have to wonder why the city doesn’t want citizens to know how this money is spent.

An example of why this is important is the case of Mike Howerter, a trustee of Labette Community College in Parsons. He noticed that a check number was missing from a register. Upon his inquiry, it was revealed that the missing check was used to reimburse the college president for a political campaign contribution. While the college president committed no violation by making this political contribution using college funds, this is an example of the type of information that citizens may want regarding the way public funds are spent.

In Wichita, because of a loophole in the Kansas Open Records Act, a large amount of tax money is spent without this type of scrutiny. This year the Kansas Legislature is considering HB 2567, which will start to bring accountability for how all tax money is spent..

The Attorney General’s page on the Kansas Open Records Act is here. The Kansas Legislator Briefing Book chapter for the Kansas Open Records Act is here.

Wichita doesn’t value open records and open government

On the KAKE Television public affairs program “This Week in Kansas” the failure of the Wichita City Council, especially council member Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita), to recognize the value of open records and open government is discussed.

For more background, see Wichita, again, fails at open government.

Wichita, again, fails at open government

The Wichita City Council, when presented with an opportunity to increase the ability of citizens to observe the workings of the government they pay for, decided against the cause of open government, preferring to keep the spending of taxpayer money a secret. Continue reading here.

Wichita could do better regarding open government, if it wants

Tomorrow the Wichita City Council will consider renewing its contract with Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau. The renewal will provide another opportunity for the council to decide whether it is truly in favor of open government and citizen access to records. Continue reading here.

Wichita government’s attitude towards citizens’ right to know is an issue

At a meeting of the Wichita City Council, Kansas Policy Institute president Dave Trabert explained the problems in obtaining compliance with the Kansas Open Records Act. Continue reading here.

Open records again an issue in Kansas

Responses to records requests made by Kansas Policy Institute are bringing attention to shortcomings in the Kansas Open Records Act. Continue reading here.

In Wichita, disdain for open records and government transparency

Despite receiving nearly all its funding from taxpayers, Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau refuses to admit it is a “public agency” as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. The city backs this agency and its interpretation of this law, which is in favor of government secrecy and in opposition to the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act. Continue reading here.

Additional information on open records is at:

Wichita Chamber presentation. Click for larger version.

Wichita Chamber of Commerce: Why these panelists?

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Last week the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce conducted a panel discussion about economic development and job creation in Wichita. The experts selected as panelists tells us a lot about why the Wichita economy has suffered.

In case anyone is not aware of the performance of the Wichita-area economy, the Wichita Eagle reported “Exhibit No. 1 in their presentation was a Chamber of Commerce chart showing that, five years after the recession ended, Wichita had regained few, if any, jobs from the depths of the economic downturn — while other cities across the region have rebounded strongly.” (Wichita must step up efforts to attract jobs, civic leaders say, Thursday, February 6, 2014)

Wichita Chamber presentation. Click for larger version.

Wichita Chamber presentation. Click for larger version.

On the same event, the Wichita Business Journal reported “But the luncheon opened with a somber look at Wichita’s ranking among peer cities in the Midwest region. The chart shows Wichita area employment growth since January 2005 well below the other cities, barely above its 2005 employment.” (Chamber luncheon speakers: Wichita needs to compete better for jobs)

The news about the poor performance of Wichita in this regard is no surprise to readers of this site, although I’m not sure that those in charge, such as Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, believe the numbers. Brewer, along with Dave Unruh and Chamber president Wayne Chambers were the three panelists on Wichita economic development.

What is surprising is that Brewer and Unruh were selected as experts in this field, given the city’s poor performance and the tenure of these two leaders. Brewer has been mayor for nearly seven years, and has served on the city council 2001. Unruh has been in office since 2003, and has been chair of the commission several times, as he is currently.

Brewer — after 13 years holding city office — had this to say, according to the Eagle: “Brewer said the Wichita City Council will look at the results of a recent community engagement survey to see how high a priority to place on economic development.”

Imagine that. Our city’s longtime leader, as he enters the last year of his mayorality: Now he’s going to get serious about economic development, and will do so by relying on a citizen survey.

To use interactive visualizations that explore the Wichita economy, see Wichita’s growth in gross domestic product and For Wichita’s economic development machinery, failure.

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Economic freedom, the key to improving lives

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Economic freedom, in countries where it is allowed to thrive, leads to better lives for people as measured in a variety of ways. This is true for everyone, especially for poor people.

This is the message presented in a short video based on the work of the Economic Freedom of the World report, which is a project of Canada’s Fraser Institute. Four years ago Robert Lawson, one of the authors of the Economic Freedom of the World report, lectured in Wichita on this topic. The current video is made possible by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

One of the findings highlighted in the presentation is that while the average income in free countries is much higher than that in the least-free countries, the ratio is even higher for the poorest people in these countries. This is consistent with the findings that economic freedom is good for everyone, and even more so for those with low incomes.

Civil rights, a clean environment, long life expectancy, low levels of corruption, less infant mortality, less child labor, and lower unemployment are all associated with greater levels of economic freedom.

What are the components or properties of economic freedom? The presentation lists these:

  • Property rights are protected under an impartial rule of law.
  • People are free to trade with others, both within and outside the country.
  • There is a sound national currency, so that peoples’ money keeps its value.
  • Government stays small, relative to the size of the economy.

Over the last eleven years, the United States’ ranking has fallen relative to other countries, and the presentation says our position is expected to keep falling. The question is asked: “Will our quality of life fall with it?”

Economic freedom is not necessarily the platform of any single political party. It should be noted that for about eight of the past twelve years — a period in which our economic freedom has been falling — there was a Republican president, sometimes with a Republican Congress. The size of government rose. In 2005 the Cato Institute studied the numbers and found that “All presidents presided over net increases in spending overall, though some were bigger spenders than others. As it turns out, George W. Bush is one of the biggest spenders of them all. In fact, he is an even bigger spender than Lyndon B. Johnson in terms of discretionary spending.” This was before the spending on the prescription drug program had started.

Critics of economic freedom

The defining of what economic freedom means is important. Sometimes you’ll see people write things like “Bernie Madoff was only exercising his personal economic freedom while he ran his investment firm.” Madoff, we now know, was a thief. He stole his clients’ money. That’s contrary to property rights, and therefore contrary to economic freedom.

Or, you’ll see people say if you don’t like government, go to Somalia. That country, one of the poorest in the world — but not the poorest — is used as an example of how bad anarchy is as a form of government. The evidence is, however, that Somalia’s former government was so bad that things improved after the fall of that government. See Peter T. Leeson, Better Off Stateless: Somalia Before and After Government Collapse and History of Somalia (1991–2006).

You’ll also encounter people who argue that some countries are poor because they have no natural resources. But there are many countries with few natural resources that have economic freedom and a high standard of living. Most countries that are poor are that way because they are run by corrupt governments that have no respect for economic freedom, and follow policies that stifle it.

Some will argue that economic freedom means the freedom to pollute the environment. But it is in wealthy countries that the environment is respected. Poor countries, where people are struggling just to find food for each day, don’t have the time or wealth to be concerned about the environment.

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Our Kansas grassroots teachers union

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)

Letters to the editor in your hometown newspaper may have the air of being written by a concerned parent of Kansas schoolchildren, but they might not be what they seem.

It’s fashionable for school advocacy groups to bash their critics as mere lackeys of a top-down driven power structure. It is the advocates for school spending — teachers, parents, children, school principals — that are the true grassroots, they say.

So it might be surprising to learn that Kansas’ largest teachers union has a plan and mechanism for distributing its message. It’s called the KNEA Media Response Team, and it says it is “responsible for promoting KNEA and public education in the print and electronic media.”

kansas-national-education-assocation-knea-media-response-team-logo-01The team’s web page holds language like: “The KNEA Media Response Team builds on existing KNEA media outreach efforts and is a sanctioned KNEA Board Task Force.”

Task Force. Sounds like a military organization, not a grassroots advocacy group. Sanctioned. Sounds like someone had to obtain official permission. Obtaining permission from a central authority isn’t characteristic of grassroots activism.

The page also says: “Because we’re seeking fresh voices, board members, council presidents and local presidents are not encouraged to apply.”

It’s a detailed plan: “During the first year, there will be only one per media market. To participate, members must attend the initial MRT training or have taken Cyndi’s message framing session within the last two years.”

There are pre-determined talking points on a secret web page: “Refer to KNEA member only Web page for basic messages on key education issues (https://ks.nea.org/membersonly/talkingpoints.html), or contact KNEA Communications for help with other issues. Use these to write your response.”

It’s encouraged, although not mandatory, to get pre-approval for the communiques team members have developed: “Submit your letter to the editor or guest column to the newspaper via e-mail. Send a copy to Cyndi. Initially, members may send their letter to Cyndi first before submitting it to a news organization.”

If the union leaders have a message they want to promulgate, you may be asked to help: “At certain times, you may be asked to write letters promoting KNEA’s positive goals for public education, instead of responding to what others write.”

There’s a contract team members must agree to: “I agree to become a KNEA Media Response Team writer for 2009-2010. I understand and support the goals and guidelines of the KNEA Media Response Team. I will work with KNEA Communications to write letters to the editor and engage in other media activity that helps promote public education.”

All this would be less objectionable if KNEA was truly working for the good of Kansas schoolchildren. But notice that KNEA is concerned with public education only, not education in general. That’s because teachers in private schools, religious schools, and homeschooling parents aren’t union members. Then, when you learn that KNEA opposes nearly all forms of education reform — especially measures that would bring greater accountability to teachers and schools — the target of the union’s concern is obvious: Not the children. See Kansas reasonable: The education candidates.

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Voice for Liberty Radio: Mike Pompeo

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In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas spoke at a meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. Some of the topics and questions Pompeo answered included:

The size of the defense budget, the threats to our nation, and the importance of the National Security Agency in keeping the country safe. He addressed privacy concerns.

What about tension between the Speaker of the House and tea party and conservatives?

What’s wrong the the just-passed farm bill, and how did it pass?

Attitudes towards and respect for Congress and the President.

The arrest of a suspect in an attack on the Wichita Airport.

The presentation started with a video of Rep. Pompeo questioning Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

This recording contains Pompeo’s prepared remarks in full and selected responses to questions at the Wichita Pachyderm Club on February 7, 2014.

Shownotes

Mike Pompeo Congressional office.
Campaign website: pompeoforcongress.com
Twitter at @RepMikePompeo
Wichita Pachyderm Club

Voice for Liberty Radio: State of the Republican Party

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In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: Last fall Bud Norman spoke to a meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. Norman’s blog is The Central Standard Times. His novel is “The Things That Are Caesars: A Comic Tale of Politics, Religion, and Other Impolite Topics.” His topic was “Ruminations on the State of the Republican Party,” and it’s very entertaining. I provided the introduction.

This is podcast episode number 10, released on February 7, 2014. There is much other material at Voice for Liberty on the internet at wichitaliberty.org. Here’s Bud Norman at the Wichita Pachyderm Club, October 4, 2013.

Shownotes

Norman’s blog is The Central Standard Times.
His novel is The Things That Are Caesars: A Comic Tale of Politics, Religion, and Other Impolite Topics.
His prepared remarks are available to read here.

Kansas Capitol

Kansas school finance lawsuit deflects from issues that could help schoolchildren

Kansas Capitol

Regardless of which side wins the Kansas school finance lawsuit, we know who loses: Kansas schoolchildren.

Talking about school spending is easy, even though most Kansas public school spending advocates refuse to acknowledge the totality of spending. (Or if they acknowledge the total level, they may make excuses for the spending not being effective.) Advocating for more spending is easy. It’s easy because the Kansas Constitution says the state must spend on schools. Parents want more spending, and so do teachers, public employee unions, and children. It’s easy to want more spending on schools because anyone who doesn’t is demonized as anti-child, anti-education, and even anti-human.

But the focus on school spending lets the Kansas public school establishment off the hook too easily. Any and all shortcomings of Kansas schools can be blamed on inadequate funding, and that’s what happens.

The focus on school spending also keeps attention away from some unfortunate and unpleasant facts about Kansas schools that the establishment would rather not talk about. Kansas needs to confront these facts for the sake of Kansas schoolchildren. If the court orders more spending and the legislature complies, not much is likely to improve, but the public school establishment will say everything that’s wrong has been fixed.

The focus on spending

First, citizens are generally misinformed on Kansas school spending. In surveys, most people usually guess that schools spend less than half of the correct amount. It’s a problem not only in Kansas; it’s a nationwide issue.

Then, there is a tenuous connection between increased school spending and better student outcomes. Many studies point out the rapid rise in school spending over the decades, but test scores are flat.

center-american-progress-false-promise-class-size-reduction

Public school spending advocates say that increased spending will allow smaller class sizes. But class size reduction is very expensive and produces only marginal benefits compared to other strategies. The Center for American Progress — normally in favor of anything that increases government spending — wrote this in its 2011 report The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction

The evidence on class size indicates that smaller classes can, in some circumstances, improve student achievement if implemented in a focused way. But CSR [class size reduction] policies generally take exactly the opposite approach by pursuing across-the-board reductions in class size at the state or federal level. These large-scale, untargeted policies are also extremely expensive and represent wasted opportunities to make smarter educational investments. Large-scale CSR policies clearly fail any cost-benefit test because they entail steep costs and produce benefits that are modest at best.

The CAP report tells readers what does work to improve student outcomes:

Researchers agree that teacher quality is the single most important in-school determinant of how much students learn. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has estimated that replacing the worst 5 percent to 8 percent of teachers with average teachers would dramatically boost achievement in the United States.

But Kansas ranks low in policies regarding teacher quality. The current lawsuit doesn’t address issues like teacher quality or other specific reforms that will actually help Kansas schoolchildren.

What Kansas did after the last lawsuit

Consider what Kansas did the last time schools won a lawsuit: The state lowered its school standards. Simply put, Kansas didn’t have rigorous standards for its schools, and it lowered them after the last court decision.

national-center-education-statistics-state-mapping-naep

The National Center for Education Statistics produces a report titled Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. (NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.)

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. The conclusion of NCES is that Kansas school standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains. (View below, or click here to view in HD at YouTube.)

For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

A similar question was considered for math: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of mathematics standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the mathematics assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased (the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change).”

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its mathematics grade 4 assessment between 2005 and 2009, but the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change.”

For mathematics, NCES judges that some standards were weakened, and some did not change.

In its summary of Kansas reading standards, NCES concluded: “In both grades, Kansas state assessment results showed more positive changes in achievement than NAEP results.” For mathematics, the summary reads: “In grade 4, Kansas state assessment results showed a change in achievement that is not different from that based on NAEP results. In grade 8, state assessment results showed a more positive change.”

In other words: In three of four instances, Kansas is claiming positive student achievement that isn’t apparent on national tests.

Following are two examples of charts from the NCES study where Kansas school standards rank compared to other states. Click on them for larger versions.

Kansas Grade 4 Reading Standards

Kansas Grade 4 Math Standards 01

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