Year in review: 2012

Following is a selection of stories that appeared on Voice for Liberty in 2012. Was it a good or bad year for the causes of economic freedom, individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and civil society?

January

Boeing departure presents challenge for Wichita and Kansas. The announcement of the departure from Wichita of Boeing presents challenges for the Wichita area and the state of Kansas. The response of government officials over the next few years will need to depart from past and present practice if Wichita wants to build a dynamic and sustainable economy. With a few exceptions, our current elected officials will likely proceed with targeted economic development, and Wichita and Kansas will miss an opportunity to implement meaningful and lasting change.

Wichita TIF: Taxpayer-funded benefits to political players. It is now confirmed: In Wichita, tax increment financing (TIF) leads to taxpayer-funded waste that benefits those with political connections at city hall. … The flow of tax dollars Wichita city leaders had planned for Douglas Place called for taxpayer funds to be routed to a politically-connected construction firm. And unlike the real world, where developers have an incentive to build economically, the city created incentives for Douglas Place developers to spend lavishly in a parking garage, at no cost to themselves. In fact, the wasteful spending would result in profit for them.

Kansas senators seen as unfriendly to business. This was the start of the effort that resulted in a switch in control of the Kansas Senate.

Kansas Speaker: Schools don’t spend all they have. Based on choices that many school districts have made in response to legislation giving them flexibility to spend fund balances, Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal questions whether a school funding crisis actually exists.

Kansas Bioscience Authority. The release of a forensics audit of the Kansas Bioscience Authority coupled with two days of joint committee hearings revealed an independent government agency out of control, an audit that draws conclusions described as sanitized of important details, and an agency and legislative supporters who believe that now, all is well at the KBA.

February

Fact checking the Wichita Ambassador Hotel campaign. Claims made by a group supporting taxpayer subsidy for the Ambassador Hotel in Wichita are put to the test.

Carl Brewer: State of the City for Wichita, 2012. Last night Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer delivered his annual State of the City Address. We learned, again, that Wichita’s mayor is openly dismissive of economic freedom, free markets, and limited government, calling these principles of freedom and liberty “simplistic.” Instead, his government prefers crony capitalism and corporate welfare. This is the troubling message that emerges from Brewer’s State of the City address.

Market solutions best for Wichita. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer wants to double down on economic development strategies that have produced very little good.

Kansas needs pay-to-play laws. In Wichita, campaign contributions made to city council candidates often are not about supporting political ideologies — liberal, moderate, or conservative. It’s about opportunists seeking money from government. Pay-to-play laws can help control this harmful practice.

No-bid contracts a problem in Wichita. Wichita Eagle reporting uncovers a problem with no-bid contracts for construction projects in Wichita. This revelation illustrates these things: a Wichita City Council almost totally captured by special interests, crony capitalism on steroids, and another example of why Wichita and Kansas need pay-to-play laws.

Why vote no in the Wichita Ambassador Hotel election. In the Wichita Ambassador Hotel special election, there are many reasons to vote no for the good of Wichita.

Wichita economic development isn’t working. Economic development in Wichita isn’t working very well. The Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition along with long-serving politicians and bureaucrats need to be held accountable, and our strategy must change.

In Wichita, pushing back against political cronyism. Tonight the people of Wichita witnessed a victory for common sense over political cronyism.

Wichita school board meeting: Not for the public. Wichita school board president Betty Arnold admonished the audience: “This board meeting is held in public, but it is not for the public, or of the public.” Video here.

March

Wichita, Kansas voters reject corporate welfare and cronyism. Tuesday, Kansas voters made a bold statement, rejecting a plan favoring cronyism and big government, instead choosing to take a stand for fiscal responsibility.

Kansas and Wichita lag the nation in tax costs. If we in Kansas and Wichita wonder why our economic growth is slow and our economic development programs don’t seem to be producing results, there is now data to answer the question why: Our tax rates are high — way too high.

A Wichita shocker. The Wall Street Journal comments on last week’s election in Wichita, noting “Local politicians like to get in bed with local business, and taxpayers are usually the losers.”

Wind energy split in Kansas. Kansas politicians are split over the the government’s subsidy programs for wind energy.

Brownback, Moran wrong on wind tax credits. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and U.S. Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas are mistaken regarding the economic effect of tax credits that benefit the wind power industry.

In Kansas, public school establishment attacks high standards. When a Kansas public policy think tank placed ads in Kansas newspapers calling attention to the performance of Kansas schools, the public school establishment didn’t like it. The defense of the Kansas school status quo, especially that coming from Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane DeBacker, ought to cause Kansans to examine the motives of the school spending establishment and their ability to be truthful about Kansas schools.

Wichita new home tax rebate program: The analysis. A document released by the City of Wichita casts strong doubt on the wisdom of a new home property tax rebate program. The document also lets us know that city staff are not being entirely honest with the citizens of Wichita.

In Kansas, no E-verify, please. The hope that if we can somehow stop illegal immigrants from obtaining jobs, then unemployed Americans can go back to work, is a false hope. For that and other reasons, I can’t join with Kansas conservatives who support E-verify and other harsh anti-immigrant measures.

April

Kansas may again resort to government art. Kansas may be ready to restore some state funding for the arts. But for reasons economic, human, and artistic, we ought to keep Kansas government out of art. Kansas should allow people themselves to decide how to spend their own money on what they think is important to them. To implement government funding of art is to override the freedom of individual choice with political and bureaucratic decisions.

For Koch critics, facts aren’t part of the equation. A newspaper editorial begins with “What is it, or why is it, that the name Koch, particularly here in Lawrence and Kansas, seems to trigger such angry, passionate and negative responses from a certain segment of the community, particularly among some at Kansas University?” It’s a good question.

In Kansas, planning will be captured by special interests. The government planning process started in south-central Kansas will likely be captured by special interest groups that see ways to benefit from the plan. The public choice school of economics and political science has taught us how special interest groups seek favors from government at enormous costs to society, and we will see this at play again over the next few years.

Federal grants increase future local spending. Not only are we taxed to pay for the cost of funding federal and state grants, the units of government that receive grants are very likely to raise their own levels of taxation in response to the receipt of the grants. This creates a cycle of ever-expanding government.

Thinking beyond stage one in economic development for Wichita. 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.

Wichita pension plan report. First, the good news: The condition of Wichita Employees’ Retirement System is nowhere near as dire as Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, or KPERS.. But the city is having to make much higher contributions to keep the plan funded. These contribution rates are likely to increase, as the plan relies on unrealistic assumptions.

Wichita decides to join sustainable communities planning. The City of Wichita has decided to embrace centralized government planning.

In Kansas, STAR bonds vote uplifted cronyism over capitalism. In Kansas, many purportedly fiscally conservative members of the House and Senate voted to uplift cronyism over capitalism by extending the STAR bonds program.

Intrust Bank Arena finances: The worst news is hidden. The true state of the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita are not often a subject of public discussion. Arena boosters promote a revenue-sharing arrangement between the county and the arena operator, referring to this as profit or loss. But this arrangement is not an accurate and complete accounting, and hides the true economics of the arena.

Kansas state spending is not, itself, a good. In the debate over reducing and eventually eliminating the income tax in Kansas, those who oppose income tax reduction say it will simply shift the burden of taxation to others, in the form of sales and property taxes. This is true only if we decide to keep spending at the same rate. We could cut spending in response to reduced revenue, but it is argued that state spending is a good thing, a source of wealth that Kansas should continue to rely on.

May

Kansas school test scores. Kansas scores on the nationwide NAEP tests are unchanged or falling at the same time scores on Kansas tests are rising — “jumping,” in the recent words of Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker.

Kansans uninformed on school spending. As the Kansas Legislature debates spending on schools, we have to hope that legislators are more knowledgeable about school spending than the average Kansan. Surveys have found that few Kansans have accurate information regarding school spending. Surprisingly, those with children in the public school system are even more likely to be uninformed regarding accurate figures. But when presented with accurate information about changes in school spending, few Kansans are willing to pay increased taxes to support more school spending.

Despite superintendents’ claim, Kansas schools have low standards. Kansas school district superintendents write “Historically, our state has had high-performing schools, which make Kansas a great place to live, raise a family and run a business.” The truth is that when compared to other states, Kansas has low standards.

Kansas could grow with lower taxes. Two research papers illustrate the need to reduce taxes in Kansas, finding that high taxes are associated with reduced income and low economic growth. Research such as this rebuts the presumption of government spending advocates that reducing taxes will kill jobs in Kansas.

Wichita school spending: The grain of truth. The Wichita school district, like most of the Kansas school spending establishment, uses spending figures containing a grain of truth to make a larger and misleading argument about school spending.

June

School funding suitability in Kansas. As a Kansas court considers intervening in Kansas school finance, the importance of accurate and meaningful evidence on school funding should be the court’s top priority. Supporters of increased school funding rely on two studies that they claim supports more funding for schools. An analysis by Kansas Policy Institute is helpful in understanding why the studies relied on in the past should be discarded.

In Kansas, redistricting went well, after all. The Kansas political class is upset because a federal court drew new districts they way they should be drawn.

Kansas legislative summary documents available. Kansas Legislative Research Department has completed its summaries of the 2012 session of the Kansas Legislature.

July

Kansas Economic Freedom Index, 2012 Edition. The Kansas Economic Freedom Index identifies Kansas legislators who vote in favor of economic freedom — and those who don’t.

Coalition Grades Kansas Legislators’ Support of Economic Freedom. A new scorecard released today takes a broad look at voting records and establishes how supportive Kansas state legislators were of economic freedom, limited government and individual liberty in the 2012 legislative session.

Wichita increases its debt. Wichita has increased its long-term debt load and shifted tax money from debt repayment to current consumption.

Wichita fails ethics test. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and most members of the city council failed a test concerning government ethics.

Kansas auto dealers benefit from anti-competitive law. Kansas automobile dealers benefit from a law that limits the ability of competitors to form new dealerships. Consumers are harmed.

Kansas schools receive NCLB waiver. Kansas schools have received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Wichita school spending. A statement by Wichita school superintendent John Allison is part of an ongoing campaign of misinformation spread by school spending advocates in Wichita and across Kansas.

Wichita-area economic development policy changes proposed. Wichita and Sedgwick County are considering revising the economic development policies.

Michigan company involved in disputed Wichita airport contract contributes to Jeff Longwell. A campaign finance report filed by Wichita City Council Member Jeff Longwell contains contributions from executives associated with Walbridge, a Michigan construction company partnering with Key Construction to build the new Wichita airport terminal.

August

Kansas traditional Republicans: The record. As Kansas Republicans decide who to vote for in next week’s primary election, moderate senate incumbents and many newspapers urge voting for those Republicans who promote a “reasonable,” “balanced,” and “responsible” approach to Kansas government. When we examine the record of the coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats that governed Kansas for the first decade of this century, we see legislative accomplishment that not many Kansans may be aware of.

Wichita property tax mill levy has increased and shifted in use. The City of Wichita says that the property tax mill levy has not increased in many years. But it has. In addition, property tax revenue has been shifted from debt repayment to current consumption.

In Kansas, rejecting left-wing Republicans. Kansas voters have realized that the governance of Kansas by a coalition of Democrats and left-wing Republicans has not been in the state’s best interest.

Wichita voters reject cronyism — again. Voters in Wichita and the surrounding area have rejected, for the second time this year, the culture of political cronyism that passes for economic development in Wichita.

Wichita revises economic development policy. The City of Wichita has passed a revision to its economic development policies. Instead of promoting economic freedom and a free-market approach, the new policy gives greater power to city bureaucrats and politicians, and is unlikely to produce the economic development that Wichita needs.

Charles Koch: The importance of economic freedom. Charles Koch explains the importance of economic freedom for everyone.

Andover, a Kansas city overtaken by blight. In order to implement a tax giveaway to buyers of new homes, a city essentially declares total blight infestation.

Proposed Wichita sign ordinance problematic. The Wichita City Council will consider implementing a sign ordinance that has a major problem.

Wichita fluoridation debate reveals attitudes of government. Is community water fluoridation like iodized salt? According to Wichita City Council Member and Vice Mayor Janet Miller, we didn’t vote on whether to put iodine in table salt, so Wichitans don’t need to vote on whether to add fluoride to drinking water.

Wichita speculative industrial buildings. A tax forgiveness policy for speculative industrial buildings in Wichita may not produce the intended results.

Renewable Portfolio Standard costly for Kansas. A policy promoted by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback will result in higher electricity costs, fewer jobs, and less investment in Kansas.

September

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer on role of government. It’s worse than “You didn’t build that.” Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer tells us you can’t build that — not without government guidance and intervention, anyway.

Charles G. Koch: Corporate cronyism harms America. When businesses feed at the federal trough, they threaten public support for business and free markets, explains Charles G. Koch.

NetApp economic development incentives: all of them. The Wichita City Council will consider economic development incentives designed to secure new jobs in Wichita at NetApp. Few Kansans, however, are probably aware of the entire scope of the incentive package and the harm it causes.

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.

Kansas lawmakers, including judges, should be selected democratically. While many believe that judges should not “legislate from the bench,” the reality is that lawmaking is a judicial function. In a democracy, lawmakers should be elected under the principle of “one person, one vote.” But Kansas, which uses the Missouri Plan for judicial selection to its two highest courts, violates this principle.

Surveillance state arrives in Wichita. In an effort to control crime in Old Town, Wichita is importing the police surveillance state. Once camera use has started, it is likely to spread.

Wichita economic development, two stories. Two items on the agenda for the Wichita City Council give an insight into the nature and efficacy of economic development efforts in Wichita.

October

Wichita government’s attitude towards citizens’ right to know is an issue. The City of Wichita relies on a narrow and unreasonable interpretation of the Kansas Open Records Act to avoid letting citizens know how taxpayer money is spent.

Regarding Kansas schools, power is not with parents. Information and options allow parents to make the best decisions for their children regarding schools. But in Kansas, parents have little power to make good decisions for their children, relative to the other states.

Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan survey. A survey created for the Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan has numerous problems and seems designed to satisfy the goals of government officials and planners instead of citizens.

Wichita waltzing waters dedication a chance to reflect. While the dedication ceremonies for Wichita’s Waltzing Waters fountain are promoted as celebrations, we might use this opportunity to review the history and impact of WaterWalk, which has absorbed many millions of taxpayer subsidy with few results.

Charges of slashing Kansas school spending. In their campaigns, Kansas Democrats are charging that school spending has been slashed.

Introducing Quick Takes. Quick Takes is a new feature of Voice for Liberty in Wichita.

Citizens generally misinformed on Kansas school spending. When asked about the level of spending on public schools in Kansas, citizens are generally uninformed or misinformed. They also incorrectly thought that spending has declined in recent years.

November

In Sedgwick County, a judicial candidate takes the low road. Voters are accustomed to political campaigns that sink low with distorted facts, missing facts, innuendo, and outright lies. Judges, however, ought to be held to a higher standard, and in Kansas, the Supreme Court has rules for judges to follow in their campaigns. But the campaign for incumbent Richard T. Ballinger in Sedgwick County, Kansas, doesn’t seem to be interested in following these rules.

From the United Nations to Sedgwick County. It took from 1987 to 2012, but Sedgwick County has adopted the language of the United Nations regarding sustainability.

You should be able to photograph your ballot. “Every election is a sort of advance auction of stolen goods.” Whether the sale is implicit or explicit, it doesn’t change what’s happening. There’s no need to create new laws or enforcement powers.

In Wichita, creating more willing taxpayers. Is the goal of Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investments Plan to create more willing taxpayers? A paper from the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public affairs gives us a clue — and a warning.

I, Pencil: The Movie. Now in movie form, the story of the humble pencil illustrates the wonder and power of “the spontaneous configuration of creative human energies.”

Wichita licenses the striping of parking lots. Next week the Wichita City Council will consider licensing and regulating the painting of stripes in parking lots. How, may I ask, has civilization advanced without the benefit of such regulation?

In Wichita, confusion over air traffic statistics. The Kansas Affordable Airfares program is promoted by Wichita and Sedgwick County government despite problems with the data and statistics used to evaluate the program.

Flight options from Wichita decline, compared to nation. A program designed to bring low air fares to Wichita appears to meet that goal, but the unintended and inevitable consequences of the program are not being recognized.

December

In Wichita, a quest for campaign finance reform. Actions of the Wichita City Council have shown that campaign finance reform is needed. Citizen groups are investigating how to accomplish this needed reform, since the council has not shown interest in reforming itself.

Economic development incentives questioned. When the New York Times is concerned about the cost of government spending programs, it’s a safe bet that things are really out of control. Its recent feature reports on economic development incentive programs that are costly and produce questionable benefits.

Wichita economic growth, in comparison. How does economic growth in Wichita compare to the state and nation?

Bowllagio property purchases seem overpriced. As part of a planned real estate development, taxpayers may be asked to pay property owners much more than the appraised values for the parcels.

O’Donnell critics should look inward first. Wichita’s mayor and city council need to examine their own errors of cronyism before lashing out at a member who made an inconsequential mistake.

Wichita could do better regarding open government, if it wants. Wichita, if it wanted to, could provide greater transparency and access to 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.

Kansas budget solution overlooked. As Kansas prepares for a legislative session that must find ways to balance a budget in the face of declining revenues, not all solutions are being considered.

In Wichita, failure to 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 Pete Meitzner, to recognize the value of open records and open government is discussed.


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