On Facebook, a person wrote “We were already a frugal state …” (I’ve obscured the name to protect the uninformed.)
Is this true? What is the state and local government spending in Kansas, on a per-person basis? How does it compare to other states?
Every five years the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a census of governments. In its own words: “The Census of Governments identifies the scope and nature of the nation’s state and local government sector; provides authoritative benchmark figures of public finance and public employment; classifies local government organizations, powers, and activities; and measures federal, state, and local fiscal relationships.”1
I’ve gathered data from the 2012 census of governments — which is the most recent — and made it available in an interactive visualization. Nearby is a snapshot from the visualization, showing Kansas and nearby states, and a few others. (Using the visualization, you may select your own set of states to compare.)
In the visualization, you can see that Kansas spends quite a bit more than nearby states. Of special interest is Minnesota, which is often used as an example of a high-tax state, and a state with excellent schools and services. But Minnesota spends barely more than Kansas, on a per-person basis.
What about Colorado? It seems that Kansans often look to Colorado as a state full of bounty. But Kansas outspends Colorado. Same for New Mexico, Wisconsin, Texas, and — especially — Missouri.
So: Is Kansas a frugal state? It doesn’t seem it is.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Radio Show Host Joseph Ashby joins host Bob Weeks to talk about Kansas judges, Kansas schools, and presidential politics. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 128, broadcast September 11, 2016.
From Kansas Policy Institute and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, a new website with facts about the Kansas budget, economy, and schools.
GetTheFactsKansas.com aims to provide Kansans with factual information about our state. Sometimes this is in short supply, so this effort is welcome.
As an example, when explaining school spending, the site notes: “At $13,124 per-pupil, 2015 marked the third consecutive year of record-setting funding according to the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE). And if the Department’s estimates hold, another new record will be set when the 2016 final results are reported. Record funding is not the result of accounting changes; emails from KSDE confirm that no accounting changes impacted state or district funding totals for more than ten years. There was a correction effective in 2015 when the state-mandated 20 mills of property tax began being properly recorded as State Aid instead of Local Aid, but there would have been an increase in State Aid without that change.”
Information like this rebuts two arguments that Kansas progressives use. First, that the increase in school spending is due to a recent change in the way KPERS payments are reported. But, there has been no change in ten years. Second, that the shift in the reporting of local property taxes is used to falsely inflate state spending. As KPI notes, even after adjusting for this change, state funding of schools has risen.
Why would a candidate split sentences in order to create an untruthful claim about his opponent?
In a Facebook post on the David Dennis campaign page, this claim is presented regarding Karl Peterjohn: “Claims to be anti-tax yet calls for RAISING sales taxes.”1
For many years Karl Peterjohn has been calling for a raise in the county sales tax, yes. That’s the first part of the plan. The second part of the plan is to eliminate the county property tax.
These two parts of the plan are so closely intertwined, so closely dependent on each other, that usually they appear in the same sentence, as in a Wichita Eagle op-ed: “Currently, the county imposes a 29.3 mill property tax countywide. This mill levy could be eliminated with about a 1.5-cent increase in the sales tax on a revenue-neutral basis.” 2
Why would a candidate split sentences in order to create an untruthful claim about his opponent? You’ll have to ask David Dennis.
Kansas taxpayers should know their tax dollars are helping staff campaigns for political office.
As reported by the Wichita Eagle, it is perfectly allowable for some Kansas state government employees to work on political campaigns.1
Not all Kansas state government employees can work on campaigns while being paid by taxpayers. Only personal staff members of elected officials can. But this can be quite a large number of people. The Eagle reports that Governor Sam Brownback has 21 personal staff members.
It’s not only the governor that has taxpayer-paid employees on the campaign trail. The Eagle also reports that a member of Senate President Susan Wagle‘s office has been on the campaign trail.
That senate employee, along with an employee of the governor’s office, were spotted campaigning for Gene Suellentrop. His Facebook page seemed pleased with their participation, again according to Eagle reporting:
Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, who is seeking the vacant seat in Senate District 27, posted a photo of himself and 10 campaign door walkers on Facebook last month with a message saying, “The Suellentrop for Senate crew! Coming soon to your door step.”
The photo, posted on June 14, a Tuesday, includes Ashley Moretti, a member of Brownback’s staff, and Eric Turek, who works for Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
“Those two showed up late that afternoon on their own, I have not requested any help from any leadership,” Suellentrop said in an e-mail. “They were sure happy to get into a picture of our winning campaign.”
The first question the taxpayers of Kansas ought to ask is this: If these taxpayer-paid staff members have time to work on political campaigns, who is doing the work of the people of Kansas in their absence? What tasks are postponed so that these staff members can work on campaigns?
The answer to this question, I’m afraid, is that there are too many staff members.
The second question we should ask is this: Why is this practice allowed? There is a ruling from the ethics commission that allows this use of personal staff. Which leads to the third question: Why hasn’t the legislature passed a law to prohibit this practice?
The answer to that last question, I’m afraid, is that the ruling class protects its own. For example, there is an organization known as the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Its job is to re-elect Republican senate incumbents. It doesn’t say this, but that is what it does. This is representative of the attitude of the political class. Once most officeholders have been in office a few years, they comfortably transition to the political class. Thereafter, their most important job is their re-election campaign, followed closely by the campaigns of their cronies.
This is why you see Brownback and Wagle lending taxpayer-funded staff to the Suellentrop campaign. Should he be elected to the Kansas Senate, well, how can’t he be grateful?
Here’s what needs to happen.
First, this process must stop. Even though it is allowable, it is not right. We need leaders that recognize this. (Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty.)
Second. The trio of Suellentrop, Brownback, and Wagle need to reimburse Kansas taxpayers for the salaries of these staff for the time spent working on campaigns. (We should not blame the staff members. It’s the bosses and rule makers that are the problem.)
Third. Brownback and Wagle need to send staff to work for Suellentrop’s Republican challenger to the same degree they worked on the Suellentrop campaign. Either that, or make a contribution of the same value of the campaign services these taxpayer-funded Kansas state government workers supplied. Any other candidate in a similar situation — that of having taxpayer funds used to campaign against them — should receive the same compensation.
Now, some may be wondering how is this different from the governor endorsing senate candidates in 2012. It’s one matter for an officeholder to endorse a candidate. It’s an entirely different matter to send taxpayer-paid staff to work on campaigns. I hope that didn’t happen in 2012.
Fourth. Apologies to Kansas taxpayers are in order, as is a quick legislative fix. And, a reduction in personal staff members, as — obviously — there are too many.
Finally, thanks to the Eagle’s Bryan Lowry for this reporting.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: New outlets for news, and criticism of the existing. Is Kansas government “hollowed out?” Ideology and pragmatism. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 124, broadcast July 17, 2016.
Comments by two Wichita city council members give citizens more reasons to be cynical and distrusting of politicians.
In a recent Facebook post that someone sent to me, Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) wrote: “Hmmmm…..of note; Wichita is the only sizable city in Kansas that does not ADD any sales tax on top of the State and Sedgwick County sales tax rate.”
It is astonishing that council member Meitzner would brag of this — that Wichita has no city sales tax. That’s because Meitzner, along with all council members but one, voted to place the sales tax measure on the November 2014 ballot. Wichita voters rejected that sales tax, with 62 percent of voters voting “No.”1
Meitzner is not the only council member to brag of no city sales tax in Wichita. Just a month after the November 2014 election in which Wichita voters rejected the sales tax, Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) said, in a council meeting, “thanks to a vote we just had, [Wichita] has zero municipal sales tax.”2
I wonder: If the Wichita city sales tax had passed, would Meitzner and Clendenin feel the same way?
The answer is “No.” If the sales tax had passed, I believe Wichita city council members Pete Meitzner and James Clendenin would be congratulating themselves on the wisdom and foresight that led them to allow Wichitans to vote on the tax. They would be boasting of their ability to gauge the sentiment of public opinion. They would be proud of the investment they are making in Wichita’s future.
That’s important to remember. The city council, at its initiative, decided to place the sales tax on the ballot. Why would the council do this if it did not believe the tax was a good thing for the city?
Because if the tax would not be good for Wichita, then we have to wonder: Why did the Wichita City Council — including Pete Meitzner and James Clendenin — decide that the people of Wichita should vote on a sales tax? Was it a whim? A flight of fancy? Just a poll to gauge public opinion, without binding meaning?
Anyone can conduct a poll of public opinion. But when the Wichita city council places a measure on the ballot asking whether there should be a sales tax, the results have meaning. The results are binding. There will be a new tax, if a majority of voters agree.
Say, what should we ask the city council to let us vote on this November?
We have to ask: Why would Wichita city council members allow Wichitans to vote on a tax they didn’t — personally — believe in? There is no good answer to this question. So when we see city council members boasting of no city sales tax in Wichita, remember this was not their preference. This is especially important because the city told us we needed to spend $250 million of the tax on a new water supply. Now we know that we can satisfy our future needs by spending much less, at least $100 million less.3
Lily Tomlin once said “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.” Here we have two Wichita city council members illustrating and reinforcing the truth of Tomlin’s observation.
Even if NAEP “proficient” is a lofty goal, it illustrates the shortcomings of Kansas public schools, especially for minority students.
“Game on for Kansas Schools,” a Facebook page, seeks to draw attention away from the performance of students in Kansas schools. In a post, it make the case that the standard of “proficient” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress is an unreasonably high expectation.1
We can easily understand why GOFKS needs to make excuses. As can be seen in the nearby chart of NAEP scores for Kansas and national public schools for fourth grade reading, the Kansas public school establishment doesn’t have much to be proud of.
More troubling than the absolute level of achievement is the gap in achievement between white students and minority students. For Kansas white students, 42 percent are proficient in reading at grade 4. For Kansas black students, only 15 percent are proficient, and 20 percent of Kansas Hispanic students. Similar gaps appear in reading at grade 8, and in math at grades 4 and 8.
So even if “proficient” is an unrealistically high standard of performance, it still illustrates a gap.
But if you’re not convinced that Kansas public schools are harmful to minority students, use performance at the “basic” level. Here, for fourth grade reading, 74 percent of Kansas white students are at basic or better level. For black students, 44 percent.2 Other subjects and grade levels have similar gaps.
I’m sure GOFKS will say that we need to spend more on schools in order to overcome these problems. But what amount of money, poured into the present system, is likely to make any significant difference?
On Facebook, a citizen makes an appeal to her cousin, who is a member of the Kansas Legislature.
What should we do regarding the school funding “crisis” in Kansas? One citizen made an appeal to her cousin — a member of the Kansas Legislature — through Facebook. I’ll omit names to respect the privacy of both parties.
The writer stated, “The children of our state are on the line here. We need our public schools.” Well, children need education, but it doesn’t have to be delivered through public schools.
She also wrote, “This isn’t about politics anymore, it’s about our kids. Kids who have NO chance at attending private schools.” Examining this statement — that there are kids who have no chance at attending a private school — is illuminating. Let’s look at some figures.
For the school year ending in 2015, Kansas State Department of Education reports that Kansas schools spent a total of $13,124 per student. Of that, $8,567 was state aid, $1,101 was federal aid, and $3,469 was from local revenue.1
Now, what does a private school cost? Considering schools not affiliated with a church — although some of these provide a classical Christian education — there are some that cost less than total spending, and even less than just the Kansas state aid per pupil.2
So the writer might be surprised to learn that the taxpayers of the State of Kansas are already paying more than some private school prices. If the state would be willing to let parents spend these funds at schools of their choice, then any Kansas child would be able to afford a private school education. This could be accomplished through tax credit scholarships, vouchers, or education savings accounts. Kansas does, in fact, have a tax credit scholarship program, but it is limited — crippled, I would say — and the Kansas public school establishment fights against it.
The writer pleaded this: “Needy kids who have the RIGHT to a free and good public education.” I would refer the writer to my article Kansas NAEP scores for 2015 and ask her to take note of the performance of black and Hispanic students in Kansas. For example, 42 percent of Kansas white students are proficient in reading at grade 4. For black students, it’s 15 percent. Are these black students receiving a “good” public education? Of course not. And is there any amount of additional spending that will correct this? If the money is spent through the existing school system the answer is: No, probably not. At least considering any additional sums that are within the realm of political possibility.
There are school reforms available in other states that have found to be very helpful to black and Hispanic students. The Kansas public school establishment fights to keep these reforms out of Kansas.
In making her plea for additional school spending, the writer pleads to her legislator cousin, “I know you have a wonderful, giving heart.” But when legislators vote to spend funds for any purpose, they aren’t giving from their heart. They’re simply using the power of government to transfer money from one person to another. There’s nothing wonderful about that.
For example, see Classical School of Wichita at around $6,000 per year, Cair Paravel Latin School in Topeka at around $7,000 to $8,000 per year, and the Independent School in Wichita from $10,000 to $10,600 per year. ↩
This is especially problematic given these two Fridays — with street lights switched on near noon — were Riverfest Fridays. Many visitors, both natives and tourists, may have been downtown to see the waste on display. It doesn’t promote a good image for our city and its leaders.
The wasteful spending on illuminating street lights in the middle of the day is an indication of the attitude of the city as explained in Forget the vampires. Let’s tackle the real monsters. Through public service announcements on television and Facebook, Wichita city officials have urged citizens to do things like unplugging microwave ovens when not in use. This saves a very small — vanishingly small — amount of electricity at a huge cost of inconvenience.
So while the city advises you to unplug alarm clocks and cell phone chargers when not using them, note that the city cares nothing about running the street lights in the middle of the day.
This is not to say that waste like this does not occur in the private sector. Of course it does. But businesses and individuals have a powerful incentive to avoid waste that isn’t present in government: Businesses and people are spending their own money. And even if they waste money, it’s their money, not ours.
On election day, Wichita city council member and mayoral candidate Jeff Longwell appears to have ducked an inconvenient vote and would not say why.
At his Wichita mayoral campaign announcement last November, then-council member Jeff Longwell called for a moratorium on the use of forgivable loans until a new policy is implemented. 1
At other times he called for the end to traditional cash incentives, telling the Wichita Eagle “I think that we have to get away from the traditional cash incentives that we’ve been using and look for better ways to grow jobs in this community.” 2
In the Wichita Eagle voter guide, for the question “What is your philosophy or practice regarding public incentives for companies and developers?” Longwell started his response with this: “I believe there is a better way to promote economic growth.” 3
Wichita voters can be excused for believing Jeff Longwell wants to pursue economic development in a different way. It was a good strategy for the candidate to employ, as the rejection of the sales tax last year by Wichita voters is widely thought to be grounded in voter distrust of the economic development package.
On election day this April, an economic development incentive package was under consideration by the Wichita city council. The deal contained a common mix of incentives from city, county and state. Details on the amounts of the incentives were sketchy, so I estimated the benefit to the company at $2,315,000 up front cash and credits equivalent to cash, and $605,000 in ongoing annual benefits for at least five years. 4
This was an example of the traditional way Wichita and other cities do economic development, that is, targeted incentives for specific companies. It’s something that Longwell said we need to get away from, especially the forgivable loans part, having called for a moratorium on their use.
This matter provided a perfect opportunity for Longwell to cast a vote aligned with his new perspectives on economic development. So when this matter came before the city council, how did Longwell vote?
The answer is: We don’t know. Longwell didn’t vote. At about 10:27 am, shortly before the council took up this economic development incentives agenda item, Longwell left the council chambers. He did not return before the meeting ended. When asked why he left the meeting, Longwell would not provide an answer. He provided several contradictory explanations. He said he would explain at his campaign watch party on election night the reason for leaving, but would not say that afternoon why he left the meeting. (See Twitter and Facebook dialogs following.)
In a profile during the campaign, Longwell told the Wichita Eagle “I certainly can appreciate and understand the need to not vote on items, but sometimes you just simply, as tough as it is, you have to take a position,” he said. “I don’t know any better way to explain it. It’s part of the responsibility of being elected to do a job. 5
Here was a tough vote for Longwell. It was an opportunity for citizens to see him cast a vote in alignment with his campaign rhetoric. But he didn’t vote. He didn’t take a position, and he wouldn’t say why.
This isn’t the first time Longwell has dodged questions he doesn’t want to answer. He canceled an appearance on The Joseph Ashby Show and would not reschedule. Ashby, for those who haven’t listened, asks tough questions.
Twitter and Facebook transcripts, April 7, 2015
Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
Does anyone know why Jeff Longwell left the city council meeting early? @jefflongwellict #ictcouncil @CityofWichita
Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks I had a prior appointment. I had to see a man about a horse. I know you miss me when I’m not there. @CityofWichita
Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita May I ask why you made an appointment during city council hours?
Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks Bob, I’m touched. Thank you for being concerned that my voice is being heard on the council and I’m there to help guide our city.
Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks Also, this was unplanned and was of a personal nature. But thank you for your concern. It means a lot, Bob.
Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita Would you please answer why you made an appointment during city council hours?
Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita Which was it? A prior appointment or unplanned?
Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks An appointment I had to schedule this morning. Priorly unplanned to making it. Don’t worry, I’m fine. @CityofWichita
Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita Could you please tell us some details? Why did it have to be done during a city council meeting?
Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita When a council member and mayoral candidate misses an important vote, the public has a right to know why.
Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks City council members leave meetings periodically. It’s a personal matter, not a conspiracy, Bob. @CityofWichita
Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks if you’d like to stop by my watch party tonight we can chat about it all you want. @CityofWichita
Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita You will not tell voters why you scheduled this appointment, is that your response?
Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita It’s not me who deserves to know. It’s the people of Wichita who need to know why a council member left.
Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks Nothing would have changed with my vote today, Bob. Council members miss on occasion. @CityofWichita
Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita If you had a legitimate reason for missing a vote, I would think you’d be willing to tell voters details.
Later, on Facebook:
Mayor Jeff Longwell: As I said, while I appreciate your concern and the fact that you feel my presence is crucial to city council meetings, I had to leave for a personal matter. Council members leave meetings on occasion, and nothing would have changed with the addition of my vote. But it really means a lot to me that you feel I’m a vital part of the council and miss me when I’m gone, Bob.
April 7 at 3:02pm
Bob Weeks: Dodging the question again. You said that you would tell me tonight why you left the meeting, so why won’t you say now?
April 7 at 3:05pm
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and the city council are proud of their citizen engagement efforts. Should they be proud?
The day after the November 2014 election in which Wichita voters rejected a proposed city sales tax, Mayor Carl Brewer and most members of the Wichita City Council held a press conference to discuss the election. A theme of the mayor is that the city reached out to citizens, gathered feedback, and responded. Here are a few of his remarks:
As elected officials, it’s our duty and responsibility to listen to citizens each and every day. And certainly any and every thing that they have to say, whether we agree or disagree, is important to each and every one of us. Anytime they are able to provide us that, we should continue to try to reach out and try to find ways to be able to talk to them. …
We appreciate the engagement process of talking to citizens, finding out what’s important to them. Last night was part of that process. …
We will certainly be engaging them, the individuals in opposition. As you heard me say, the city of Wichita — the city council members — we represent everyone in the entire city. From that standpoint, everyone’s opinion is important to us. As you heard me say earlier, whether we agree or disagree, or just have a neutral position on whatever issue that may be, it is important to us, and we’re certainly willing to listen, and we certainly want their input.
So just how does Wichita city government rate in citizen involvement and engagement? As it turns out, there is a survey on this topic. Survey respondents were asked to rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement.” The results are shown in the nearby chart created from data in the most recent version of the Wichita Performance Measure Report. The numbers are the percent of respondents giving “excellent” or “good” as their response to the question.
The report says this performance is “much below” a benchmark set by the National Research Center National Citizen Survey. It also tells us that the city expects to re-survey citizens in 2014. For that year, the city has given itself the lofty target of 40 percent of citizens rating the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement as excellent or good.
In the press conference Mayor Brewer also said “We did the Facebook and we did the Twitter.” Except, the city ignored many questions about the sales tax that were posted on its Facebook wall.
Here’s another example of how the mayor and council welcome citizen involvement. Wichita participates in a program designed to produce lower air fares at the Wichita airport. It probably works. But I’ve done research, and there is another effect. As can be seen in the nearby chart, the number of flights and the number of available seats is declining in Wichita. These measures are also declining on a national level, but they are declining faster in Wichita than for the nation. See also Wichita airport statistics: the visualization and Kansas Affordable Airfares program: Benefits and consequences.
About this time Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn had appointed me to serve on the Wichita Airport Advisory Board. That required city council approval. Only one council member vote to approve my appointment. In its reporting, the Wichita Eagle said: “Mayor Carl Brewer was clear after the meeting: The city wants a positive voice on the airport advisory board, which provides advice to the council on airport-related issues. ‘We want someone who will participate, someone who will contribute,’ Brewer said. ‘We want someone who will make Affordable Airfares better, who will make the airport better. You’ve seen what he does here,’ Brewer went on, referencing Weeks’ frequent appearances before the council to question its ethics and spending habits. ‘So the question becomes, ‘Why?'”
As far as I know, I am the only person who has done this research on the rapidly declining availability of flights and seats available in Wichita. You might think the city would be interested in information like this, and would welcome someone with the ability to produce such research on a citizen board. But that doesn’t matter. From this incident, we learn that the city does not welcome those who bring inconvenient facts to the table.
“I don’t normally spend this much time having a conversation with you because I know it doesn’t do any good.”
— Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer to conservative blogger Bob Weeks as the two argued over cronyism during Tuesday’s City Council meeting
“I really wasn’t offended today … because the mayor’s been ruder to better people than me.”
— Weeks’ response when asked about the exchange after the meeting
At least Mayor Brewer didn’t threaten to sue me. As we’ve seen, if you ask the mayor to to live up to the policies he himself promotes, he may launch a rant that ends with you being threatened with a lawsuit.
Campaign methods used in the recent election may spark debate on the information government makes available about voters and their voting behavior.
This election day, after voting, someone posted on their Facebook page: “I’m not comfortable with the GOP observer writing down the names of those who appear to vote.”
Elsewhere on Facebook and other online sites stories like this were common: “I received a palm card that had names and addresses of my neighbors, and whether they voted in the last four elections. This was supposed to motivate me, a woman voter, to vote. It actually freaked me out that someone is distributing that information without my consent.”
The practice referred to in the first comment — poll watching — is common and has been used for decades. The practice objected to by the second writer is new. By sending mail or email informing people of the voting practices of their neighbors, campaigns attempt to shame people into voting. Research suggests shaming is effective in motivating people to vote.
Both major parties and independent groups from all sides of the political spectrum used this technique this year.
From social media and news stories, it seems that people are surprised to learn that their voter information is a public record. It’s important to know that the contents of your ballot — that is, which candidates you voted for — is secret. Here’s what anyone can acquire in Kansas about voters (other states may be different, but I think most are similar):
Voter registration ID number, name, address, mailing address, gender, date of registration, date of birth, telephone number (if the voter supplies it; it is not required) whether the voter is on the permanent advance list, party registration, precinct number, and all the different jurisdictions the voter lives in such as city council district, county commission district, school district, Kansas House and Senate districts, and others.
Then, for each election you can learn whether the voter voted, and by which method (mail, advance in person, polling place). For primary elections, you can learn whether the voter selected a Republican or Democratic ballot.
(I should mention that in Kansas this information is supplied in a clumsy format that is difficult to use. I’ve developed procedures whereby I restructure this data to a relational data model that allows for proper analysis.)
Other organizations may enhance these records with data of their own. For example, in the government-supplied voter file, many telephone numbers are missing. Others are out-of-date, especially as households abandon traditional telephone service for cell phones. So candidates may use services that provide telephone numbers given names and addresses. Or, organizations may add other data purchased from marketing research services, such as magazines subscribed to, etc.
It would be useful to have a debate over whether the fact of being a registered voter and the act of voting should be a public record. This is the first election where people have become widely aware of the nature of the voting information that is available, and how campaigns and advocacy groups use it. I wonder if the new awareness of the availability of this information will deter people from registering and voting?
As far as government transparency and open records is concerned, we can distinguish voting data from other government data. When we ask for records of spending, contracts, correspondence, and the like, we asking for information about government and the actions government has taken.
But voter data is information about action taken by people, not by government. There’s a difference.
By Eileen Umbehr, wife of Libertarian Candidate for Kansas Governor Keen Umbehr
November 1, 2014
As this campaign draws to a close, my heart is heavy. Not so much because Keen was treated as a second-class candidate who didn’t deserve a seat at the table with his Democrat and Republican opponents, but because of the way I’ve seen God used as a selling point in politics.
For example, Keen is solidly pro-life. He believes in freedom as long as you do not cause harm to another human being, and a baby is a human being. But because he also acknowledges the reality that unless and until Roe v. Wade is overturned women maintain their right to choose, he is not considered pro-life enough.
The issue of same-sex marriage has also been deeply divisive and been used to garner votes. How a candidate may feel about two members of the same sex uniting in marriage is separate from his or her duty as a government official to ensure that all laws apply equally to all citizens. Could the government decide not to issue gay people a license to teach, cut hair, practice law, or engage in business?
What each of us believe and the tenets we choose to follow in our private lives is a personal matter. While Keen and I are both Christians who try to live according to the principles set forth in the Bible, where we differ from many of our fellow Christians is that we don’t believe it is our right — or the government’s right — to impose any particular religious belief on anyone. Even God doesn’t do that. If He did, wouldn’t He simply force everyone to believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins so they would all go to Heaven?
Keen is a strict constitutionalist. He believes in the First Amendment right of free speech even when it means that the Phelps’ family can spew messages of hate, causing immeasurable harm to families burying their loved ones. And he believes in the Sixth Amendment right to counsel even when the accused may be guilty of a heinous crime.
When it comes to the Fourteenth Amendment, there are many who feel it should not apply to gays wanting to marry because homosexuality is classified as a sin in the Bible. But isn’t fornication and sex before marriage also classified as a sin in the Bible? And yet no one is suggesting that folks who have engaged in these acts should be denied a marriage license.
Someone posted the following statement about Keen on a liberty-based Facebook page: “Don’t be deceived, this guy is pumping for same sex marriage.” Keen posted the following reply: “I am not ‘pumping’ for same sex marriage, I am ‘pumping’ for adhering to the Constitution which requires equal protection under the law. As long as the State of Kansas is in the business of issuing licenses — whether they be drivers’ licenses, marriage licenses or business licenses — they cannot discriminate against individuals on the basis of religion, gender, or race. How each individual chooses to live their lives is their business, not the government’s.”
In conclusion, if we really want to protect religious freedom in our country, then we should elect candidates who will defend the rights of all citizens to practice whichever religion they choose. That is true religious liberty.
But then, a candidate like that wouldn’t be considered Christian enough.
Examining claims made by “Yes Wichita” provides an opportunity to learn about the finances of the Wichita bus transit system.
In November Wichita voters will vote yes or no on a one cent per dollar sales tax. Part of that tax, ten percent, would go to the Wichita Transit system to pay back loans, cover operating deficits, and allow for some service expansion.
Coalition for a Better Wichita, a group that opposes the sales tax, has mentioned that instead of expanding the existing Wichita Transit system, we ought to take a look at private sector alternatives for providing transportation options for Wichitans. An example is the Uber service, which started operations in Wichita last month. (Uber’s arrival is not without controversy. It appears that Uber is not compatible with Wichita’s regulations. I expect that soon the city will clamp down on Uber, which would be a mistake for the city. See Arrival of Uber a pivotal moment for Wichita.)
Regarding Uber, a Facebook user named Michael Ramsey wrote this on his Facebook profile:
Commuting to work every day from the College Hill area costs $1.90 each way and instead of using ONE PENNY from every ten dollars that we spend jumpstarting our transit system the Coalition for Better Wichita has suggested that we use Über instead. HOW DOES THAT SIMPLE MATH WORK??? VoteYes Wichita.
The “Yes Wichita” group that supports the sales tax shared Ramsey’s remarks and added this comment:
Michael Ramsey makes a great point. The simple math shows for Micahel to use public tansit to get to and from work it would cost $998.40 a year, to ride Uber it would cost $3,640 (using the low range estimate). The would cost riders an additional $2,641.60 a year. Simple reasoning shows a one-cent sales tax would be more economical for those in need. #voteyeswichita #yeswichita
Since Wichita voters are urged to consider and use “simple math” and “simple reasoning,” let’s do just that. It will help voters understand some of the finances of public transit.
First, far from “jumpstarting” our transit system, one use of sales tax funds would be to repay $1.2 million in loans the transit system owes to the city. But let’s not quibble about the enthusiasm of those who want to spend more of other people’s money.
The important consideration that needs examination is the idea that a bus ride costs $1.90. (The actual adult fare, according to the Wichita Transit website, is $1.75 or $2.00 with transfer, so I’m not sure where the $1.90 figure comes from.)
Statistics from the Wichita Transit System reveal that the fare that passengers pay is nowhere near the cost of providing the bus ride. I happen to have handy financial figures from 2011 for the Wichita transit system. For that year, total operating funds spent were $13,914,580. Revenue from fares was $1,876,991. This means that considering operating expenses only, 13.5 percent of the cost of a bus trip was paid by the passenger’s fare.
If we include capital expenses of $1,570,175, the portion of the cost of a bus trip that was paid by the passenger’s fare is 12.1 percent. Figures in this neighborhood are common for transit systems in other cities.
So far from costing $1.90 (assuming the author’s data), a bus trip actually costs much more. It’s not bus passengers that pay these costs. It’s taxpayers who pay, most of whom do not use transit.
There are a number of ways to look at the costs of providing bus service. For Wichita in 2011, and considering only the regular bus service and not the more expensive on-demand service, here are cost figures:
Operating expense per passenger mile: $0.97
Operating expense per unlinked passenger trip: $4.79
The 97 cents per mile is not the cost of moving a bus one mile down the road. It’s the cost of moving one passenger one mile. These costs are for operating expenses only and do not include the capital costs of purchasing buses.
Bus transit is very expensive. For the “Yes Wichita” campaign to imply that one-tenth of one cent per dollar sales tax will fix the system ignores the system’s tremendous costs and disrespects the taxpayer subsidy the system already receives.
There’s something else. The Facebook posts seem to imply that someone proposes replacing Wichita bus transit service with Uber. I don’t think that anyone has made that claim. Services like Uber could be a complement to traditional transit. There could be other market-based complementary services.
It’s important to remember that services like Uber generate revenue from people who willingly use and pay for its service. This is very different from Wichita Transit. As shown above, the Wichita bus system receives its revenue primarily from taxes. Money collected in the farebox is a small portion of the system’s revenues. Meeting the needs of customers is not an important factor in determining the revenue the system receives.
Your smartphone is a valuable tool for activism. Here are two ways to get involved.
Many people wonder how they can be involved in helping to improve government as a citizen activist. It may be that you have a valuable tool that’s in your pocket, and that you take everywhere you go: Your smartphone.
You may have seen me showing photographs of street lights burning in downtown Wichita during the middle of sunny afternoons. Have you ever spotted government waste like that? I’m sure that you have. I think people forget they have a fairly high-quality camera with them at all times in their smartphones. So here’s something that you can do: Take a photograph or shoot some video. Send it to me or to your local government watchdog. People like me need information. I need tips. Put your smartphone to work for something beside selfies.
Another thing you can do with your smartphone that is very helpful is to capture documents. Here’s an example. At election time, campaigns and political groups send a lot of mail pieces to voters. Some of these will contain falsehoods or distortions that need to be exposed so that the guilty parties can be held accountable. But much of the time, these political mailings go unnoticed. That’s because a Kansas House of Representatives campaign, for example, covers a relatively small population. Then, campaigns may send mail to only the people they consider active voters, and may narrow down the list using other criteria like political party. Or campaigns may send certain mail pieces to small subsets of voters. So any single campaign mail piece may go to a relatively small number of households.
What can you do to help? Use your smartphone or regular camera to capture documents like campaign mailers. You can do this by simply take a regular photograph with the built-in camera app. That usually works well enough if you follow a few guidelines, and with a little practice you can create documents are are very usable.
Probably the three most important things to remember are to avoid glare, maintain perspective, and crop. If your light source or flash creates glare on the document, the document may not be usable. By perspective, I mean having your camera square and perpendicular relative to the document so that its dimensions are not distorted. (I find that placing the document on the floor and then getting right over it helps.) Finally, cropping removes unneeded parts of the image. Remember, what we’re trying to do here is to create usable documents that can be read. We don’t have to worry about creating archival-quality documents like you would be if you’re digitizing and preserving family photographs.
As I said, you can do this with the regular camera app in your smartphone. But there are specialized document scanning apps. I’ve used several, and one I can recommend is called Scanbot. Another is CamScanner.
Scanbot is free for both Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, although there is a paid version with extra features like optical character recognition. What I like about Scanbot is that as you’re taking a photo, the app coaches you on the screen with tips like “too dark,” “get closer,” or “perspective.” Finally, it will command “don’t move” and it will snap the photo. You can then add more pages.
When finished, it creates a pdf from the scan. That’s really handy, as you then have one pdf document that holds all pages of the campaign mailer or other document. Then, you can have the app send the pdf by email or upload it to cloud-based storage systems like DropBox or Google Drive. (I recommend both of these systems.)
I should warn you: If you plan on sending something that you received in the mail that has your address or any other personal information on it, be aware and be careful. You could erase it using an editing app on your smartphone or computer, but in many cases the easiest thing to do is to obliterate your address with a marker pen before you capture the document. Or, you might cover it with paper, or excise it with scissors.
This type of intelligence-gathering is extremely valuable. Now, you may be thinking “Wait a minute. Don’t political campaigns post their mailers on their websites or Facebook?” The answer is some do, and some don’t. For the negative mail pieces — the ones that often contain the type of distortions that need to be exposed — it’s rare for a political campaign to make these mailers available to the public.
So this is a way you can be involved in gathering information. It could be campaign mailers, political campaign handouts, meeting agendas, material distributed at meetings, things you see on your computer screen, anything. It could be material distributed
I can’t tell you how many times people have complained to me about something they received in the mail or at a meeting. I ask “can you scan it and send it to me?” Well, not many people have scanners in their home. But now many people have smartphones. With a little practice, you can capture these documents in electronic form.
Then, what do you do with these documents? The campaigns of candidates that you support need intelligence like this. News reporters need documents for tips and substantiation of stories. You can share documents on social media like Facebook and Twitter. You can send them to me or your local government watchdog person or organization. There’s a lot you can do.
Government officials at all levels count on the average citizen not being interested or informed about government. We can hold government more closely accountable if we have information, and this a way that anyone can help.
Kansas school spending advocates make claims of exploding class sizes that aren’t reflected in enrollment and employment data.
On Facebook, an activist makes a claim that, if accurate, is alarming:
I walked with Paul Davis yesterday. I introduced him to Mrs. Scrutin. She teaches 4th grade at Mill Creek Elementary, here in Lenexa. She has seen class sizes explode from 16, to 23, now for the 2014-2015 school year 30.
I gathered data from the Kansas State Department of Education and created an interactive visualization. (I’m not making the visualization available just yet, as there are some data consistency issues I need to address, and I hope to receive data for additional years.)
Looking at data for Mill Creek Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District, the number of certified employees and K-12 teachers at the school has been falling. In 2014 there were 21 K-12 teachers, down from 27 in 2009.
Enrollment, too, has been on the decline, from 443 students in 2009 to 368 in 2014. The pupil-teacher ratio in 2009 was 16.2. It reached 17.1 two years later, and in another two years it fell to 16.4, and rose to 17.9 for 2014.
Pupil-teacher ratio is not equivalent to class size. It is simply the number of pupils divided by the number of teachers. Class sizes could be larger or smaller, and may vary from room to room. Although the pupil-teacher ratio rose for Mill Creek Elementary, let’s place it in context. For a hypothetical school of 1,000 students, the change that Mill Creek experienced from 2009 to 2014 means going from 62 teachers to 56 teachers.
With Mill Creek’s pupil-teacher ratio remaining almost unchanged, how do class sizes “explode from 16, to 23, now for the 2014-2015 school year 30?”
I don’t have data for the 2014-2015 school year. But if class sizes are “exploding” at the same time the pupil-teacher ratio rose only slightly, what is the explanation?
Remember, K-12 teachers are not the only employees at this school. In 2009 there were also 31 certified employees in addition to K-12 teachers. That number is down to 24 for 2014. In terms of pupil-employee ratios, the change over this time has been from 14.3 pupils per certified employee to 15.3.
Gidget stepped away for a few months, but happily she is back writing about Kansas politics at Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe).
One of the great things about the internet is it gives people an outlet for their writing and opinions that they probably would not have otherwise. I’d like to introduce you to someone whose writing I think you’d like to read. Well, I can’t really introduce you to her, because I don’t know who she is. On her blog she (?) goes by the name Gidget. It’s titled Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe) at insideksgop.blogspot.com.
Gidget writes anonymously, although I’m pretty sure she’s female and lives in or near Johnson County, as many of her articles concern local politics there. Being anonymous has its good and bad aspects. For one thing, most people who try to be anonymous on the internet and achieve any level of notoriety are usually exposed, eventually.
Being anonymous means there is less accountability for what you write, so people may not give your writing as much weight as they should. But anonymity gives the freedom for some people to write things that need to be said, and that’s what Gidget does very well. For example, last year she reminded readers that Bob Dole is known as the “Tax Collector for the Welfare State.” Not so much in Kansas, where he has stature just shy of sainthood. And that’s the point. If you criticize Bob Dole for the things he did that deserve criticism, you’re likely to be ostracized from the Kansas Republican Party. I can tell you, there are attack dogs.
The sometimes nasty nature of politics lead Gidget to write this earlier this year: “I have taken a much needed break from all things political during this campaign season. I know it’s bad timing, but my tender soul can only deal with so much back-biting and garbage slinging, and the 2012 primaries sent me to a dark place.” (Guess who’s back from Outer Space?)
I was sad to see that Gidget didn’t post anything for some months. But as the August primary approached, she rejoined the conversation. Here’s what she wrote about the United States Senate primary between Republicans Pat Roberts and Milton Wolf:
Sigh. This race is the most disgusting and vile thing I’ve witnessed since, well, Moran-Tiahrt. From the outside, it appears that everyone involved in the Roberts/Wolf fiasco has lost all of their senses. (Gidget’s predictions — Roberts vs. Wolf)
Later in the same article she wrote:
Finally, I am appalled, truly, sincerely appalled, that Wolf is now being investigated by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts for photos and comments he made on Facebook years ago.
Had he not run for office, his career would not be threatened. It’s that simple. Whatever you think of Wolf (and I really don’t think much of him), he doesn’t deserve to have his professional career ruined due to a Facebook post. He just doesn’t.
And it smacks of Roberts calling in a political favor. There is exactly one member of the Kansas Board of Healing Arts who is not a doctor or medical professional. That person is a political activist, appointed by Brownback, and a vocal Roberts supporter. Did she have anything to do with the Wolf investigation? She says no, and I’m inclined to take people at their word.
However, often in politics, as in real life, perception is reality. And the timely investigation of Wolf stinks. Badly. This is why good people don’t run for office.
Gidget is absolutely correct. When people consider whether they want to subject themselves to the type of attacks that the Roberts campaign launched, many people will decide not to run.
Here’s another example from the same article of Gidget writing the things that need to be said, and which party insiders don’t say:
I sincerely wish Roberts would have done the right thing a year ago — and that is decide against running for a fourth Senate term. We would have better candidates to choose from had he done so, and it’s been obvious for quite some time the direction in which the political winds were blowing. Kansans (and many around the country) had had enough of long-term federal legislators in Washington.
I contend that had Roberts really, truly cared about Kansas, the state GOP and the country, he would’ve bowed out this year. He’s a nice man, but his ego may be out-of-hand if he truly believes he’s one of only two people in the state of Kansas who can fairly, accurately and reasonably represent the Sunflower State in the U.S. Senate.
As Kansans know, the senate primary was particularly nasty. It shouldn’t be that way, and it doesn’t have to be. But there are many people who put party and personality above principle, and the results are usually not pretty. These attacks can have lasting impact. Here’s what Gidget wrote shortly after the August primary (Leaving the GOP):
I am leaving the Kansas Republican Party. While I will continue to work for candidates I like, and continue to be a registered Republican — you don’t get a choice in most of the elections otherwise — I’m out.
My disillusion with the party can not be overstated, and I simply see no reason to stay.
This fall, I will be volunteering for the Libertarian candidate, Keen Umbehr. Do I agree whole-heartedly with Keen? No. In word only, my values more closely align with what Gov. Brownback says his values are. (His actions suggest otherwise.)
I can no longer spend my time or money for a party that actively works against the people — specifically the grassroots people.
I am fairly certain I’m not the only person who has had enough of it. There’s an extraordinarily unusual lack of decorum among what I would call the Establishment of the Kansas Republican Party.
Take, for example, Gavin Ellzey, vice chair of the Third District Republican Party. A few days ago, he locked down his Twitter account, but prior to that he made numerous posts about “offending Muslims with a .45,” “only attractive women need equality,” and posts essentially calling Milton Wolf a piece of sh!t.
This is what passes for respectful discourse in Kansas politics these days. I was disgusted by his tweets, but that’s just the most public tip of the iceberg.
There were widespread rumors of many candidates making threats to individuals if they didn’t get onboard and offer their full support.
While not a huge Wolf fan, I continue to be disturbed by the way he was treated by what I would call the Kansas Establishment. He was ostracized, called names and I heard that he was uninvited to county and state GOP events.
Every Republican candidate in Johnson County attended an election night party at the Marriott Hotel in Overland Park. Wolf’s party was across the street at a different hotel. Was he not invited to participate in the county party?
I am not for one minute saying that everyone in the Republican Party has to be in lock step. But party members should welcome new faces, new candidates and fresh ideas — even if they don’t personally support some of the new people or their ideas.
That’s acceptable. It is not acceptable to act like the Republican Party is a locked boys club, where only certain people need apply.
I’m sure the Kansas Republican Party is simply a microcosm of what goes on in other states, but I don’t have the heart for it anymore.
The things I heard people say last night at the Marriott, the things I saw and heard people say in social media over the course of this campaign, I am out.
I blame our current crop of Republican politicians for this discourse. A gentle word here and there from them about Reagan’s 11th Commandment would go a long way. But those words are left unsaid, and I have to assume it’s because our most of our Republican politicians think winning is more important than anything. It baffles me that these self-professed Christians appear to believe that the ends justify the means.
Public service announcements on Facebook and Wichita City Channel 7 urge Wichitans to take steps to stop “vampire” power waste. But before hectoring people to introduce inconvenience to their lives in order to save small amounts of electricity, the city should tackle the real monsters of its own creation.
People are probably vaguely aware that many modern electrical and electronic devices consume electricity even when switched off. One source estimates that a cell phone charger consumes 0.26 watts of electrical power even when a phone is not plugged in. While in sleep mode, a flat panel computer display consumes 1.39 watts. A clock radio uses 2.01 watts. A microwave oven while not in use and with its door closed uses 3.08 watts. (These are average values.) A large Samsung smart television on standby uses 0.3 watts.
While appearing to be wasteful, this “vampire” power consumption often has a benefit. If you unplug your clock radio when you leave for work in the morning, you save a few dozen watts of power. But, you have to reset the clock when you want to use it again. If I unplug my Samsung smart television, I’ll probably have to reprogram it to my preferences. If I want save the power my microwave oven wastes, I’ll have to wrench my back lifting it out of the way so I can reach the outlet it plugs in to. That action, naturally, unleashes a cloud of dust bunnies to dirty my counters and floor.
Nonetheless, the City of Wichita uses its Facebook page and cable television network to urge its citizens take steps like these in order to save small amounts of electricity.
How much electricity do you suppose a city street light consumes? It depends on the type of light, but common street lights use from 100 to 200 watts. During the hours when the sun does not shine, we’re generally willing to pay for that in order to obtain the benefits of lighted streets and sidewalks.
But when street lights are burning in the middle of a day, they provide absolutely no value. Street lights turned on during the day provide none of the convenience of “vampire” power usage, such as not needing to reset your clocks and move your microwave oven every day.
So while the City of Wichita uses its television channel to hector citizens into adding inconvenience to their lives in order to save vanishingly small amounts of electricity, the city apparently has no misgivings about using large amounts of electricity to needlessly illuminate the noonday sky, week after week.
As I’ve shown, the city often has street lights turned on at noon on days with no clouds in the sky. (See here for examples.) Yesterday dozens of city street lights were turned on at 2:30 in the afternoon on a sunny day for many blocks in downtown Wichita. This is not an isolated mistake. It is a pattern. (Even if it is cloudy and raining, the street lights add no discernible illumination during daylight.)
There’s something else. Each of us can choose the balance between “vampire” power waste and inconvenience based on our own values. If we choose to use “vampire” power in order to add convenience to our lives, we have to pay for it.
But the Wichita city hall bureaucrats who burn street lights in the noonday sun week after week are spending your money, not theirs.
(Yes, city hall bureaucrats pay taxes to the city just like you and I, so their tax money is also wasted. But because the cost of this waste is spread over the entire city, the motivation for any one person to take steps to eliminate the waste is small. Especially if, like a city hall bureaucrat would, you’d have to actually work in order to achieve savings. But these same bureaucrats and politicians urge you to work harder in your home in order to save small amounts of “vampire” electricity.)
The wasteful expenditures on street lights I’ve been illustrating for several weeks are located in districts of the city represented by Janet Miller and Lavonta Williams. Both express concern for the environment and criticize the purported harm man has caused the earth by emitting greenhouse gases. Here’s an opportunity for them to act on their beliefs.