Tag Archives: Government spending

Wichita City Library, 1965

What incentives can Wichita offer?

Wichita government leaders complain that Wichita can’t compete in economic development with other cities and states because the budget for incentives is too small. But when making this argument, these officials don’t include all incentives that are available.

In making the case for an economic development fund paid for by a sales tax, the argument goes like this: “Wichita and Sedgwick County compete conservatively with incentives. The City of Wichita and Sedgwick County have a total of $1.65 million in new uncommitted funds for cash incentives this year with any unused money going back to the general fund.” (Will Wichita Accelerate Competition for Primary Jobs?, presentation made to Wichita city council.)

This statement is true only if we use a very narrow definition of the word “incentive.” By any reasonable definition, Wichita has many incentives worth much more than what is claimed by Wichita economic development officials and politicians.

In fact, the report cited above contains contradictory information about the amounts that are available for economic development incentives in Wichita. Here is an example: “The $4.5 million PEAK program incentive from the Kansas Department of Commerce was an important factor in keeping NetApp in Wichita. Locally we were able to provide $836,000 in incentives.”

So with an incentives budget of $1.65 million, a Wichita company received $5.3 million in incentives. Some of that, like the PEAK incentive, is paid over a period of years. But that amount doesn’t begin to describe the benefits NetApp received.

Available incentive programs

Kansas Department of Commerce logoA letter to NetApp from the Kansas Department of Commerce laid out the potential benefits from the state. As detailed in the letter, the programs with potential dollar amounts are: Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK), up to $7,705,535; Kansas Industrial Training with PEAK, up to $160,800; sales tax savings of $6,880,000; personal property tax exemption, $11,913,682; and High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP), $8,500,000. The total of these is $35,160,017. Some of these benefits are paid over a period of years. The PEAK benefits are payable over seven years, according to the letter, so that’s about $1.1 million per year. These are potential benefits; the company may not actually qualify for and receive this entire amount. But it’s what the state offered.

It’s true that some of these programs are not cash incentives of the type Wichita complains of lacking. But if a company is going to make purchases, and the state says you can skip paying sales tax on the purchases — well, that’s as good as cash. $6,880,000 in the case of NetApp, according to the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Local tax exemptions

Besides sales tax exemptions, the city has other types of tax exemptions it regularly offers. These exemptions can have substantial value. In 2008 as Drury contemplated Broadview Hotel 2013-07-09 020purchasing the Broadview Hotel, the city allowed the hotel to escape paying much of the taxes that the rest of us have to pay. According to city information, Drury planned to spend $22,797,750 on the hotel. If we use this as the appraised value for the property when it is complete, the annual property taxes due for this property would be $22,797,750 times .25 times 126.323 divided by 1000, or $719,970. This calculation may be rough, but it gives us an approximation of the annual operating subsidy being given to this hotel for the next ten years.

It's important for citizens to know incentivesWhen Boeing announced in 2012 that it was closing its Wichita operations, city leaders complained that Boeing was leaving Wichita even though it had received many incentives. From 1979 to 2007, Boeing received tax abatements through the industrial revenue bond process worth $658 million, according to a compilation provided by the City of Wichita. (This is not money the city lent or gave to Boeing. IRBs provide a vehicle for granting tax abatements or exemptions.) At the time, city officials said the average amount of bonds was $120 million per year. With Wichita commercial property tax rates at 3.008 percent ($30.08 per $1,000 of appraised value), according to GWEDC, that’s a tax savings of around $3.6 million per year. To Boeing, that’s as good as receiving cash year after year.

Tax increment financing

In 2013 Wichita approved a package benefiting Exchange Place in downtown. Here’s what the city council agenda packet gives as the sources of financing for this project.

HUD Loan Amount         $29,087,700
Private Equity            5,652,254
Tax Credit Equity        19,370,395
TIF Proceeds             12,500,000
Total Sources of Funds  $66,610,349

TIF, or tax increment financing, diverts future increased tax revenues away from their normal uses and diverts them back to the project. In this case, the city will borrow $12,500,000 by selling bonds. It will give this money to the developer. Then, TIF proceeds will be used to repay these bonds.

Some will argue that TIF isn’t really an incentive. The owners of the property will have to pay their property taxes, just like any other property owner. But for this project, the property taxes are used for the project’s own benefit instead of funding the costs of city government. This project gets to spend $12.5 million of its property tax payments on itself, rather than funding the costs of Wichita city government.

Tax credits

Ambassador Hotel sign 2014-03-07Note that the sources of financing for the Exchange Place project includes “Tax Credit Equity.” Here’s an example of another downtown project, the Ambassador Hotel, and the incentive package the city prepared:

  • $3,325,000 in tax increment financing.
  • $4,245,000 in city funding under the capital improvement plan (CIP), to build parking for the hotel.
  • $3,800,000 in tax credits from the State of Kansas.
  • $3,500,000 in tax credits from the U.S. government.
  • $537,075 in sales tax exemptions on purchases during the construction and furnishing of the hotel.
  • $60,000 per year in community improvement district (CID) sales tax. The hotel charges an extra two cents per dollar sales tax, which the state returns to the hotel.
  • $127,499 per year (estimated) in rental revenue to the developers from a sweetheart lease deal.
  • Participation in Wichita’s facade improvement program, which provides special assessment financing that is repaid.

All told, this project was slated to receive $15,407,075 in taxpayer funds to get started, with additional funds provided annually.

The tax credits for this project are historic preservation tax credits. They have the same economic impact as a cash payment. The federal tax credits are available across the country, while the Kansas tax credits, of course, are a state program. In this case the hotel developers received an upfront payment of $3.8 million from the state in a form that’s as good as cash.

STAR bonds

Last year a STAR bonds district in northeast Wichita was approved to receive $31,570,785 from these bonds. The STAR bonds are paid off with sales tax revenue that would otherwise go to the state and overlapping jurisdictions. This is sales tax collected from the business’s customers, and doesn’t cost the business anything.

Adding it up

This list is not complete. There are other programs and other beneficiaries of economic development subsidies. With this in mind, it is disingenuous for city and other officials to use the $1.65 million figure as though it was all Wichita had to offer. It’s important for citizens to know that contrary to the claims of officials, Wichita has many economic development incentive programs available, and some have substantial value to the recipients, with corresponding cost to the city and other jurisdictions.

Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014

Kansas school finance formula explained

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Kansas Policy Institute presents the 2014-15 student weighted funding formula

By David Dorsey

The updated version of the formula that will be used by the Kansas State Department of Education to determine student weighting in the coming school year is presented below. This complex formula is the basis to adjust (increase) the number of “students” in a school district for state funding purposes.

Dissecting this complicated formula reveals those factors the state recognizes that require additional money.

Highlights include:

  • Up to 13 different factors decide what the “real” student count will be for a particular district*.
  • Seven factors (at-risk, vocational ed, bilingual ed, high-density at-risk, new facilities, high enrollment, and virtual students weighting) are calculated using percentages of student enrollment.
  • Four factors apply to all 286 districts. They include:
    • at-risk students (those who qualify for free lunch)
    • low or high student enrollment
    • special education weighting
    • transportation
  • The others vary in applicability from the vocational education weighting (267 districts in 2013-14) to declining enrollment weighting (2 districts in 2013-14).

Once all applicable factors are determined, the total weighted number of students is multiplied by the Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP — $3,838 in 2013-14 and $3,852 in 2014-15) to calculate that part of the amount of state aid a district receives.

These weightings are no small affair. For example, in the Elkhart School District (USD218) last year, the weighting factors increased the student count from 502.6 (actual enrollment) to 1,668. 2, a 231.9% increase. In dollar terms, that increased Elkhart’s BSAPP funding by $4,473,573 from $1,928,979 to $6,402,552. That’s an effective BSAPP of $12,739! And that’s not an isolated case. Nearly half of Kansas’s 286 school districts realized at least a doubling of the effective BSAPP due to weighting.

People in the education establishment are quick to lament that BSAPP is down from the pre-recession figure of $4,400 in 2008-09 to the current $3,852 for the 2015 fiscal year. However, you never hear them speak of the all the weightings that significantly add to the dollars actually received. In fact, when all students statewide are included, the real BSAPP for 2013-14 was $6,640. In a recent Lawrence Journal-World article it was reported that Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll said the district is still suffering from cuts in base state aid. According to Doll, “We are operating basically at about 1999 school funding levels.” That’s not even close to being accurate. According to KSDE, state funding per pupil in 1999 was $4,533. That figure rose to an estimated $7,052 per pupil for last school year. Local support has more than doubled since ’99 (from $2,238 to $4,809 per pupil). Likewise for federal support.

It is important to understand what a difference in the level of funding the weighting of students adds. Last school year, the weightings provided $1.3 billion over and above BSAPP to the state’s 286 districts. But some Kansas politicians, particularly those more interested in protecting institutions than serving children, and the education establishment don’t like to talk about that part of state aid to education. Instead, they like to focus only on the BSAPP figure. That’s why we hear statements made like Superintendent Doll’s.

If I were still a math teacher and they were my students, their homework assignment would be learn and understand this formula. And yes, it would be on the test.

*There is one change in the formula from the 2013-14 school year. The low-proficient, non-at-risk factor was removed during the 2014 legislative session.

Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014
Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014
Kansas Capitol

Kansas budgeting “off the tops” is bad policy

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Budget “Off The Tops” Bad Policy

By Steve Anderson

Direct transfers of taxpayer money sent to a specific business or industry is always a tough sell to politicians, let alone the voting public. But, that is why some corporations pay lots of money to lobbyists. If we can’t get a company more revenue (via a taxpayer-funded payment) why don’t we lower their expenses via a tax loophole that lowers how much they pay in taxes?

These sort of special interest tax breaks come in a variety of different forms but the net effect of each is the same — revenues are diverted from the appropriation process and instead sent to some “special” group. A shrewd lobbyist will often make sure the program is funded in a way that their client(s) will receive their funding even if the statute is changed in the future. However, that should not preclude bringing these special interest deals to an end. This is especially important given that the reduction in tax rates will increase the impact of these programs on the revenue stream even as the state continues along the path to eliminating the individual income tax.

These transfer schemes are funded in a number of different ways that obscure the transaction from both the public and the appropriation process. For example, there are a number of these special deals that are funded by payroll withholding taxes. The payroll withholding exemptions are programs where the state abates collection of state income tax withheld on employee’s wages. The state then provides either a program or directly funds some benefit for the employer. These programs come in many forms and often are nearly impossible to find within the very complex tax and revenue reporting statements. In general these programs require relatively long commitments by the state of taxpayer funds. The discontinuance of these type of programs will not generally eliminate the programs immediately but it will create savings going forward that could be substantial to the maintenance of a stable fiscal environment and a more transparent tax code. It would also be a breach of trust, on some level, to yank away a promise made by the state to an entity or individual. But, that doesn’t mean we have to let these program exist into perpetuity.

Investments in Major Projects and Comprehensive Training (IMPACT)

IMPACT provides for major project investment to provide financial assistance to defray business costs. IMPACT uses withholding revenue for a direct funding source to pay for bonds issued by the state for projects. In fiscal year 2013 that percentage was 2% and the program expended $25,420,654 of funds that otherwise would have gone to the state coffers. The good news is that Kansas stopped issuing bonds in the IMPACT program effective Dec. 31, 2011. The bad news was it was replaced with other programs that are very similar. The IMPACT payments will extend on for a number of years in to the future because of the bond’s that funded those projects. This ability to bind future legislators and taxpayers to these sort of “deals” is, in and of itself, problematic but there is more damage done to the state of Kansas than just the direct cost of these bonds.

Bad policy like the type of special interest payment that IMPACT represents often have negative impacts in the future that are not foreseen at the time of their passage. For example, the IMPACT bonds were at the heart of the recent Moody’s down grade of the Kansas state bond rating. The IMPACT bond’s ratings were reviewed by Moody’s rating agency because the funding source to pay off the bonds — withholding taxes — was being reduced by a cut in the tax on wage earners in the state income tax rates. The media, which generally is not comprised of individuals with a financial background, reported that the change in the IMPACT bond ratings were caused by the broad tax cuts, which is only partially true. What the media in general did not report, at least not with the same enthusiasm as their portrayal of the impact of the income tax cuts, was that Moody’s noted the long running unfunded liabilities of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) and the lack of spending cuts as key elements of their downgrade.

However, analysis of the IMPACT bond rating issues bring to light another important problem with these type of giveaways. Future legislators have their hands tied because their predecessors have committed future tax revenues in a manner that precludes the ability to bring an immediate cessation, or even partial reduction, in the special interest funding source without repercussions such as the recent bond rating issue.

Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK)

The PEAK program allows companies that create 100 new jobs within a specified two-year period to retain 95% of employee withholding taxes for up to 10 years. Not surprisingly with such a generous incentive companies have grown its use rapidly going from $2.7 million in expenditures in 2010 to an estimated $12.5 million in 2012 years. The “cap” on this program going forward is: In FY 2014, the cap is $12 million. In FY 2015, the cap is $18 million, $24 million in FY 2016, $30 million in FY 2017, $36 million in FY 2018, and $42 million 2019. Immediately freezing the cap at the current level and eliminating the program going forward to prevent new obligations generates significant savings going forward for the state. This is giveaway is even more troubling when considering that a recent analysis from Kansas City’s Kauffman Foundation found that, “PEAK incentives recipients are statistically not more likely to generate new jobs than similar firms not receiving incentives.”

Kansas Bioscience Authority (KBA)

The KBA’s short lifespan is a microcosm of what can go wrong with the concept of dedicated directed funding. The lack of transparency created by bypassing the scrutiny of the appropriation process often leads to expenditures that generate headlines but don’t create economic growth.

The legislation that created the KBA produced a number of programs and funding streams. It also set the total funding limit to the authority over 15 years at almost $582 million. The funding was to be for a period of 15 years from the effective date of the establishment of the KBA and required the State Treasurer to annually pay 95% of withholding above the certified base, as certified by the Secretary of Revenue, on Kansas wages paid by bioscience employees to the bioscience development (code categories from NAISC) and investment fund of the KBA.

The amount of funding transferred to the KBA grew from almost $20 million in 2006 to nearly $36 million by 2008 before the creation of the annual funding cap of $35 million in 2009. Issues with operations and management emerged in 2011 which led to a forensic audit by an outside CPA firm. The audit pointed to a number of issues that led subsequent legislatures to reduce the Authority’s funding to $11.3 million in 2012, $6.3 million in 2013, and $4.0 million in 2014 (KBA funding history here). It is doubtful that the current Administration or legislatures would increase funding above current levels but the $35 million is still the statutory cap leaving open that possibility.
There is a secondary issue with KBA’s statutory cap caused by the treatment of these type of dedicated directed funding in the budgeting process. These statutory caps for entities like KBA are considered to be at their cap amount when forecasting future budgets. The $35 million of KBA statutory cap, for example, creates an illusion in fiscal impact statements issued by the Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) because those statements show the full statutory amount of $35 million being spent every year for the five years they project. Based on the current trend line of KBA funding this will not happen and, instead, creates a significant overstatement of expenditures and helps create fiscal deficits where none may exist. These projections are used by legislators and the media and should strive to present as accurate a picture as possible of current and possible future realities. A more proper and accurate display of these type of funded programs for five year projections like KLRD produces would consider whether spending could be altered or removed completely. This should be reflected in either the actual amount shown, if there was a history of partial funding, or, at the very least, in a separate line item with a notation that the sum could be arbitrarily reduced or eliminated.

Job Creation Fund

Another of those dedicated directed funds is the Job Creation Fund (JCF). The Job Creation Program Fund or the “deal closing” fund, its more press-friendly moniker, lets the state, led by the Office of the Governor, make investments and extend incentives aimed at attracting or retaining businesses within a range of statutory guidelines. The funding for the JCF was from the elimination of three other credits: Kansas Enterprise Zone, Job Expansion and Investment Credit Act and a refundable credit for property taxes paid on machinery and equipment. This sort of reallocation of funding sources carry the coveted title of “revenue neutral” and hence have no fiscal impact statement for legislators to worry about when the funding was created. This allowed elected officials to be able to say on one hand they eliminated special interest funding while creating another special interest fund out of the “elimination” of those entities. The annual cap on JCF funds is $10 million which is how much could be immediately saved by letting JCF join its now-defunct predecessors in state history.

Transfers Out of the State General Fund

There is another area where what would be State General Funds are diverted from the appropriation process. There are a number of transfers out of the State General Fund with the largest and most notorious being the $135 million School District Improvements Fund. Not only does this amount not get counted in the school formula, the recent Gannon ruling on school funding pointed directly to this fund as an example of inequity in funding. This “inducement” to issue bonds for new buildings was a bad idea both from a policy and process aspect. Policy-wise the Kansas Supreme Court’s Gannon ruling was correct in pointing out that only the growing school districts could use this fund with a few big school districts garnering most of the monies. Process-wise the choice to use a transfer as the funding mechanism not only bypassed the school finance formula but also ensured that these funds are not counted by the National Center for Education Statistics; NCES is the “go to” place for comparing education-related data from across the country and is run by the U.S. Dept. of Education.

There is also another series of transfers that have their own particular issues.The adjacent list shows the recipient and the amount for FY-2015 (available at link above).The picking of winners and losers by government is never a good idea and the direct transfer of taxpayer funding to companies is a suspect type of economic development.

Transfers out of the State General Fund
Spirit Aerosystems Incentive ($3,500,000)
Eaton MDH Spec. Qual. Indus. Mfg. Fund ($30,000)
Siemens Manufacturing Incentive ($650,000)
Learjet Incentive ($6,000,000)
TIF Replacement Fund ($900,000)
Learning Quest Match  ($500,000)
Total ($11,580,000)

It is also troubling when local communities enter into Tax Increment Finance (TIF) arrangements, not to mention other subsidy giveaways, which are basically an agreement between a company or individual and the city to suspend property tax payments for that company or individual. State taxpayers as a whole have to make up for lost revenues to the governing body of each such city from the TIF arrangement. This means that a TIF issued in Johnson County is, at least in part, paid for by residents of Bourbon County and Elkhart. This distribution of funds from taxpayers across the state to individual “redevelopment areas” that were created by local governments in a manner that is basically hidden from the citizens is another great example of why these “off the tops” are bad policy. Requiring these TIF subsidies to be debated in the light of the full appropriation process would no doubt lead to questions by legislators whose districts did not include cities who receive this subsidy.

A general thought for legislators, citizens and industry on these economic subsidies. The reduction in income tax rates by the state on withholding rates has already provided a huge incentive for these companies in addition to the direct largess they receive from these dedicated funds. The rate cut on withholding taxes increased the take home pay of their employees without those companies having to give a pay raise to their employees out of company funds. Note that the “incentive” of lower withholding taxes is applied to EVERY wage earner in the state and does not go about picking favored businesses, industries, or individuals. This type of transparent, rules-based, and equally-applied policy is the correct way to encourage economic growth and allow the free market to dictate outcomes not politicians or bureaucrats.

Conclusion

Every program that spends the funds of the taxpayer should be examined regularly and the nature of these “off the tops” suggests that is not happening. The need for transparency and accountability is especially true of programs that benefit any specific individual, company or sector of the economy at the expense of another. Because of the contractual type of arrangement some of these represent we do not advocate for the state breaking existing contracts in regards to incentives. But, the creation of new or expansion of existing economic development handouts that are direct redistributions from taxpayers to other sectors of the economy needs to be halted and those still in existence need to be reviewed.

A complete review of every agreement entered into by the state to ascertain if that agreement is contractual in nature or are not legally binding going forward should proceed this next legislative session. The state should review those that are not legally binding and current renewals that can be foregone and put this “off the top” funding back in the appropriation process going forward. How much could the state expect to realize would be determined by that review. Even a preliminary, informed estimate would be in the neighborhood of $50 million annually without breaking any contractual arrangements. The following chart gives an estimate of just three programs with statutory flexibility.

Total Dollars Returned to the State Coffers
$s in Millions FY16 FY17 FY18 FY18
Freeze PEAK at Current Levels $6 $12 $18 $24
Kansas Bioscience Authority $25 $25 $25 $35
Cease Job Creation Fund $10 $10 $10 $10
Totals $41 $47 $53 $69
The issue of transparency is front and center in all of these programs and it would be appropriate for every “off the top” to be displayed on both Consensus Revenue Estimates and Appropriation profiles so that legislators and citizens can see that a significant amount of funds have already been appropriated by these arrangements.

Wichita Airport Passengers, Monthly, All Carriers vs. Airtran/Southwest, through May 2014

Wichita airport statistics updated

Why do Kansans pay taxes, including sales tax on food, to fund millions in subsidy to a company that is experiencing a sustained streak of record profits?

As the Wichita City Council prepares to authorize funding for Southwest Airlines, it’s worth taking a look at updated statistics regarding the airport. The agenda item the council will consider is available here.

Passengers

Wichita Airport Passengers, Monthly, All Carriers vs. Airtran/Southwest, through May 2014
Wichita Airport Passengers, Monthly, All Carriers vs. Airtran/Southwest, through May 2014
The city has pointed to the arrival of Southwest last June as a game-changer for the airport. It’s true that passenger counts have increased. In the nearby chart I present monthly passenger counts, enplanements only, at the Wichita airport for all carriers and for Southwest separately. I’ve treated Southwest as a continuation of AirTran, as Southwest started service at the same time AirTran stopped, and Southwest is receiving a similar subsidy. I show monthly traffic, and also a 12-month moving average to smooth out the extreme monthly variations in passenger traffic. (Click on charts for larger versions.)

Of note is that while the Southwest passenger count is rising, it started from a low position. Also, the count has not risen to the level that AirTran experienced in the middle of the last decade and as recently as 2011.

Flights

Wichita Airport Passengers, Monthly, Compared to National, through April 2014
Wichita Airport Passengers, Monthly, Compared to National, through April 2014
Wichita Airport Monthly Departures, through April 2014
Wichita Airport Monthly Departures, through April 2014
Wichita Airport Monthly Departures, Weekdays Only, through April 2014
Wichita Airport Monthly Departures, Weekdays Only, through April 2014
Considering the number of flights leaving the Wichita airport, the recent trend is up. This is a departure from recent trends. Although the number of available flights nationally has been slowly falling, it was falling faster for Wichita. That trend, for now, is reversed, although the number of flights in Wichita is far below the level of a decade ago.

The number of flights is an important statistic. Greater attention is given to fares, but for many travelers, especially business travelers, an available flight at any price is paramount. Last year at this time I wrote “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. In particular, the number of flights available at the Wichita airport continues to decline.” So it is good news that the number of flights has risen.

Wichita compared to the nation

Wichita Airport Statistics, through 2013
Wichita Airport Statistics, through 2013
Looking at passengers through the end of 2013, Wichita has now experienced an uptick. Passenger traffic in Wichita had been relatively level at a time that national traffic was rising. The number of available seats on flights has started to rise in Wichita, while nationally the trend has been level the past several years.

Load factor — the percent of available seats that were sold — is rising in Wichita, as it is nationally.

The last set of four charts is from an interactive visualization I prepared using data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. You may select any number of airports for display on the charts.

Southwest profits

Recently Southwest reported record high profits for the quarter ending in June. The company said that net income was $485 million, which it said represented the fifth consecutive quarter of record profits.

We might ask this question: Why do Kansans across the state pay taxes, including sales tax on food, to fund millions in subsidy to a company that is experiencing a sustained streak of record profits?

Wichita City Budget Cover, 2015

Wichita city budget to have public hearing

This week the Wichita City Council holds the public hearing for the budget. Following are several observations.

(To view the budget, click here to go to wichita.gov. The best document to read is Volume I. The most important parts to read are the City Manager’s Policy Message (eleven pages) and the Budget Issues section (seven pages). Don’t worry; there are lots of pictures to skip over.)

The mill levy

The city says — many times — that the mill levy has not risen for a long time: “The 2015 Proposed Budget is based on City Council policy direction. It will not require a mill levy rate increase, for the 21st consecutive year.” (page 21)

Wichita mill levy rates. This table holds only the taxes levied by the City of Wichita and not any overlapping jurisdictions.
Wichita mill levy rates. This table holds only the taxes levied by the City of Wichita and not any overlapping jurisdictions.
In 2002 the City of Wichita mill levy rate was 31.845. In 2013 it was 32.509, based on the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. That’s an increase of 0.664 mills, or 2.09 percent, since 2002. In one year the mill levy rate increased .038 mills, or 0.12 percent. (These are for taxes levied by the City of Wichita only, and do not include any overlapping jurisdictions.)

Recent Wichita mill levy rates.
Recent Wichita mill levy rates.
The Wichita City Council did not take explicit action to raise this rate. Instead, the rate is set by the county based on the city’s budgeted spending and the assessed value of taxable property subject to Wichita taxation.

Change in Wichita mill levy rates, year-to-year and cumulative.
Change in Wichita mill levy rates, year-to-year and cumulative.
While the city doesn’t have direct control over the assessed value of property, it does have control over the amount it decides to spend.

The city may dismiss small changes in the mill levy as the result of errors in estimating assessed value. If there are errors in estimation, we would expect the errors to be random. That is, in some years we would expect the city to have estimated that assessed values would be lower than the actual value. In those years, the mill levy could go down. But that happened for only one year since 2002.

No matter what the cause, the Wichita city mill levy today is 2.09 percent higher than in 2002. The city should recognize this in its budget documents.

Stewardship of assets

Wichita Pavement Condition Index, from the city's 2012 Performance Measure Report
Wichita Pavement Condition Index, from the city’s 2012 Performance Measure Report
While the city boasts that the mill levy has not risen, part of the reason why it is (relatively) low is the city has not been taking care of the assets that citizens purchased and trusted the city to maintain. For example: “Pavement condition has slowly deteriorated over the last decade in Wichita. New pavement strategies will enhance the effectiveness of City efforts; however, additional funds would expedite improvements to streets in poor condition and help to more rapidly stabilize overall pavement conditions in Wichita.” (page 33)

Earlier this year the council received a document from the Community Investments Plan Steering Committee. It measured the amount by which the city is behind in maintaining its assets: “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 spending that the city has deferred to future years. The city knows this, too. The Wichita Eagle recently quoted Wichita Mayor Carl 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.”

The question is this: Does this budget make plans for correcting this maintenance deficit? The answer is: Yes, it does something, as described by the city: “In 2012, staff developed a new model to determine the impact of street treatment options. This model focuses on maximizing the return on investment of each treatment option. This method attempts to match the timing and method of treatment with the projected remaining service life (RSL) and value of the street network to ensure treatments maximize Wichita’s return on investment (ROI).” (page 34)

But this change is tiny compared to the magnitude of the problem. The budget talks about the proposed one cent per dollar sales tax that voters may be asked to approve. Of the nearly $80 million per year the sales tax might raise, only $5.5 million per year is allocated towards maintenance of infrastructure, in this case additional street maintenance. Remember, the city believes it needs to spend an additional $45 to $55 million per year “to bring existing deficient infrastructure up to standards.”

Outsourcing

The budget lists the areas in which Wichita has made use of outsourcing, which are the mowing of parks and security screening at city hall. The budget says that in 2015 the intergovernmental relations function will be outsourced. Also, the city will contract with private firms to supplement snow removal, and the removal of dead trees. The city is also soliciting proposals for some street maintenance activities.

But if this is all the city is doing regarding outsourcing, Wichita is missing out on many opportunities to improve service to citizens and reduce costs.

There’s a difference between government and business. As an example, consider city golf courses. Recently an advisory board recommended that the city improve customer service and salesmanship through training of golf staff and management. Successful businesses know that customer service and salesmanship are what business is all about, especially in a service-oriented product like golf. Businesses seek to provide good customer service because that is how they earn profit. But too often government sees customers as a burden, not an asset.

Outsourcing changes city services from being a burden placed on government employees, to something that a company actually wants to do.

Waste

Street lights in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
Street lights in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
I’ve illustrated many instances where the city is using electricity to light streetlights during the day. If the city seems unconcerned about such blatant and visible waste that surely must be easy to avoid, what does that tell us about waste that is not easily seen?

Kansas Capitol

McGinn, as committee chair, was not for performance measures

A 2011 Kansas bill could have increased the accountability of state government, but committee chair Carolyn McGinn wasn’t in favor.

In the 2011 session of the Kansas Legislature, several bills were proposed that would streamline government and investigate opportunities for privatization.

Another proposed bill in 2011 was HB 2158, which would have created performance measures for state agencies and reported that information to the public. The supplemental note says that the bill “as amended, would institute a new process for modifying current performance measures and establishing new standardized performance measures to be used by all state agencies in support of the annual budget requests. State agencies would be required to consult with representatives of the Director of the Budget and the Legislative Research Department to modify each agency’s current performance measures, to standardize such performance measures, and to utilize best practices in all state agencies.” Results of the performance measures would be posted on a public website.

This bill passed the House of Representatives by a nearly unanimous vote of 119 to 2. But in the Senate, this bill was victim of a “gut-and-go” maneuver in a committee chaired by Carolyn McGinn. In effect, the bill died and was not considered by the entire Senate.

This bill proposed to spend modest amounts increasing the manageability of government, not the actual range and scope of government itself. It, along with the other two, would have started Kansas on a path towards spending responsibly.

As it turns out, many in the legislature — this includes Senate Republicans who initiated or went along with the legislative maneuvers that killed these bills — are happy with the operations of state government remaining in the shadows.

"Cash for Clunkers - Death Row" by 293.xx.xxx.xx - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

For Rep. Tiahrt, Cash for Clunkers was a good spending program

When the Obama Administration needed additional funds for the Cash for Clunkers program, Todd Tiahrt was agreeable to funding this wasteful program.

As summarized by the Congressional Research Service: “Makes emergency supplemental appropriations of $2 billion for FY2009 and FY2010 to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the Department of Transportation (DOT) for the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program (Cash for Clunkers Program).”

This bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 316 to 109. Among House Republicans, the vote was 78 to 95 in favor of passage. Todd Tiahrt was one of the minority of Republicans that voted for Cash for Clunkers.

(When this bill was voted on in the Senate, then-Senator and present Kansas Governor Sam Brownback voted in favor, and Pat Roberts voted against.)

"Cash for Clunkers - Death Row" by 293.xx.xxx.xx - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Cash for Clunkers – Death Row” by 293.xx.xxx.xxOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
You may remember the Cash for Clunkers program from 2009. An initiative of President Barack Obama, it paid subsidies to those who traded in their “clunker” for a new fuel-efficient car. The clunkers were destroyed and recycled. This is an example of a program that seems like a benefit for everyone. Take old fuel-wasting cars off the road and replace them with new cars. Save the environment and stimulate the economy, all at the same time. Some writers advocate programs like this as a way to reduce inequality of incomes.

But the Cash for Clunkers program has been widely and roundly criticized. Did it work as advertised? It all depends on the meaning of the word “work,” I suppose. To evaluate the program, we need to look at the marginal activity that was induced by the program. When we do, we find that the cost of moving the additional cars is astonishingly high.

An Edmunds.com article calculated the cost per car for the clunkers program in a different way than the government, and found this:

Nearly 690,000 vehicles were sold during the Cash for Clunkers program, officially known as the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), but Edmunds.com analysts indicate that only 125,000 of the sales were incremental. The rest of the sales would have happened anyway. Analysts divided three billion dollars by 125,000 vehicles to arrive at the average $24,000 per vehicle sold. The average transaction price in August was $26,915 minus an average cash rebate of $1,667.

This is just the latest evidence that the clunkers program didn’t really increase the well-being of our country. Writing at the Foundation for Economic Education, Bruce Yandle doubts the glowing assessment of effectiveness of the program:

The doubt arises for at least three reasons. First, the program was supported politically primarily for its much touted environmental benefits. Carbon emissions would be reduced. But the reduction costs are at least ten times higher than alternate ways of removing carbon. Second, there is Bastiat’s parable of the broken window to consider. And third, there is a serious matter of eroding social norms for conserving wealth. A crushed clunker with a frozen engine is lost capital. … The cost per ton of carbon reduced could reach $500 under a set of normal values for critical variables. The cost estimate was $237 per ton under best case conditions. The much celebrated Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade carbon-emission control legislation estimates the cost of reducing a ton of carbon to be $28 when done across U.S. industries. Yes, we are getting carbon-emission reductions by way of clunker reduction, but we are paying a pretty penny for it. … Before touting the total benefits of clunkers, we must take account of the destroyed vehicles and engines that represented part of the wealth of the nation. As Tony Liller, vice president for Goodwill, put it: “They’re crushing these cars, and they’re perfectly good. These are cars the poor need to buy.”

It’s very difficult for the government to intervene in the economy and produce a net positive result. Even if it could, the harmful effects of taking one person’s money and giving it to another so they can get a discount on a new car far outweigh the small economic benefit that might be realized.

WichitaLiberty.TV July 2, 2014

WichitaLiberty.TV: Waste, economic development, and water issues.

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichitans ought to ask city hall to stop blatant waste before it asks for more taxes. Then, a few questions about economic development incentives. Finally, how should we pay for a new water source, and is city hall open to outside ideas? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 53, broadcast July 27, 2014.

Wichita’s vampires and monsters

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: The City of Wichita urges citizens 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. Originally broadcast June 29, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

For more on this issue, see “Forget the vampires. Let’s tackle the real monsters.”

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1993

For Wichita’s new water supply, debt is suddenly bad

Wichita city leaders are telling us we need to spend a lot of money for a new water source. For some reason, debt has now become a dirty word.

Details are not firm (that’s a problem right there), but the amount needed is $250 million, city officials say. It could be less, they now speculate, maybe only $200 million.

To raise these funds, here’s the choice we’re given: Either (a) endure a sales tax for five years, or (b) borrow money, raise water bills for 20 years, and pay a lot of interest.

Wichita Area Future Water Supply: A Model Program for Other Municipalities
Wichita Area Future Water Supply: A Model Program for Other Municipalities
It’s a similar argument made in favor of a sales tax to pay for the Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita. By paying higher sales tax for a short while, we avoid long-term debt.

There’s also the argument made that by using a sales tax, visitors to Wichita help pay for the water project. Of course, the sales tax is largely paid by local residents. My estimates indicate that raising the sales tax by one cent per dollar costs the average household $223 per year. That’s based on U.S. Census data of household spending in various categories, some subject to sales tax, and some not.

But even if we can get visitors to Wichita to pay part of the project’s cost through a sales tax, that’s not necessarily a wise course of action. By making it more expensive to visit Wichita, we make it a less desirable destination.

The motivation of those who argue for raising funds by getting outsiders to pay for our water project through a sales tax may be missing a subtle point. That is, much of what is “sold” in Wichita is not subject to sales tax, as the output of many manufacturers in Wichita isn’t taxed. The fuselages of Boeing 737 jetliners is an example. But these manufacturers use a lot of water and pay water bills. The cost of that they’ll probably pass on to their customers.

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1993Of course, by making products manufactured in Wichita more expensive, we make them less desirable. There really is no free lunch, as the economists say.

All these arguments link the project with its funding too closely. They ought to be independent decisions.

What’s really curious is the city’s sudden aversion to debt. Almost all the money used to pay for the ASR to this point was borrowed. So far, the total cost of ASR is $247 million. It’s common to pay for long-lived capital assets with borrowed funds. So it’s strange for city council members to suddenly decide that debt is not good, and that we have to pay for this project with cash, which is what the sales tax does.

Here’s another alternative: If the project costs $250 million, let’s raise water bills by that amount over five years. In this way, water users pay for the new water supply, and we avoid the debt that city council members seem determined to avoid.

This might be a bitter pill to swallow. In 2013, the Wichita water utility collected about $65 million in revenue. That doesn’t represent the total that people pay on their water bills, as the sewer utility collected $50 million. Adding $50 million per year to water bills might seem like a large increase, and it would be.

But it’s important to have water users pay for water. Also, we need to be aware of the costs of a new water supply. That’s easier to accomplish when people pay this cost through their water bills. When paying through a general sales tax, this linkage is less obvious. There is less transparency, and ultimately, less accountability.

A street light in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.

If the transit lights are off, the street lights are probably on

When the city of Wichita is not concerned about waste that is easily observed, how careful is it about avoiding waste not easily seen by citizens?

Last Friday afternoon the parking lot lights Wichita Transit Center where switched on, as they often are during the day.

Street lights in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
Street lights in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
So at lunchtime today as I drove by the Transit Center and saw that the lights were off, I was relieved that the city wasn’t wasting electricity lighting the noonday sky.

But I didn’t have to travel much farther before I saw street lights turned on for several blocks on Douglas, Broadway, and Topeka. This is not unusual.

Waste like this is unacceptable. The city council is likely to recommend that Wichitans vote for higher sales taxes as the city can’t afford to run the buses or adequately maintain streets. Before asking for higher taxes, the city should stop wasteful spending on burning street lights in the middle of the day.

You have to wonder: If the city is, apparently, not concerned about blatant waste like this — waste that anyone can easily observe — what is it doing about waste that can’t easily be seen?

A street light in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
A street light in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
This is indicative of the attitude of the city as explained in Forget the vampires. Let’s tackle the real monsters. The city has an advertising campaign to persuade residents to do things like unplugging phone chargers and televisions when not in use. You see, these devices may use small amounts of electricity even when not in use. That’s the “vampire” power waste. The city says we need to avoid this waste in order to keep our air clean.

But street lights burning in the middle the day: This wastes a lot of power.

Before considering any extra funding for the city, let’s ask that it stop wasteful spending like these lights. Even better, before sending any funding, let’s stop this waste.

I realize that the lights illustrated in these photographs are, undoubtedly, a small portion of the city’s spending. But you don’t have to look very hard to find waste like this, and we know that small examples of waste are multiplied many times. So when city leaders tell us that there is nowhere left to cut in the budget, that everything that can be done to trim the fat has already been done, and that the only thing we can do is raise taxes — well, think of this photograph and others illustrated in Waste in Wichita, the seen and probably unseen, Wichita’s monsters on display, again, Forget the vampires. Let’s tackle the real monsters, Wichita advances in the field of cost savings, Another Friday lunch, and even more lights are on, To compensate, Wichita switched on the street lights, In Wichita, the streetside seating is illuminated very well, In Wichita, the rooftops are well-lit and On a sunny day in downtown Wichita you can see the street lights.

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.

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1962

Economic development incentives in Wichita: A few questions

Wichita justifies its use of targeted economic development incentives by citing benefit-cost ratios that are computed for the city, county, school district, and state. If the ratio exceeds a threshold, the project is deemed worthy of investment.

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1962The process assumes that these benefit-cost ratios are valid. This is far from certain, as follows:

1. The benefits in the calculation are not really benefits. Instead, they’re in the form of projected higher tax revenues collected by governments. This is very different from the profits that private sector companies earn from their customers in voluntary market transactions.

2. Even if government collects more tax by offering incentives, it should not be the goal of government to grow just for the sake of growing.

3. Government claims that in order to get these “benefits,” incentives are necessary. But often the new economic activity (relocation, expansion, etc.) would have happened without the incentives.

4. Why is it that most companies are able to grow without incentives, but only a few companies require incentives? What is special about these companies? Why do some companies receive incentives year after year?

5. If the relatively small investment the city makes in incentives is responsible for such wonderful outcomes in terms of jobs, why doesn’t the city do this more often? If the city has such power to create economic growth, why is anyone unemployed?

United States Capitol, July 2011

How earmarks pay off for the earmarkers

The case of a Kansas Congressman benefiting from earmark spending once out of office should make us glad the practice has ended, and we should be wary of those who call for its return.

The case of United States House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Member Todd Tiahrt and Neumann Systems is an illustration of the revolving door between government and the private sector. It started with an earmark. An Air Force budgetary document indicates that the earmark spending was at the direction of Congress: “In FY 2006, Congress added $1.2 million for the High Power Fiber Laser Program, and $0.5 million for Oxygen Laser Optical Source.”

Excerpt from Air Force budgetary document.
Excerpt from Air Force budgetary document.

Later in the same document we see “CONGRESSIONAL ADD.” So it’s not like the Air Force asked for this money. Instead, it was added by appropriators in the House of Representatives, of which Todd Tiahrt was a member and appropriator. The oxygen laser spending was an earmark, in other words. It went to a company called Direct Energy Solutions, located in Colorado Springs. Its CEO was David Neumann, who also heads a related company named Neumann Systems Group, Inc.

While this may seem like a small amount of federal money spent on a defense research project, the earmark spending appears to have paid off for Tiahrt. Not only did Tiahrt receive contributions from Neumann for his campaigns both past and present, he also received a client for his consulting firm and, ultimately, a job. When Neumann needed to recover from an illness, Tiahrt worked for Neumann’s company and was paid some $380,000 over two years, according to financial disclosures.

Neumann System Groups had received a contract to build an exhaust gas scrubber for an electrical power plant owned by the City of Colorado Springs. The scubber is controversial. In this article from January 2013, Tiahrt said the scubber would removs sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, but the scubber that is being built will remove only the sulfur compound. Costs seem to have soared over original estimates. The contract is “cost plus” and according to reporting, was awarded without competitive bid. (Costs, doubts rise at Colorado Springs power plant, Colorado Springs Gazette)

None of this was illegal or contrary to ethics codes. It’s just the way the way Washington has worked, with earmarks forging and cementing relationships between Members of Congress and their benefactors.

Earmarks have been banned in Congress since 2010. But not everyone is happy, with progressive lawmakers like Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois calling for the return of the “glue” that used to hold bills together. But the Wall Street Journal recently commented that Congress is working better without earmarks, resulting in more oversight of, and accountability for, spending.

As he campaigns for a return to Congress, Tiahrt has unabashedly called for a return of earmark spending, telling audiences that the practice did not increase the level of spending. There’s plenty of evidence, along with common sense, that tells us that earmarks do increase spending.

But some people think it’s fun to spend other peoples’ money, and as shown by the post-Congress career path of Todd Tiahrt, it can be lucrative, too.

In Kansas fourth district campaign, PAC contributions are an issue

Candidate Todd Tiahrt criticizes Mike Pompeo for accepting PAC money as campaign contributions, but over his career Tiahrt has accepted PAC dollars in greater proportion than has Pompeo.

In a press release and on the campaign trail, candidate for the Republican Party nomination for United States Congress from the fourth district of Kansas Todd Tiahrt has criticized Mike Pompeo for his acceptance of PAC, or political action committee, campaign contributions. An example from a June 19 press release reads “PAC Man Pompeo’s special interest money means special interest legislation.”

Analysis of source of campaign funds for Todd Tiahrt, career starting in 2000 to present. Center for Responsive Politics, July 12, 2014.
Analysis of source of campaign funds for Todd Tiahrt, career starting in 2000 to present. Center for Responsive Politics, July 12, 2014.

Later in the same release: “So, was Mr. Pompeo representing Kansans or his PAC supporters?”

So if Tiahrt is criticizing a candidate for accepting campaign contributions from political action committees, voters may want to know the entire story. As it turns out, the story is easy to learn.

Analysis of source of campaign funds for Mike Pompeo, career to present. Center for Responsive Politics, July 12, 2014.
Analysis of source of campaign funds for Mike Pompeo, career to present. Center for Responsive Politics, July 12, 2014.

The Center for Responsive Politics has summarized campaign contribution data back to the year 2000. According to its summary, 33 percent of campaign contributions to Tiahrt since then were from PACs.

For Pompeo, over his career as a candidate, the figure is 32 percent of campaign contributions from PACs.

Lights of various types turned on in the afternoon, Wichita Transit Center, July 11, 2104.

Waste in Wichita, the seen and probably unseen

When the city of Wichita is not concerned about waste that is easily observed, what about waste that not easily seen by citizens?

Lights on at midday in downtown Wichita. July 11, 2014.
Lights on at midday in downtown Wichita. July 11, 2014.
Yesterday most downtown Wichita street lights were switched off during the day. But not all, as can be seen by the many lights switched on at the Wichita Transit Center. They were on Friday afternoon, just as they are on many days.

Wichita Transit Center, July 11, 2104. Some of the bulbs are apparently burnt out.
Wichita Transit Center, July 11, 2104. Some of the bulbs are apparently burnt out.
While waste like this is unacceptable, it is all the more intolerable considering that Wichita’s transit system is out of money. The city council has recommended that Wichitans vote for higher sales taxes, part of which would fund the transit system. That would include, I suppose, funding the wasteful spending on burning street lights in the middle of the day. This is indicative of the attitude of the city as explained in Forget the vampires. Let’s tackle the real monsters.

You have to wonder: If the city’s transit department is, apparently, not concerned about blatant waste like this — waste that anyone can easily observe — what is it doing about waste that can’t easily be seen?

So before considering any extra funding for Wichita transit, let’s ask that it stop wasteful spending like these lights. Even better, before sending any funding, let’s stop this waste.

Lights of various types turned on in the afternoon, Wichita Transit Center, July 11, 2104.
Lights of various types turned on in the afternoon, Wichita Transit Center, July 11, 2104.
The lights illustrated in these photographs are, undoubtedly, a small portion of the city’s spending. But you don’t have to look very hard to find waste like this, and we know that small examples of waste are multiplied many times. So when city leaders tell us that there is nowhere left to cut in the budget, that everything that can be done to trim the fat has already been done, and that the only thing we can do is raise taxes — well, think of this photograph and others illustrated in Wichita’s monsters on display, again, Forget the vampires. Let’s tackle the real monsters, Wichita advances in the field of cost savings, Another Friday lunch, and even more lights are on, To compensate, Wichita switched on the street lights, In Wichita, the streetside seating is illuminated very well, In Wichita, the rooftops are well-lit and On a sunny day in downtown Wichita you can see the street lights.

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.

Todd Tiahrt television advertisement.

Did Rep. Mike Pompeo vote to fund Obamacare?

A television ad by Todd Tiahrt claims that Mike Pompeo voted seven times to fund Obamacare. What are the facts about those bills?

Todd Tiahrt television advertisement.
Todd Tiahrt television advertisement.
The seven bills referenced in the Tiahrt ad are appropriations bills that fund numerous departments and agencies of the federal government. Three of the bills were to fund the operations of government for as little as one week. One bill was 475 pages in length. Most passed with broad support of Republicans, including the Kansas delegation. Some reduced funding that had been authorized by the previous Congress.

Somewhere deep within these bills there may be funding that went to the Department of Health and Human Services that in some way provided funds for the implementation of Obamacare. The first three votes were short-term measures to continue appropriations established by the previous Congress. Tiahrt voted with a minority of Republicans to support that bill in its original form, then voted along with all Republicans except one against the passage of the conference report.

As to whether voting for these bills constitutes voting “to fund Obamacare,” the Pompeo campaign manager told the Wichita Eagle: “This type of flawed logic would drive someone to believe that Mr. Tiahrt voted eight times for Planned Parenthood funding for federal funding of abortions — which would be grossly misleading.”

The Eagle further reported: “Pompeo’s campaign provided a list of those eight bills. A fact-check found Tiahrt did vote ‘yes’ on the bills. But those bills were also general appropriation measures for departments that dealt with family planning.”

Here are the bills referenced in the Tiahrt television advertisement.

H.J.Res. 44 (112th) votesH.J.Res. 44 (112th): Further Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011. This bill provided appropriations for several dozen federal agencies. It passed 335 to 91. Republicans voted 231 to 6 in favor. All Kansans voted in favor. The Hill described this bill as a “two-week spending resolution … to support a measure aimed at averting a government shutdown this week.” (GOP spending bill passes in landslide as 100 Dems defect)

H.J.Res. 48 (112th) votesH.J.Res. 48 (112th): Additional Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011. This bill provided appropriations for a number of federal agencies. It also eliminated specific spending that was approved in 2010. It passed 271 to 158. Republicans voted 186 to 54 in favor. All Kansans except Huelskamp voted in favor. The Hill described this bill as a “three-week spending resolution.” (House adjourns, likely until late March)

H.R. 1363 (112th) votesH.R. 1363 (112th): Further Additional Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011. As described by the Congressional Research Service, the bill “Provides reduced rates of operation for FY2011 for the following accounts or activities within the Department of Transportation (DOT).” It also provided funds at reduced rates of operation for FY2011 for some accounts within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It also appears to have eliminated some earmarks passed by an earlier Congress. This bill passed 247 to 181. Republicans voted 232 to 6 in favor. All Kansans voted in favor. Of this bill, The Hill reported it was “a bill that would fund the federal government for another week.” (House adopts rule for one-week budget stopgap)

H.R. 1473 (112th) votesH.R. 1473 (112th): Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011. This is a large bill at 175 pages in length. The summary from the Congressional Research Service runs nearly 20,000 words. It passed 260 to 167. Republicans voted 179 to 59 in favor. All Kansans except Huelskamp voted in favor. This bill, voted on in April, was described by The Hill as “an agreement to fund the federal government for the rest of fiscal 2011.” The federal fiscal year ends on September 30.

H.R. 2055 (112th) on passage votesH.R. 2055 (112th) conference report votesH.R. 2055 (112th): Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012. At 486 pages, another large bill making appropriations for many agencies. On passage of the bill in the House, the vote was 411 to 5 in favor. The later vote on agreeing to the conference report passed 296 to 121. Republicans voted 147 to 86 in favor. All Kansans except Huelskamp voted in favor. The Hill reported this bill “covers spending for Defense, Energy and Water, Financial Services and General Government, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor/Health and Human Services, Legislative Branch, Military Construction/VA, and State/Foreign Operations.” (House approves $1 trillion omnibus spending bill in easy 296-121 vote)

H.J.Res. 117 (112th) votesH.J.Res. 117 (112th): Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013. This bill provided appropriations for a number of federal agencies. It passed 329 to 91. Republicans voted 165 to 70 in favor. Kansans Huelskamp and Yoder voted against; Jenkins and Pompeo voted in favor. The Hill described this bill as a “six-month spending resolution to keep the government funded.” (Senate passes resolution to keep government funded)

H.R. 933 (113th) votesH.R. 933 (113th): Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013. A 240 page bill that provides appropriates to many federal agencies. The House agreed to the conference report by a vote of 318 to 109. Republicans voted 203 to 27 in favor. All Kansans except Huelskamp voted in favor.

Detail of stairway in Kansas Capitol.

Kansas was an earmark donor state

The practice of federal earmark spending was not kind to Kansas, as data shows Kansas was an earmark donor state.

Detail of stairway in Kansas Capitol.
Detail of stairway in Kansas Capitol.
The former practice of earmarking federal spending was seen as a way for members of Congress to demonstrate their political prowess by bringing the federal bacon back home to the district or state. Data gathered and analyzed by Brandon Arnold of Cato Institute shows that states differ greatly in the dollars sent to Washington as federal income taxes and the earmarks received.

Data for 2009, one of the last years for earmarking, along with Arnold’s calculations of a earmark ratio, shows that the value of this ratio varies from 25 percent to 1,104 percent. This ratio is calculated by first determining the proportion of total federal income taxes paid by a state. Use that to calculate the state’s proportional share of earmark dollars. Then, compare to earmarks actually received.

For 2009, the earmark ratio for Kansas was 81.9 percent. Based on the state contributing 0.9 percent of total federal taxes paid, Kansas should have received $173 million in earmarks. It actually received $142 million.

Arnold’s article contains other interesting find, such as comparing a state’s earmark ratio with it having members on appropriations committees.

I’ve presented Arnold’s data in an interactive spreadsheet. View the data below, or click here to open it in a new window, which may work best in most cases. This is a spreadsheet in Google Docs format. You may manipulate and save the data as your own copy.

WichitaLiberty.TV July 2, 2014

WichitaLiberty.TV: Citizen activists and the proposed Wichita sales tax

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Two activists join host Bob Weeks to discuss activism at the local level. Then, what about the proposed sales tax increase in Wichita? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 51, broadcast July 13, 2014.

United States Capitol, July 2011

Congress is better without earmarks

Controversy over the timing and efficacy of an earmark divert attention from the fact that earmarks are bad government. Congress is better without the practice.

United States Congressional candidate Todd Tiahrt calls for a return to earmark spending in Congress, pointing to a million-dollar grant he obtained for Wichita to help defray costs of the Wichita Police Department in investigating and capturing serial killer Dennis Rader, or BTK. The Daily Caller has a report, as does the Wichita Eagle. Neither story is supportive of Tiahrt’s claim that earmarks were responsible for the capture of the BTK killer.

Speaking to the Wichita Pachyderm Club on May 16, Tiahrt defended the earmarking process, telling the audience “By the way, earmarks don’t raise spending. Earmarks never increase the budget. They simply redirect the funding.” (The complete broadcast of his talk is available at Voice for Liberty Radio: Todd Tiahrt.)

United States Capitol, July 2011
United States Capitol, July 2011
This is the standard argument: Earmarks simply direct the spending of money that is already authorized to be spent. Therefore, earmarking does not increase the amount spent. But this reasoning bypasses the fact that it is Congress that authorizes a certain amount to be spent. If Congress is concerned that too much is being spent, it could authorize less.

This notion that discretionary spending is on a trajectory that can’t be controlled; that all a hapless Congress can do is control where it is spent by earmarking: This is nonsense. Nonsense on stilts. Some of the problems with earmark spending are contained in For Tiahrt, earmarks are good government.

Logrolling, or the selling of earmarks

Many Members of Congress sell earmarks to the home district as a beneficial way to have the country as a whole to pay for our needs. It’s usually presented as though it is free money. Taxpayers across the country are paying for something in the home district, members say.

But as most people know in their hearts, there really is no free lunch. If Members of Congress expect other members to vote for their earmarks, they know they’re expected to vote for the earmarks of other members. This is precisely what happens.

The BTK earmark happened in 2005. In 2007 a group of House Members offered 50 amendments to remove earmarks from appropriations bills. Club for Growth compiled the following list, along with a scorecard of votes for each member. I’ve presented the list of amendments below, and you can view the project at The 2007 Club for Growth RePORK Card. It includes items like $150,000 for the Bremerton Public Library restoration in Washington, $129,000 for the Mitchell County Development Foundation for the home of the “perfect Christmas tree” project, and $100,000 for the Kansas Regional Prisons Museum in Lansing.

So two years after the BTK earmark for the Wichita Police Department, there were 50 opportunities for our representatives to make a simple up-or-down vote on wasteful pork barrel spending projects. Only one of these amendments passed.

Todd Tiahrt voted against all of these amendments. He, along with 81 Democrats and 23 other Republicans, could find no good reason to vote against any of these projects.

So while Wichita received help paying for a police investigation, we in the fourth congressional district had to pay for all these other projects. After all, how could Tiahrt ask his congressional colleagues to support his own earmarks if he did not support theirs?

Congress is better without earmarks

While there has been a ban on earmarks since 2010, some members and candidates call for a return to earmarking. But a recent Wall Street Journal editorial explains the benefit of the ending of earmarks and a return to accountability in legislative decision-making:

Congressional cries to restore earmarks are mounting, and a new favorite argument is that the spenders need the pork authority to properly exercise their Constitutional power of the purse. But if you look at what’s happening inside Congress, the opposite is true: The earmark ban is producing more spending accountability and oversight. … When Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin now pines for the days when earmarks were the “glue” holding bills together, what he’s really missing is leadership’s power to dole out home-state patronage. Pork-barrel Republicans who say the earmark ban has transferred spending power to the President are excusing their own unwillingness to set priorities. … This process put House Members in control of spending decisions, even as it required them to choose on the basis of fact and analysis — rather than logrolling.

(“Logrolling” is the practice of supporting others’ projects in order to gain support for yours. Vote trading, in other words.)

At the same May 2014 Pachyderm Club meeting, Tiahrt said that earmark spending is still happening, but now it’s directed through the executive branch. Congress has given President Obama a “blank check,” Tiahrt told the audience. The Wall Street Journal editorial board disagrees.

Following is the list of 50 amendments that would have canceled pork barrel spending projects in 2007.

House Vote 559 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the Clover Bend Historic Site in Arkansas. Amendment failed, 98-331.

House Vote 560 — Bars funding of $100,000 for the St. Joseph’s College Theatre Renovation in Indiana. Amendment failed, 97-328.

House Vote 561 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the Maverick Concert Hall preservation in New York. Amendment failed, 114-316.

House Vote 562 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the Bremerton Public Library restoration in Washington. Amendment failed, 98-333.

House Vote 565 — Bars funding of $140,000 for the Wetzel County Courthouse in West Virginia. Amendment failed, 104-323.

House Vote 566 — Bars funding of $150,000 for equipment for the Conte Anadromous Fish Laboratory. Amendment failed, 97-330.

House Vote 567 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the W.A. Young and Sons Foundry in Pennsylvania. Amendment failed, 104-328.

House Vote 568 — Bars funding of $100,000 for the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters to renovate a hall in Ohio. Amendment failed, 66-364.

House Vote 569 — Bars funding of $1,200,000 for projects related to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Route. Amendment failed, 86-343.

House Vote 590 — Bars funding of $231,000 for the Grace Johnstown Area Regional Industries Incubator and Workforce Development program in Pennsylvania. Amendment failed, 87-335.

House Vote 591 — Bars funding of $500,000 for a project in the Barracks Row area of Washington, D.C. Amendment failed, 60-361.

House Vote 592 — Bars funding of $231,000 for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association’s SPUR urban center. Amendment failed, 102-317.

House Vote 593 — Bars funding of $129,000 for the Mitchell County Development Foundation for the home of the “perfect Christmas tree” project. Amendment passed, 249-174.

House Vote 594 — Bars funding of $231,000 for the West Virginia University Research Corporation’s renovation of a small-business incubator. Amendment failed, 101-325.

House Vote 595 — Bars funding of $231,000 for the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission. Amendment failed, 107-318.

House Vote 597 — To remove 148 requested earmarks from the bill. Amendment failed, 48-372.

House Vote 636 — Bars funding of $1,000,000 for the Center for Instrumented Critical Infrastructure in Pennsylvania. Amendment failed, 98-326.

House Vote 637 — Bars funding of $1,500,000 for the South Carolina Historically Black Colleges and Universities Science and Technology Initiative. Amendment failed, 70-357.

House Vote 638 — Bars funding of $500,000 for the Emmanuel College Center for Science Partnership in Massachusetts. Amendment failed, 79-337.

House Vote 639 — Bars funding of $1,000,000 for nano-structured fuel cell membrane electrode assembly in California. Amendment failed, 81-348.

House Vote 640 — Strikes numerous earmarks from the bill. Amendment failed, 39-388.

House Vote 654 — Bars funding of $34,000,000 for the Alaska Native Education Equity program and other programs. Amendment failed, 74-352.

House Vote 663 — Strikes all earmarks in the bill. Amendment failed, 53-369.

House Vote 664 — Bars funding of $300,000 for its Bay Area Science Teacher Recruitment, Retention and Improvement Initiative. Amendment failed, 89-341.

House Vote 667 — Bars funding of $300,000 for the On Location Entertainment Industry Craft and Technician Training project at West Los Angeles College in Culver City, CA. Amendment failed, 114-316.

House Vote 668 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the American Ballet Theatre in New York City for educational activities. Amendment failed, 118-312.

House Vote 669 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, S.C. Amendment failed, 70-360.

House Vote 670 — Bars funding of $100,000 for the Kansas Regional Prisons Museum in Lansing, Kan. Amendment failed, 112-317.

House Vote 671 — Bars funding of $200,000 for the Corporation for Jefferson’s Popular Forest in Forest, VA. Amendment failed, 68-360.

House Vote 678 — Bars funding of $2,000,000 for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York in New York City. Amendment failed, 108-316.

House Vote 679 — Bars funding of $200,000 for the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, MO. Amendment failed, 96-327.

House Vote 698 — Bars funding of $300,000 for the Belmont Complex in Kittanning, PA. Amendment failed, 87-335.

House Vote 699 — Bars funding of $400,000 for the North Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission in Wausau, WI. Amendment failed, 68-356.

House Vote 700 — Bars funding of $50,000 for the National Mule and Packers Museum in Woodlake, CA. Amendment failed, 69-352.

House Vote 701 — Bars funding of $300,000 for the Friends of Cheat Rails-to-Trails Program in West Virginia. Amendment failed, 81-342.

House Vote 702 — Bars funding of $300,000 for the Houston Zoo in Texas. Amendment failed, 77-347.

House Vote 705 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the Edmonds Center for the Arts in Edmonds, WA. Amendment failed, 97-327.

House Vote 706 — Bars funding for “parking facilities”. Amendment failed, 86-338.

House Vote 735 — Bars funding of $200,000 for the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine in Orono, Maine. Amendment failed, 87-328.

House Vote 736 — Bars funding of $250,000 for the East Coast Shellfish Research Institute in Toms River, NJ. Amendment failed, 77-337.

House Vote 809 — Bars funding of $878,046 for the Catfish Pathogen Genomic Project in Auburn, AL. Amendment failed, 74-357.

House Vote 810 — Bars funding of $628,843 for grape genetics research in Geneva, NY. Amendment failed, 76-353.

House Vote 811 — Bars funding of $400,000 for the alternative uses of a tobacco grant in Maryland. Amendment failed, 94-337.

House Vote 812 — Bars funding of $489,000 for Ruminant Nutrition Consortium in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Amendment failed, 74-355.

House Vote 813 — Bars funding of $6,371,000 for the wood utilization grant in Mississippi, North Carolina, Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, Idaho, Tennessee, Arkansas and West Virginia. Amendment failed, 68-363.

House Vote 839 — Bars funding of $2,500,000 for the Presidio Trust national park in San Francisco, CA. Amendment failed, 94-311.

House Vote 842 — Bars funding of $2,000,000 for the “Paint Shield for Protecting People from Microbial Threats.” Amendment failed, 91-317.

House Vote 843 — Bars funding of $1,500,000 for the Doyle Center for Manufacturing Technology in Pittsburgh, PA. Amendment failed, 98-312.

House Vote 844 — Bars funding of $3,000,000 for the Lewis Center for Education Research in Apple Valley, CA. Amendment failed, 57-353.

House Vote 845 — Bars funding of $39,000,000 for the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, PA. Amendment failed, 109-301.

Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primary

Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primary

Washington Examiner writer Tim Carney notices the curious stance of a Republican candidate in the Kansas fourth district primary: He likes earmarks.

Washington Examiner senior political columnist Timothy P. Carney knows how Washington works. Of his 2006 book The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money, Paul A. Gigot, who is Editorial Page Editor of the Wall Street Journal wrote “Politicians like to say that government is on the side of the little guy. But with impressive documentation and persuasive examples, Tim Carney shows how government power and regulation are typically used to assist the powerful.”

On the contest in the Kansas fourth district between Mike Pompeo and Todd Tiahrt, Carney observed “Kansas’s 4th District features one of the oddest fights yet of the counter-Tea Party effort: a quasi-lobbyist running running on a pro-earmark platform.”

Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primaryCarney isn’t the first to notice the pro-earmark stance of Tiahrt. It’s not a secret, as the candidate himself speaks in favor of earmarks. His voting record reflects his support. In 2007 Club for Growth, whose motto is “Prosperity and Opportunity through Economic Freedom,” compiled a list of 50 votes that canceled what it called wasteful earmarks, explaining as follows:

The Club for Growth has compiled a RePORK Card of all members’ votes on all 50 anti-pork amendments. “Taxpayers have a right to know which congressmen stand up for them and which stand up for the special interests,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey. “Unfortunately, the Club for Growth RePORK Card shows that most congressmen care more about lining their buddies’ pockets than they care about protecting American taxpayers.”

Analyzing the results, Club for Growth noted that 16 members voted for all these amendments. These members were all Republicans. The average Republican score was 43%. The average Democratic score was 2%. The average score for appropriators — these are members of the Committee on Appropriations like Tiahrt — was 4%.

Where was Todd Tiahrt on this list? Tied for last place at 0%. He voted for none of these amendments that would have blocked earmark spending. Of the group that Tiahrt voted with, Club for Growth noted “105 congressmen scored an embarrassing 0%, voting against every single amendment. The Pork Hall of Shame includes 81 Democrats and 24 Republicans.”

Club for Growth created a similar tally in 2009, selecting 68 votes. That year, Tiahrt did better, voting for 20 of the 68 measures.

Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primary

By Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner

Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt is a man on a mission — to reclaim the Republican Party for earmarkers.

Tiahrt represented Kansas’ 4th district for 16 years, and for 14 of those years he sat on the House Appropriations Committee. From that perch, Tiahrt was a prolific porker, dealing out earmarks as if they were playing cards.

Continue reading at Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primary.

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Examining Wichita’s water future

From Kansas Policy Institute.

water fountain gargoyles fountain-197334_640A proposal before the Wichita City Council would raise the sales tax in the city by 1% to fund several projects. The biggest piece of the proposal would be to fund additional water capacity for users of the city water system.

On Thursday 17 July, come hear from the City of Wichita and others on the scope of the problems, possible solutions, and the perspectives of several experts in the debate.

Click here to register for this event.

Date: Thursday 17 July
When: 7:30 a.m. registration and 8:00 a.m. start to presentations
Where: Wichita State University MetroPlex Room 132 ( 29th and Oliver)
Cost: Free with Advance Registration

A light breakfast will be served. The session will conclude by 12:15 p.m.

Speaker Line-up and Agenda:
7:30 a.m. — Registration and Breakfast
8:00 a.m. — Kansas Water Office on scope of water usage/needs in SCKS
9:00 a.m. — City of Wichita Proposal: Alan King, Dir. of Public Works, accompanied by Councilman Pete Meitzner
10:00 a.m. — Are Water Markets Applicable in Kansas?: Dr. Art Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at the University of Kansas
11:00 a.m. — Wichita Chamber of Commerce Water Task Force Findings: Karma Mason, president of iSi Environmental

KPI is not taking a position of the water proposal before the City Council. This event is to provide a forum for relevant parties to present their perspective on the issue with the public. Each presenter will have 30 minutes for a presentation followed by an Q&A.

This is the first in a series of KPI-sponsored forums of this nature on the different aspects of the sales tax proposal. Future forums will be held on the economic development and street and transit proposals.

For more information about this event contact Kansas Policy Institute at 316.634.0218. To register, click here.

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Vampires on the prowl in Wichita and the city council’s treatment of citizens.

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The City of Wichita urges citizens 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. Then proceedings of a recent Wichita City Council meeting are instructive of the factors citizens should consider if they want to interact with the council and city government at a public hearing. Episode 49, broadcast June 29, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

For Kansas Senator Roberts, earmark reform not worthy of his vote

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts promotes his fiscal conservatism, but failed to vote in favor of earmark reform in a recent close vote.

In 2012 an amendment to a Senate bill was offered that would have dramatically reformed the earmark process.

United States Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas.
United States Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas.
The vote was On the Amendment S.Amdt. 1472 to S.Amdt. 1470 to S. 2038 (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012).

The purpose of the amendment, according to Congress.gov, is “to prohibit earmarks.” Although offered in 2012, the short title of the amendment was “Earmark Elimination Act of 2011″

United States Senator from Kansas Pat Roberts voting with Democrats and against Republicans on earmark reform. 2012.
United States Senator from Kansas Pat Roberts voting with Democrats and against Republicans on earmark reform. 2012.
The nub of the amendment was “It shall not be in order in the Senate to consider a bill or resolution introduced in the Senate or the House of Representatives, amendment, amendment between the Houses, or conference report that includes an earmark.”

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 59 to 40. Among Democratic Party members, the vote was 44 to 7 against the amendment. For Republican Party members, the vote was 33 to 13 in favor of the amendment.

One of the 13 Republicans who voted against this reform-minded amendment was Pat Roberts of Kansas.

For Tiahrt, earmarks are good government

Appearing today on The Joseph Ashby Show, candidate for United States House of Representatives Todd Tiahrt defended the practice of earmarking federal spending.

Joseph Ashby Show 2014-06-30The ending of earmarks, he said, has shifted responsibility for allocating funds from Congress to the executive. Earmarks do not increase spending, he said.

United States Capitol, July 2011
United States Capitol, July 2011
He said that Congress should take away the president’s pen, and should do that by allocating funding properly. When pressed by the host, Tiahrt repeated that earmarks do not increase spending.

This is the standard argument: Earmarks simply direct the spending of money that is already authorized to be spent. Earmarking does not increase the amount spent. Which, of course, bypasses the fact that Congress authorizes a certain amount to be spent. If Congress is concerned that too much is being spent, it could authorize less.

There is broad agreement among limited-government conservatives that earmarks are harmful. Taxpayers for Common Sense concludes:

Earmarks reflect a broken budget process. Too often earmarks reward parochial interests at the expense of national needs. The earmarking process also often subverts established merit-based, competitive, or formula-driven budget processes without debate. Ultimately earmarks may fund projects many people consider “good” projects, but the earmark process does not guarantee these are the most beneficial and worthwhile projects.

At The Heritage Foundation, commentary on a Harvard Business school study opened with:

What happens when a state is lucky enough to have one of their Senators ascend to one of the three most powerful committee chairmanships? According to a new study by three Harvard Business School the average state then experiences a 40 to 50 percent increase in earmark spending (the figure is a smaller 20% for powerful House committees). So this new government spending is then a boon to the state right? The public spending stimulates economic growth right? Wrong. Turns out, increased federal spending is connected with a decrease in corporate capital expenditures and employment.

It should be noted that while in Congress, Tiahrt served on the Committee on Appropriations, one of the “powerful House committees” referred to. Further evidence of Tiahrt’s attitude is that today on Ashby’s show he referred to Jim DeMint, the former senator, anti-earmark crusader, and now president of Heritage, as a failure.

At The Cato Institute, Tad DeHaven wrote that earmarks are a symptom of a larger problem:

There just isn’t much difference between the activities funded via earmarking and the activities funded by standard bureaucratic processes. The means are different, but the ends are typically the same: federal taxpayers paying for parochial benefits that are properly the domain of state and local governments, or preferably, the private sector. As a federal taxpayer, I’m no better off if the U.S. Dept. of Transportation decides to fund a bridge in Alaska or if Alaska’s congressional delegation instructs the DOT to fund the bridge.

Therefore, earmarking is a symptom of the problem. The problem is the existence of programs that enables the federal government to spend money on parochial activities.

Also at Cato, Dan Mitchell makes the most important argument:

Last but not least, earmarks are utterly corrupt. The fact that they are legal does not change the fact that they finance a racket featuring big payoffs to special interests, who give big fees to lobbyists (often former staffers and Members), who give big contributions to politicians. Everyone wins … except taxpayers.

Wichita’s monsters on display, again

While the City of Wichita asks citizens to inconvenience themselves by saving “vampire” electrical waste, the city still lights up its own monsters.

Wichita Transit Center, June 27, 2014, 2:03 pm.
Wichita Transit Center, June 27, 2014, 2:03 pm.
Last Friday afternoon most downtown Wichita street lights were switched off. But not all, as can be seen by the many lights switched on at the Wichita Transit Center. They were on Friday afternoon, just as they are on many days.

While waste like this is not acceptable, it is all the more striking considering that Wichita’s transit system is out of money. The city council has recommended that Wichitans vote for higher sales taxes, part of which would fund the transit system. That would include, I suppose, the wasteful spending on burning street lights in the middle of the day. This is indicative of the attitude of the city as explained in Forget the vampires. Let’s tackle the real monsters.

So before considering any extra funding for Wichita transit, let’s ask that it stop wasteful spending like these lights. Even better, before sending any funding, let’s stop this waste.

Wichita downtown street lights 2014-06-27 11.20.30The lights illustrated in this photograph are, undoubtedly, a small portion of the city’s spending. But you don’t have to look very hard to find waste like this, and we know that small examples of waste are multiplied many times. So when city leaders tell us that there is nowhere left to cut in the budget, that everything that can be done to trim the fat has already been done, and that the only thing we can do is raise taxes — well, think of this photograph and others illustrated in Wichita advances in the field of cost savings, Another Friday lunch, and even more lights are on, To compensate, Wichita switched on the street lights, In Wichita, the streetside seating is illuminated very well, In Wichita, the rooftops are well-lit and On a sunny day in downtown Wichita you can see the street lights.

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.

State and local direct general expenditures, per capita, growth since 1991. Kansas is the dark line.

Kansas expenditures, compared to others

Spending by Kansas state and local governments has grown faster than in most other states.

State and local direct general expenditures, per capita, growth since 1991. Kansas is the dark line.
State and local direct general expenditures, per capita, growth since 1991. Kansas is the dark line.
Using data gathered by Tax Policy Center at Brookings Institution, I’ve prepared an interactive visualization of state spending trends over time. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. You may click on any number of states to highlight them. (Use Ctrl+click to add states after the first.) You may also choose “in or out” of the set of states near Kansas. Finally, you can select a range of years. This data is indexed, meaning that states start at the same level, so that relative changes in spending may be seen.

Data is from State & Local Government Finance Data Query System. http://slfdqs.taxpolicycenter.org/pages.cfm. The Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. Data from U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances, Government Finances, Volume 4, and Census of Governments (1977-2011). Date of Access: (29-Jul-2013).

WichitaLiberty.TV: Where’s Wichita’s water?

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: To solve water supply problems, the City of Wichita seeks to impose austerity on its citizens and force them to pay for others to install water-efficient appliances that save vanishingly small amounts of water. Plus, what happened to past assurances that we had plenty of water? Originally broadcast on March 9, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

For more on this issue, see Where’s Wichita’s water?

kansas-policy-institute-2014-04-willing-to-fund

To fund government, Wichitans prefer alternatives to raising taxes

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita voters told pollsters they prefer adjusting spending, becoming more efficient, using public-private partnerships, and privatization to raising taxes. View below, or click here to view on YouTube. For more on this topic, see To fund government, Wichitans prefer alternatives to raising taxes.

Two street lights in downtown Wichita, June 20, 2014.

Forget the vampires. Let’s tackle the real monsters.

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.

Public service announcement crawler on Wichita's cable channel network, June 17, 2014.
Public service announcement crawler on Wichita’s cable channel network, June 17, 2014.
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.

Wichita city government Facebook page public service advice regarding "vampire" power waste.
Wichita city government Facebook page public service advice regarding “vampire” power waste.
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.

Bench lights and street lights in downtown Wichita switched on in the middle of the day.
Bench lights and street lights in downtown Wichita switched on in the middle of the 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.

Two street lights in downtown Wichita, June 20, 2014.
Two street lights in downtown Wichita, June 20, 2014.
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.

city-council-chambers-sign-800

In Wichita, a public hearing with missing information

The Wichita City Council is holding a public hearing, but citizens don’t have information that would be useful if they’re interested in conducting oversight.

Wichita City Library, 1965Wichita’s facade improvement program provides for the financing of the exterior faces of buildings in certain areas of the city. The money that is advanced to the developers, along with interest charges, are added to the property tax bills for the property, spread over 15 years. In this respect the program is similar to when the city builds streets and sewers in new areas of town and allows homeowners to pay these costs over 15 years. Except, the facade improvement program is for repair of existing buildings, not construction of new infrastructure. Additionally, the work financed by the facade improvement program is owned by the private property owner. When the city constructs streets and sewers in new neighborhoods, the city owns them.

There’s another difference. In the item to be considered today, there is a grant of $20,000. This is a gift of cash with few strings attached, except that it be spent on something the owner must spend anyway.

City documents indicate this is a project with a cost of $2,500.000.

Here’s the public policy angle. City documents state, regarding this item:

In 2009, the Facade Improvement Program was revised to require that private funding for overall project costs be at least equal to public funding and that applicants show a financial need for public assistance in order to complete the project, based on the owner’s ability to finance the project and assuming a market-based return on investment.

Later on, the same document states

The Office of Urban Development has reviewed the economic (“gap”) analysis of the project and determined a financial need for incentives based on the current market.

In other words, without the benefit of the facade improvement loan and grant, the project would not be economically feasible. Which, to me, seems curious. A $20,000 grant for a $2,500,000 Economists use a decimal pointproject is 0.8 percent of the project. The lower interest rate for the $156,034 being financed under the program provides some small additional benefit. These values are small compared to the scope of the project. It is not possible to forecast future revenues and expenses with the precision necessary to conclude that the facade improvement program boosts this project over the bar of economic feasibility, whatever that is.

We’ll probably not know what that bar is. I asked for the “gap” analysis. It doesn’t appear that it will be available before today’s meeting. I asked for it Thursday evening, and the city’s public information officer has followed up with me to see if I received the document, but I do not have it. The public doesn’t have it. I doubt if city council members have it.

The item today is a public hearing. The law requires it to be held so that the council can receive input from the public. Whether the public is informed — that’s a different matter.

Who reads the agenda

The agenda packet for the previous week contained a mistake. It was a mistake that is easy to make and not of any serious consequence. The wrong pages appeared for an item, and the correct pages were not in the packet. When I inquired about this late Monday afternoon — not long before the Tuesday meeting — the city’s public information office thanked me for bringing this to the city’s attention. A correction was promptly published.

Which leads me to wonder: Had anyone else read the agenda with sufficient attention to notice that mistake?

At least the street light in the background was turned off.

Wichita advances in the field of cost savings

When Wichita city leaders tell us that the budget and spending have been cut to the bone, that everything that can be done to save money has already been done, remember my Friday trips to downtown for lunch.

With two of the four sidewalk bench lights illuminating the sidewalk despite the cloudless midday sky, there is good news: The street light in the background was not switched on. Neither were other nearby street lights. This is progress for Wichita.

At least the street light in the background was turned off.
At least the street light in the background was turned off.
The lights illustrated in this photograph are, undoubtedly, a small portion of the city’s spending. But you don’t have to look very hard to find waste like this, and we know that small examples of waste are multiplied many times. So when city leaders tell us that there is nowhere left to cut in the budget, that everything that can be done to trim the fat has already been done, and that the only thing we can do is raise taxes — well, think of this photograph and others illustrated in Another Friday lunch, and even more lights are on, To compensate, Wichita switched on the street lights, In Wichita, the streetside seating is illuminated very well, In Wichita, the rooftops are well-lit and On a sunny day in downtown Wichita you can see the street lights.

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.

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Wichita voter opinion on city spending and taxation

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita voters give their opinions on city spending, subsidies for economic development, and their willingness to pay higher taxes for certain services. Since this episode was recorded, the Wichita City Council has given tentative approval for a one cent sales tax to be used for water supply, street maintenance, economic development, and transit. View below, or click here to view on YouTube.

For more from this survey, see

Wichita government prefers rebates to markets

Today the Wichita City Council may decide to revive a program to issue rebates to persons who purchase water-saving appliances. The program was started last summer, but less than half the allocated rebate money was claimed. The city will argue that this program has no cost, as the funds are left over from last year’s program. Except: The city could use the money not spent on rebates to either reduce water rates or retire water system debt. Following is an article from last year on this topic.

Wichita begins rebates and regulation

Instead of relying on market forces, Wichita imposes a new tax and prepares a new regulatory regime.

Equus BedsAt today’s meeting of the Wichita City Council, the city decided to spend up to $1 million this year on rebates to encourage people to buy water-efficient appliances. This will save a vanishingly small amount of water at tremendous cost.

The worst realization from today’s city council meeting is how readily citizens, politicians, and bureaucrats will toss aside economic thinking. The antimarket bias that Bryan Caplan explains in The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies was in full display — even by the conservative members of the council.

It’s also clear that some council members want to go down the road of austerity rather than abundance.

What did we learn today? Many speakers used the terms “conservation” and “judicious.” Conservation is good. Judicious use is good. But each person applies different meanings to these concepts. A great thing about living in a (relatively) free economy is that each person gets to choose to spend their time and money on the things that are important to them, and in the amounts they want. We make these choices many times each day. Sometimes we’re aware of making them, and sometimes we’re not.

For example: If you’re watching television alone in your home, and you go to the kitchen to get a snack, do you turn off the television for the moment that you’re not watching it? No? Well, isn’t it wasting electricity and contributing to global warming to have a switched-on television that no one is watching, even for just a moment?

Some people may turn off the television in this scenario. But most people probably decide that the effort required to save a minute’s worth of electricity consumption by a television isn’t worth the effort required.

(By the way, the type of television programs you watch each evening: Is it worth burning dirty coal (or running precious water through dams, or splitting our finite supply of uranium atoms, or spoiling landscapes and killing birds with wind turbines) just so you can watch Bill O’Reilly or Rachel Maddow rant? Or prison documentaries? Or celebrity gossip? Reruns of shows you’re already seen? And I’ve seen you fall asleep while watching television! What a monumental waste. We should require sleep sensors on all new televisions and rebates to retrofit old sets.)

But when people leave their homes empty to go to work, almost everyone turns off the television, lights, and other appliances. Many may adjust their thermostats to save energy. People make the choice to do this based on the costs of leaving the lights on all day versus the cost of turning them on and off. No one needs to tell them to do this. The relative prices of things do this.

(You may be noting that children have to be told to turn off televisions and lights. That’s true. It’s true because they generally aren’t aware of the prices of things, as they don’t pay utility bills. But adults do.)

In most areas of life, people use the relative prices of things to make decisions about how to allocate their efforts and consume scarce resources. Wichita could be doing that with water, but it isn’t.

The conservation measures recommended by speakers today all have a cost. Sometimes the cost is money. In some cases the cost is time and convenience. In others the cost is a less attractive city without green lawns and working fountains. In many cases, the cost is shifted to someone else who is unwilling to voluntarily bear the cost, as in the rebate program.

At least we’ll be able to measure the cost of the rebate program. For most of the other costs, we’re pretending they don’t exist.

Instead of relying on economics and markets, Wichita is turning to a regulatory regime. Instead of pricing water rationally and letting each person and family decide how much water to use, politicians and bureaucrats will decide for us.

All city council members and the mayor approved this expansion of regulation and taxation.

(Yes, it’s true that the rebates will be funded from the water department, but that’s a distinction without meaningful difference.)

The motion made by Mayor Carl Brewer contained some provisions that are probably good ideas. But it also contained the appliance rebate measure. Someone on the council could have made a substitute motion that omitted the rebates, and there could have been a vote.

But not a single council member would do this.

It’s strange that we turn over such important functions as our water supply to politicians and bureaucrats, isn’t it?

WichitaLiberty.TV set 2014-04-29 01 800

Wichita: We have incentives. Lots of incentives.

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita government leaders complain that Wichita can’t compete in economic development with other cities and states because the budget for incentives is too small. But when making this argument, these officials don’t include all incentives that are available. View below, or click here to view on YouTube. More information on this topic is at Contrary to officials, Wichita has many incentive programs.

Three of four bench lights are switched on near noontime, as well as street lights for two blocks.

Another Friday lunch, and even more lights are on

When Wichita city leaders tell us that the budget and spending have been cut to the bone, that everything that can be done to save money has already been done, remember my Friday trips to downtown for lunch.

Three of four bench lights are switched on near noontime, as well as street lights for two blocks.
Three of four bench lights are switched on near noontime, as well as street lights for two blocks.
Last Friday at lunchtime two of the four sidewalk bench lights were illuminating the midday sidewalk. Yesterday three of four were turned on. You can also see that the street lights for two city blocks were also switched on, and one photograph shows that lights on the top floor of the city-owned parking garage were also turned on.

Near noon on a cloudy day, Wichita turns on bench lights, street lights, and in the distance, the lights on the roof of its parking garage.
Near noon on a cloudy day, Wichita turns on bench lights, street lights, and in the distance, the lights on the roof of its parking garage.
Driving through downtown, there were many other blocks on which the street lights were switched on in the middle of a day. Well, it was cloudy.

The lights illustrated in this photograph are, undoubtedly, a small portion of the city’s spending. But you don’t have to look very hard to find waste like this, and we know that small examples of waste are multiplied many times. So when city leaders tell us that there is nowhere left to cut in the budget, that everything that can be done to trim the fat has already been done, and that the only thing we can do is raise taxes — well, think of this photograph and others illustrated in To compensate, Wichita switched on the street lights, In Wichita, the streetside seating is illuminated very well, In Wichita, the rooftops are well-lit and On a sunny day in downtown Wichita you can see the street lights.

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.

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Government accounting, Government ownership of infrastructure, and Wichita commercial property taxes

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Government leaders tell us they want to run government like a business. But does government actually do this, even when accounting for its money? Then, is it best for government to own all the infrastructure? Finally, taxes on Wichita commercial property are high, compared to the rest of the nation. Episode 46, broadcast June 8, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

State and Local Government Employees, Kansas and Nearby States 2014-06

Government employee costs in the states

The states vary widely in levels of state government and local government employees and payroll costs, calculated on a per-person basis. Kansas ranks high in these costs, nationally and among nearby states.

Two states have annual payroll costs of over $4,000, calculated by taking the total payroll cost and dividing by population. Many states operate on little more than half that. Only ten states have total government employee payroll costs greater than Kansas, on a per-person basis. (This does not include federal government employees.)

State and Local Government Employees, Kansas and Nearby States 2014-06When looking at a selection of nearby states, we see that only Nebraska has higher payroll costs for state and local government employees, when calculated on a per-person basis using the state’s population.

This data is from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2012, the most recent year available. Using Tableau Public, I created an interactive visualization. I show the full-time equivalent employees divided by the population for each state. Also, the annual payroll divided by population. (The Census Bureau supplies payroll data for only one month, the month of March, so I multiply by 12 to produce an approximation of annual payroll cost.)

Using the visualization: Sorting and selecting.
Using the visualization: Sorting and selecting.
There are two series of data, “Local government” and “State government.” The first series refers to the number of local government employees in each state, such as city and county employees. The second series refers to the number of state government employees in each state. Check boxes allow you to include either or both series in the chart.

By clicking on column headers or footers (“State,” “Annual payroll per person,” Full-time equivalent employees per person”) you can sort by these values.

Click here to open the visualization in a new window. Data is from United States Census Bureau, Government Employment & Payroll, released March 2014.

Wichita Streetlights 5-30-2014 11-20-52 AM

To compensate, Wichita switched on the street lights

When Wichita city leaders tell us that the budget and spending have been cut to the bone, that everything that can be done to save money has already been done, remember my Friday trips to downtown for lunch.

Wichita Streetlights 5-30-2014 11-20-52 AMAt 11:20 am on a Friday with the sun brightly accentuating the fluffy clouds, it’s a good thing that only two of the four bench lights are lit. The other two, however, have probably expired from having been switched on all day for the past month.

But to compensate for the loss of those two, it appears the city decided to switch on the nearby overhead street lights.

Wichita Streetlights 5-30-2014 11-24-15 AMThe lights illustrated in this photograph are, undoubtedly, a small portion of the city’s spending. But you don’t have to look very hard to find waste like this, and we know that small examples of waste are multiplied many times. So when city leaders tell us that there is nowhere left to cut in the budget, that everything that can be done to trim the fat has already been done, and that the only thing we can do is raise taxes — well, think of this photograph and others illustrated in In Wichita, the streetside seating is illuminated very well, In Wichita, the rooftops are well-lit and On a sunny day in downtown Wichita you can see the street lights.

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.

‘Earmark Distribution Agency,’ dealer of pork, proposed for elimination

From the office of United States Representative Mike Pompeo, an example of Rep. Pompeo opposing corporate and business welfare that benefits a few parties at detriment to the rest of the economy. Video of Pompeo speaking on the floor of the House on this matter is here, or below.

Congressman Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, offered an amendment to H.R. 4660, the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015, to eliminate the Economic Development Administration (or the “Earmark Distribution Agency”). The amendment would send EDA’s total funding — $247 million in FY 2015 — to the Deficit Reduction Account, saving up to $2.5 billion over 10 years based on current levels.

“We need to solve America’s debt crisis before it is too late, and that means reducing wasteful spending, no matter the agency or branch of government,” said Rep. Pompeo. “The EDA should be called the ‘Earmark Distribution Agency,’ as it continues to spend taxpayer dollars on local pet projects in a way similar to congressional earmarks — which have already been banned by the House.” Examples of the “Earmark Distribution Agency” spending taxpayer dollars wastefully:

    Harry Reid Research Park
  • In 2008, the EDA provided $2,000,000 to begin construction of the UNLV Harry Reid Research and Technology Park in Las Vegas, NV. Currently the UNLV Harry Reid Research & Technology Park features a paved road and a website claiming the first anticipated tenant would move in in 2010. (There’s nothing there.)
  • In 2010, $25,000,000 was spent by the EDA for a Global Climate Mitigation Incentive Fund and $2,000,000 for a “culinary amphitheater,” wine tasting room and gift shop in Washington State.
  • In 2011, the EDA gave a New Mexico town $1,500,000 to renovate a theater.
  • In 2013, the EDA also gave Massachusetts $1.4 million to promote new video games.
  • Back in the 1980s, the EDA used taxpayer dollars to build replicas of the Great Wall of China and the Egyptian Pyramids in the middle of Indiana. They were never completed—it is now a dumping ground for tires.

Rep. Pompeo concluded: “EDA has for too long been the dumping ground for taxpayer money. The road to America’s return to fiscal sanity starts with abolishing this agency.