Jonathan Williams, Vice President in charge of the Center for State Fiscal Reform at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), addressed a luncheon gathering of the Wichita Pachyderm Club on July 22, 2016, presenting “A National Perspective on Kansas Fiscal Policy.” View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Videography by Paul Soutar.
It’s interesting to look at campaign finance reports. Following, a few highlights on a report from the David Dennis campaign. He’s a candidate for Sedgwick County Commission in the August Republican Party primary election. The report was filed July 25, 2016, covering the period from January 1, 2016 through July 21, 2016. These reports are available online at the Sedgwick County Election Office website.
Keith Stevens, $200
A longtime Democrat community activist, always on the side of higher taxes and more government spending.
Suzanne F. Ahlstrand, $250
Gary & Cathy Schmitt, $100
Jon E. Rosell, $100
Charlie Chandler, Maria Chandler, $1,000 total
Al and Judy Higdon, $500
James & Vera Bothner, $250
Lyndon O. & Marty Wells, $500
All are, or have been, affiliated with the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce in various roles, including paid staff and leadership. At one time local chambers of commerce were dedicated to pro-growth economic policies and free markets. But no longer. The Wichita Chamber regularly advocates for more taxes (the 2014 Wichita sales tax campaign was run by the Wichita Chamber), more spending, more cronyism, and less economic freedom. It campaigns against fiscally conservative candidates when the alternative is a candidate in favor of more taxes. The Chamber says it does all this in the name of providing jobs in Wichita. If you’re wondering who ground down the Wichita economy over the past few decades, look no further than the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates who have run Wichita’s economic development bureaucracy.
Harvey Sorensen, $500
Sorensen was one of the drivers behind the 2014 one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax proposal, serving as co-chair of Yes Wichita, the primary group campaigning for the tax. In a public forum Sorensen said, “Koch Industries is going to spend a million dollars to try to kill the future of our community.”1 Wichita voters rejected that sales tax, with 62 percent of voters voting “No.”2 Since the election, we’ve learned that we can satisfy our water future needs by spending much less than Sorensen recommended, at least $100 million less.3 Part of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce cabal, Sorensen has played both sides of the street, having donated $500 to Jeff Longwell and the same amount to his opponent Sam Williams in the 2015 Wichita mayoral election. We might be led to wonder if Sorenson makes contributions based on sincerely held beliefs regarding public policy, or simply for access to officeholders.
Jon, Lauren, David, and Barbara Rolph, $2,000 total
Jon Rolph was another co-chair of Yes Wichita, the primary group campaigning for the 2014 Wichita city sales tax. Since then he’s floated the idea of trying again for a city sales tax.
Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union No. 441 Political Action Committee, $500
Labor unions rarely — very rarely — make campaign contributions to Republicans. Except for David Dennis.
Bryan K & Sheila R Frye, $50
Bryan Frye is a newly-elected Wichita City Council member who has quickly found a home among the other big-taxing, big-spending council members. He’d very much like a county commissioner who is compliant with more taxes and more spending — like David Dennis.
Lynn W. & Kristine L. Rogers, $50
Lynn Rogers is a Republican-turned-Democrat. As a member of the Wichita public schools board, he is an advocate for more school spending, less school accountability, and no school choice.
Alan J. & Sharon K. Fearey, $100
A Democrat, Sharon Fearey served two terms on the Wichita City Council. She was always an advocate for more taxes and spending, even scolding the Wichita Eagle when it thwarted her spending plans.
Foley Equipment, $500
Ann Konecny, $500
Foley was an advocate for the 2014 Wichita city sales tax, contributing $5,000 to the campaign. The next year, Foley asked for an exemption from property taxes and the sales tax that it campaigned for.4 Foley wanted poor people in Wichita to pay more sales tax on groceries, but didn’t want to pay that same sales tax itself.
BF Wichita, L.L.C., $500
A company affiliated with George Laham. He’s a partner in the taxpayer-subsidized River Vista Apartment project on the west bank of the Arkansas River north of Douglas Avenue. Rumor is that the apartment project will be abandoned in favor of selling the land as the site for an office building.
Automation Plus, $500
Sheryl Wohlford, Vice President, is a longtime progressive activist, a member of Wichita Downtown Vision Team. In short, someone who knows how to spend your money better than you.
Steven E. Cox, Janis E. Cox, $1,000 total
Owners of Cox Machine, this company regularly applies for and receives taxpayer-funded incentives, including the forgiveness of paying sales tax. Yet, this company contributed $2,000 to the campaign for the 2014 Wichita city sales tax.
Leon or Karen Lungwitz, $500
Owner of company where Wichita mayor Jeff Longwell once worked.
Slawson Commercial Properties, LLC, $500
Socora Homes, Inc., $500
New Market 1, LLC, $500
Buildings 22-23-24, LLC, $500
All are Slawson companies, advocates of and beneficiaries of taxpayer-funded subsidies.
Carl & Cathy Brewer, $200
The Democrat former mayor of Wichita. Enough said about that.
Tom Winters, $250
Winters is emblematic of the big-taxing, big-spending Republican officeholder who believes he knows how to spend your money better than you. Karl Peterjohn defeated Winters in the August 2008 primary election.
Timothy R. Austin, $150
We might label Austin as “engineer for the cronies” based on his frequent appearances before governmental bodies advocating for taxpayer-funded subsidy for his clients.
- Ryan, Kelsey. Comment on Koch involvement in sales tax heats up debate. Wichita Eagle, October 29, 2014. Available at www.kansas.com/news/local/article3456024.html. ↩
- Sedgwick County Election Office. November 4th, 2014 General Election Official Results — Sedgwick County. Available at www.sedgwickcounty.org/elections/election_results/Gen14/index.html. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, the phased approach to water supply can save a bundle. wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-phased-approach-water-supply-can-save-bundle/. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, campaigning for a tax, then asking for exemption from paying. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/campaigning-for-tax-then-asking-for-exemption-from-paying/. ↩
Sedgwick County government trimmed spending on health. What has been the result so far?
During last year’s Sedgwick County budget hearings, there were warnings that trimming spending on health would decimate the health department’s ability to provide services. But after six months, that hasn’t been the case.
The nearby table shows measures of services provided for the first six months of this year compared to the same period the year before. The source of this data is the Sedgwick County Health Department, with my added column calculating the percent change. For most categories of service, the amount provided has risen or fallen slightly. The exception is WIC, the Women, Infants, and Children program. Participation in this program has fallen in Sedgwick County every year since peaking in 2010, mirroring the national trend.1
Is Kansas government “hollowed-out” even though spending is rising?
In the Wichita Eagle, Burdett Loomis writes: “In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback and a far-right Kansas House of Representatives began to hollow out state government, all in the name of smaller, more efficient, more private administration.”1
Loomis doesn’t define what he means by “hollow out” but the measure of the size of government is spending. Not taxation, but spending, because if government spends without taxing by the same amount, someone has to pay, eventually. Or, in the case of Kansas, we spent funds saved from years when Kansas collected more than it spent. (Yes, Kansans were over-taxed.) Then, we raised taxes.
In recent history Kansas general fund spending hasn’t fallen, except for one year, and that doesn’t “hollow out” government. Tax revenue declined, but what did Kansas do in response? Instead of cutting spending, the state engaged in deficit spending. For two years in a row, Kansas spent over $300 million each year from its savings in order to support (mostly) increasing spending. When that savings ran out, the state raised taxes rather than cutting spending.2
Charts at the end of this article show Kansas government spending, from general fund and all funds spending. One chart shows total dollars spent, and one shows per-capita spending. Both are adjusted for inflation. On these charts it’s difficult to see where total spending has been cut or slashed in recent years. All funds spending continues its upward trend, with a few exceptions. General fund spending remains level or trending slightly upwards.
Loomis: “But the value of a stable, reliable state government that delivers core programs in education, transportation, health and social services remains a bedrock element of most successful American states.”
Education spending in Kansas is not falling.3 Tables at Kansas State Department of Education have the numbers.4 Now we hear that the increases in spending are “all KPERS,” meaning contributions to the state retirement fund for teachers, and the state has recently changed to method of reporting KPERS contributions in a way that artificially inflates school spending. But Kansas State Department of Education says the method of reporting KPERS has not changed for ten years.5 Maybe we should ask former governor Kathleen Sebelius why she changed the method of reporting KPERS contributions in a way that (purportedly) artificially inflates school spending.
By the way, when writing about “reliable” state services, I wish Loomis would take notice of the huge gaps in achievement in our state’s schools between white students and minority students. For Kansas white students, 42 percent are proficient in reading at grade 4. For Kansas black students, only 15 percent are proficient, and 20 percent of Kansas Hispanic students. Similar gaps appear in reading at grade 8, and in math at grades 4 and 8.6 The sad fact is that this gap is reliable, occurring year after year.
As for transportation, there have been transfers from the state’s transportation fund to the general fund. This has been going on for a long time. But look at actual spending on roads. KDOT’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows spending in the categories “Preservation” and “Expansion and Enhancement” has grown rapidly over the past five years. Spending in the category “Maintenance” has been level, while spending on “Modernization” has declined. For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2015 totaled $932,666 million, up from a low of $698,770 in fiscal 2010. This is actual spending on roads without regard to transfers in or out of the highway fund.7
And while critics of the current administration focus on transfers from the highway fund, look at transfers to the fund. Nearby is a chart showing how many sales tax dollars were transferred to the highway fund. In 2006 the transfer was $98,914 million, and by 2015 it had grown to $511,586 million, an increase of 417 percent. Inflation rose by 18 percent over the same period.8
I’ll leave it to someone else to research spending on health and social services.
Near the end of the article, Loomis writes: “Over the past few years, much of the political discourse has focused on shrinking revenues from tax cuts.” But we should really be looking at the level of spending.
Now: Could it be possible that even with rising state spending that services are, in fact, being “hollowed out?” Yes. Absolutely. It is, after all, government providing these services.
Notes for charts:
Data is from Kansas Fiscal Facts 2015
2015 through 2017 are approved figures, not actual spending
2015 and beyond population are my estimates
CPI is Consumer Price Index – All Urban Consumers, CUUR0000AA0
- Loomis, Burdett. Kansas is becoming a hollowed-out state. Wichita Eagle, July 9, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article88555862.html. ↩
- Kansas has been borrowing, however. See: Weeks, Bob. Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-transportation-bonds-economics-worse-than-told/. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Kansas school spending: Visualization. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-spending-visualization/. ↩
- Kansas State Department of Education. Total Expenditures by District. Available at www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services/School-Finance/Budget-Information/Total-Expenditures-by-District. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. KPERS payments and Kansas schools. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kpers-payments-kansas-schools/. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. ‘Game on’ makes excuses for Kansas public schools. Available at wichitaliberty.org/tag/wichita-and-kansas-schools/. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Kansas highway spending. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-highway-spending/. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Sales tax revenue and the Kansas highway fund. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/sales-tax-revenue-kansas-highway-fund/. ↩
Considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.
When considering all state and local government employees, Kansas spent $249.73 per person on payroll (March only).1 This was 15th highest among the states, District of Columbia, and nation as a whole. There were 14.9 citizens for each FTE (full-time equivalent employee), which ranks fourth highest.
In other words, Kansas has many government employees compared to other states, and these employees are costly, again compared to other states.
When considering all elementary and secondary education employees, Kansas spent $93.36 per person on payroll (March only). This was 15th highest among the states, District of Columbia, and nation as a whole. There were 33.8 citizens for each FTE (full-time equivalent employee), which ranks third highest.
In other words, Kansas has many elementary and secondary education employees compared to other states, and these employees are costly, again compared to other states.
Similar results are found for higher education employees. Fortunately, Kansas has zero employees working in state-owned liquor stores.
An interactive visualization of state and local direct general expenditures, per capita. Click here to open the visualization.
Data is from State & Local Government Finance Data Query System. Available here. 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 (1977-2013). Date of Access: (20-Jun-2016).
On Facebook, a citizen makes an appeal to her cousin, who is a member of the Kansas Legislature.
What should we do regarding the school funding “crisis” in Kansas? One citizen made an appeal to her cousin — a member of the Kansas Legislature — through Facebook. I’ll omit names to respect the privacy of both parties.
The writer stated, “The children of our state are on the line here. We need our public schools.” Well, children need education, but it doesn’t have to be delivered through public schools.
She also wrote, “This isn’t about politics anymore, it’s about our kids. Kids who have NO chance at attending private schools.” Examining this statement — that there are kids who have no chance at attending a private school — is illuminating. Let’s look at some figures.
For the school year ending in 2015, Kansas State Department of Education reports that Kansas schools spent a total of $13,124 per student. Of that, $8,567 was state aid, $1,101 was federal aid, and $3,469 was from local revenue.1
Now, what does a private school cost? Considering schools not affiliated with a church — although some of these provide a classical Christian education — there are some that cost less than total spending, and even less than just the Kansas state aid per pupil.2
So the writer might be surprised to learn that the taxpayers of the State of Kansas are already paying more than some private school prices. If the state would be willing to let parents spend these funds at schools of their choice, then any Kansas child would be able to afford a private school education. This could be accomplished through tax credit scholarships, vouchers, or education savings accounts. Kansas does, in fact, have a tax credit scholarship program, but it is limited — crippled, I would say — and the Kansas public school establishment fights against it.
The writer pleaded this: “Needy kids who have the RIGHT to a free and good public education.” I would refer the writer to my article Kansas NAEP scores for 2015 and ask her to take note of the performance of black and Hispanic students in Kansas. For example, 42 percent of Kansas white students are proficient in reading at grade 4. For black students, it’s 15 percent. Are these black students receiving a “good” public education? Of course not. And is there any amount of additional spending that will correct this? If the money is spent through the existing school system the answer is: No, probably not. At least considering any additional sums that are within the realm of political possibility.
There are school reforms available in other states that have found to be very helpful to black and Hispanic students. The Kansas public school establishment fights to keep these reforms out of Kansas.
In making her plea for additional school spending, the writer pleads to her legislator cousin, “I know you have a wonderful, giving heart.” But when legislators vote to spend funds for any purpose, they aren’t giving from their heart. They’re simply using the power of government to transfer money from one person to another. There’s nothing wonderful about that.
- Kansas State Department of Education. Total Expenditures by District, Entire State. Available at www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/data_warehouse/total_expenditures/d0Stateexp.pdf. ↩
- For example, see Classical School of Wichita at around $6,000 per year, Cair Paravel Latin School in Topeka at around $7,000 to $8,000 per year, and the Independent School in Wichita from $10,000 to $10,600 per year. ↩
What’s wrong with the term “government schools?”
A recent op-ed in the Wichita Eagle read: “Some have begun to call public schools ‘government schools,’ a calculated pejorative scorning both education and anything related to government.”1
This is not the only time people have objected to the term “government schools.” Public schools bristle at use of the term. In a 2008 email from Wichita School Interim Superintendent Martin Libhart to Wichita school employees, he took issue with those who, using his words, “openly refer to public education as ‘government schools.'”2 “Openly refer,” he writes, as though it should be kept a secret.
It’s surprising that liberals and progressives object to the term “government schools.” They like government, don’t they? They want more taxation and government spending, don’t they?
When we think about public schools, we find they have all the characteristics of government programs.
Public schools are owned by government.
Their funding comes almost totally from governmental sources, which is to say taxes. (Isn’t it strange that few will donate to public schools?) If you can’t use the services of public schools and don’t want to pay for them — even if you are also paying for other schools that meet your needs — the full weight of the government will come crashing down on you.
Through laws passed by government, public schools are guaranteed a stream of customers.
Public schools are regulated — heavily — by government.
The members of their “board of directors” (the local school board) are chosen through a governmental process — elections.
Public schools are welcoming to labor unions at the time the private sector is becoming less unionized. In fact, labor unions are becoming a hallmark of government, and government only.3
Accountability of public schools, like other forms of government, is weak.
In sum, public schools have all the negative attributes of government institutions and few or none of the positive characteristics that make markets the source of continuous improvement and innovation. So I guess it isn’t surprising that public school advocates like Merritt object to being lumped in with government in general. But public schools share all the characteristics of government, and government is the worst way to supply services except in a few special instances.
What’s also troubling is how Merritt equates using the term “government schools” with scorn for education. Turning over education to government — with its litany of troubles as listed above — is scornful for children.
Merritt and others want to have the benefits of governmental institutions without accepting the reality of what government means. That’s a shame for Kansas schoolchildren.
- Merritt, Davis. Can traditional conservatism save Kansas schools? Wichita Eagle, May 17, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article77969617.html. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Wichita School Superintendent Martin Libhart: What’s Wrong With “Government Schools?” Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/wichita-school-superintendent-martin-libhart-whats-wrong-with-government-schools/. ↩
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union Members Summary. January 28, 2016. Available at www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm. ↩
Since funding for and management of the Sedgwick County Zoo is in the news, here are some articles showing how generous the county has been with funding.
Sedgwick County Zoo funding
The Sedgwick County Commission has been generous with zoo funding, spending far more than agreed upon and granting a moratorium on loan payments and interest.
In September 2013 the Sedgwick County Commission agreed on a new funding plan with the Sedgwick County Zoo for years 2014 through 2018. For 2016 the recommended budget calls for keeping funding the same as the 2015 level instead of a 6.9 percent increase as indicated by the 2013 plan.
That’s the plan. What actually happened is quite different.
In September 2014 the commission voted to give the zoo $5.3 million to help pay for a new elephant exhibit. This contribution was not in any funding agreement, and the money was paid in January 2015. This extra funding is almost as large as the planned funding for 2015, which was about $5.6 million.
July 28, 2015. Click here for the full article.
For Sedgwick County Zoo, a moratorium on its commitment
As the Sedgwick County Zoo and its supporters criticize commissioners for failing to honor commitments, the Zoo is enjoying a deferral of loan payments and a break from accumulating interest charges.
What happened? The county loaned the zoo money to build a restaurant. But the zoo was not able to make the payments as agreed. So the county deferred the payments. I’ll be surprised if the zoo makes any payments after the deferral period ends.
July 28, 2015. Click here for the full article.
Cost of restoring quality of life spending cuts in Sedgwick County: 43 deaths
An analysis of public health spending in Sedgwick County illuminates the consequences of public spending decisions. In particular, those calling for more spending on zoos and arts must consider the lives that could be saved by diverting this spending to public health, according to analysis from Kansas Health Institute.
August 11, 2015. Click here for the full article.
Spending by the Wichita public school district, adjusted for inflation and enrollment.
Has spending by the Wichita public school district risen or fallen? A nearby chart shows recent spending figures. These figures are expressed on a per-student basis using full-time equivalent enrollment, adjusted to reflect changes in the consumer price index.
(Current expenditures do not include facility acquisition and construction service, debt principal retirement, interest expense, and other expense. Over the past ten years, total expenditures per student have averaged $2,219 per year more than current expenditures.)
Should anyone want to politicize these figures, note that the years of decline were under a Democratic governor and a one cent per dollar sales tax increase. For the past three years, these three measurements of spending have risen each year.
Spending data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, Miscellaneous Statistics, page 122.
Enrollment data from Kansas State Department of Education, available at http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/data_warehouse/total_expenditures/d0259exp.pdf.
Data adjusted for inflation using Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Could the Wichita public school district reduce spending on administration to previous levels?
In fiscal 2006 (the school year ending in 2006), the Wichita public school district spent $32,799,723 on administration. The amount rose and fell and rose again, with the district spending $42,353,120 in 2015.
If we express these figures on a per-student basis and adjust them for inflation, the district spent $851 in 2006, and $896 in 2015. Like spending in total dollars, that figure rose, then fell, and then rose again.
Could the Wichita public school district cut administration spending to 2006 levels, on a per-student, inflation-adjusted basis?
If the district could do this, that would reduce costs by $45 per student. With FTE enrollment for 2015 at 47,254.4, the district could save $2,126,448. Or it could use those savings to offset reductions in spending in other areas.
It’s up to the Wichita school district to decide.
Spending data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, Miscellaneous Statistics, page 122.
Enrollment data from Kansas State Department of Education, available at http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/data_warehouse/total_expenditures/d0259exp.pdf.
Data adjusted for inflation using Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Despite years of purported budget cuts, the Wichita public school district has been able to improve its student/teacher ratios.
When discussing school funding, there is controversy over how spending should be measured. What funds are included? Is KPERS included? Should we adjust for enrollment and inflation? What about bond and interest funds and capital outlay?
The largest expenditures of schools — some 80 percent nationwide — is personnel costs. In Kansas, and Wichita in particular, we’re told that budget cuts are causing school class sizes to increase.
When we look at numbers, we see that the Wichita school district has been able to reduce its student/teacher ratios substantially over the last ten years. (Student/teacher ratio is not the same statistic as class size.) There have been a few ups and downs along the way, but for all three school levels, the ratios are lower than they were ten years ago, and by substantial margins.
This means that Wichita schools have been able to increase employment of teachers at a faster rate than enrollment has risen.
So however spending is categorized in funds, whether KPERS contributions are included or not, whether the funding comes from state or local sources, whether spending is adjusted for inflation, the Wichita school district has been able to improve its student/teacher ratios.
Data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, Miscellaneous Statistics, page 122, and CAFR from other years.
Explaining common economic development programs in Kansas.
TIF projects: Some background
Tax increment financing disrupts the usual flow of tax dollars, routing funds away from cash-strapped cities, counties, and schools back to the TIF-financed development. TIF creates distortions in the way cities develop, and researchers find that the use of TIF means lower economic growth. Click here.
Tax increment financing (TIF) resources
Resources on tax increment financing (TIF) districts. Click here.
STAR bonds in Kansas
The Kansas STAR bonds program provides a mechanism for spending by autopilot, without specific appropriation by the legislature. Click here.
Industrial Revenue Bonds in Kansas
Industrial Revenue Bonds are a mechanism that Kansas cities and counties use to allow companies to avoid paying property and sales taxes. Click here.
Community Improvement Districts in Kansas
In Kansas Community Improvement Districts, merchants charge additional sales tax for the benefit of the property owners, instead of the general public. Click here.
In Kansas, PEAK has a leak
A Kansas economic development incentive program is pitched as being self-funded, but is probably a drain on the state treasure nonetheless. Click here.
Government intervention may produce unwanted incentives
A Kansas economic development incentive program has the potential to alter hiring practices for reasons not related to applicants’ job qualifications. Click here.
State of Kansas
A page at the Kansas Department of Commerce with incentive programs is here.
Wichita’s mayor pens an op-ed that is counter to facts that he knows, or should know.
That’s the mayor’s opinion. The facts, as can be easily found in government documents, are that the Wichita mill levy rises nearly every year.2 Since 2005 it has risen every year.
The mayor, city council, and bureaucrats say they have not taken action to raise the mill levy. They also say the mill levy is set by the county. All this is true.
But the county sets the mill levy based on two factors, one the city controls: The amount it decides to spend. The other factor, the assessed valuation of property, is not controlled by the city. So it is understandable that the mill levy may vary by small amounts from year to year when the two numbers are melded to form the actual mill levy. Some years the levy might rise, and in some years, it may fall. If it is a truly random matter, we should expect that over time the number of rising years and falling years should be equal, and that the overall change should be near zero.
But in Wichita, the mill levy rises nearly every year. And over time, since 1995, it has risen by 4.46 percent.
(Besides that, there has been a shift in the application of property tax revenue, with revenue was diverted from debt service to current spending. As recently as 2007 the city devoted 31 percent of property tax revenue to debt service. In 2015 it was 26 percent.)
What should concern Wichitans about their mayor’s op-ed is that he knows these facts. Or, at least he should. Despite the data that is readily available in the city’s comprehensive annual financial reports, Mayor Longwell has chosen to remain misinformed and/or uninformed, and to spread that to citizens.
Following are excerpts from the minutes of the August 7, 2012 council meeting, which Jeff Longwell attended as council member, and following that, video.
Wichita City Council, August 7, 2012
Bob Weeks 2451 Regency Lakes Court stated we say the City has not raised its mill levy in a long time and thinks it is true that this Council has not taken action to raise the mill levy, but it has increased. Stated in 2002 the City’s mill levy was 31.845 and last year 32.359, which is an increase of about half a mill or 1.6 percent. Stated we should also recognize that property tax revenue increased from about $83 million to $118 million dollars or 42 percent. Stated we did not experience anything near that in the rate of growth of population or inflation? even the two put together. Stated in the City sales tax collection for the same years, $41 million to about $55 million or 34 percent increase. Stated City revenues have increased quite a bit even though the Council has not taken explicit action to increase either the sales tax rate or the property tax rate. Stated another thing he is concerned about is shifting one mill of property tax revenue from the debt service fund to the general fund. Stated over the past years since 2007 there has been a shift of about 2.5 mills, which is more than the explicit policy of one mill, which will be ending over the next two years. Stated we have not delayed paying off debt in the sense that we have not made our scheduled bond payments but that 2.5 mills could have been used to retire debt instead of supporting current spending. Stated we could have repurchased some of our outstanding bonds or we could have used that money to pay for things that we borrowed for. Stated we need to realize that we have been not taking advantage of opportunities to retire longterm debt and had been redirecting that spending to current fund spending, which is where Cowtown and the Nature Center come from. Stated we need to be aware of these types of things as we make the policies going forward.
Mayor Brewer asked staff to explain the figures that Mr. Weeks was talking about.
Kelly Carpenter Finance Director stated regarding the mill levy, they started out at 10 mills in the capital improvement plan. Stated they reduced that down to 7.5 mills and now we are gradually increasing that mill levy back up in the debt service fund to 8.5 mills over the next two years.
Council Member O’Donnell stated he was referring that the mill levy has actually increased.
Kelly Carpenter Finance Director stated the overall mill levy has not increased within the last 19 years. Stated there has been a shift between the general fund and the debt service fund but the overall mill levy of the 32 mills has not increased.
Council Member O’Donnell asked Mr. Weeks to return to the podium and asked where his figures are from.
Bob Weeks stated from the 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, page H17. Stated they are the numbers that he extracted from that report. Stated it may not be that this Council took an action to raise the mill levy but somehow it did increase.
Council Member O’Donnell asked staff to answer that.
Mark Manning Finance Department the mill levy is set by the county and what they tell the Council each year is that the mill levy in the proposed budget is not changed from the mill levy certified by the county, the prior year. Stated they do not know what the mill levy will be for 2013 right now and will not know until November when the county finalizes its evaluation. Stated it may be slightly higher or lower and that is why you see those annual fluctuations. Stated Mr. Weeks is correct? some years it goes up and some years it goes down a little bit. Stated it does fluctuate and there is nothing we can do to control that but the general policy has been to keep it level for the last 19 years.
- Mayor Jeff Longwell: Property tax lid needs exemption for public safety. Wichita Eagle. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article74286642.html. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Wichita property tax rate: Up again. Voice For Liberty in Wichita. Available at.wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-property-tax-rate-up-again/. ↩
Kansas Center for Economic Growth, often cited as an authority by Kansas news media and politicians, is not the independent and unbiased source it claims to be.
When supporters of more government spending and taxation in Kansas want to bolster their case, they often turn to Kansas Center for Economic Growth (KCEG). Portraying itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization,” KCEG says its mission is “to advance responsible policies by informing public discussion through credible, fact-based materials.” It says it conducts research and analysis to “promote balanced state policies.” 1
As it turns out, KCEG is not really the nonpartisan, independent think tank it pretends to be. Instead, as shown below, KCEG is a side project of Kansas Action for Children, Inc.. Both organizations are funded by and affiliated with well-known liberal organizations whose goals are always to expand the size and scope of government.
This is of interest to Kansans as groups that support low taxes, efficient government spending, and economic freedom are often maligned as being merely puppets of larger organizations that hide their purportedly nefarious goals. In particular, Kansas Policy Institute is often mentioned in this regard.
On its website KPI says it is “an independent think-tank that advocates for free market solutions and the protection of personal freedom for all Kansans.” 2 Also, KPI says it produces “objective research and creative ideas to promote a low-tax, pro-growth environment.”
Whenever KPI is mentioned, often condemnation of American Legislative Exchange Council follows, scorned for purportedly being a shadowy outfit that forces model legislation on unwitting legislators. But ALEC’s mission is quite clear and transparent. Its website says ALEC is “dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.” Economic freedom is also mentioned. ALEC says it provides a “toolkit for anyone who wants to increase the effectiveness and reduce the size, reach and cost of government.” 3
These mission statements plainly state the purposes of KPI and ALEC. Contrast them with the mission of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which is filled with material like this: “We pursue federal and state policies designed both to reduce poverty and inequality and to restore fiscal responsibility in equitable and effective ways.” 4 “Fiscal responsibility” can mean almost anything. To CBPP and its affiliates like KCEG, it means more taxes and more spending.
That dovetails cleanly with the preference of most Kansas newspapers. They — and most other news outlets — call for more spending and more taxation as the solution to all problems, state and local. They do so explicitly on their editorial pages, which is their right and privilege. In their news reporting, by using KCEG as an “objective” source, they rely on a source that isn’t being honest about its independence, its organizational status, and its ingrained policy preferences.
Who — or what — is Kansas Center for Economic Growth?
On its website, Kansas Center for Economic Growth (KCEG) says it is a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.” But no records exist for this entity at either the IRS or Kansas Secretary of State. Instead, KCEG uses Kansas Action for Children, Inc. (KAC) as its “fiscal agent” and funding source. KAC is a registered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.
On its IRS form 990s, KAC lists a grant from AECF and SFAI, the purpose of which is supporting the type of work KCEG performs. AECF is Annie E. Casey Foundation, a non-profit with income of nearly $223 million and an endowment of $2.9 billion, according to most up-to-date IRS form 990 available. SFAI is State Priorities Partnership, originally founded as the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative (SFAI). It lists KCEG as a partner organization. 5 Both organizations promote solutions involving more government spending and taxation.
State Priorities Partnership, in turn, is coordinated by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). 6 CBPP promotes itself as pursuing “federal and state policies designed both to reduce poverty and inequality and to restore fiscal responsibility in equitable and effective ways.” 7 Its recommend policies nearly always call for more government spending and taxation.
In 2013 Bob Weeks was recognized by the Kansas Policy Institute with the John J. Ingalls Spirit of Freedom Award, given annually to a Kansan who uniquely supports the principles of individual liberty and economic freedom.
- Kansas Center for Economic Growth. About Us. Available at realprosperityks.com/about-us/. ↩
- Kansas Policy Institute. About. Available at kansaspolicy.org/about/. ↩
- American Legislative Exchange Council. About ALEC. Available at www.alec.org/about/. ↩
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Our Mission. Available at www.cbpp.org/about/mission-history. ↩
- State Priorities Partnership. State Priorities Partners. Available at statepriorities.org/state-priorities-partners/. ↩
- State Priorities Partnership. About. Available at statepriorities.org/about/. ↩
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Our Mission and History. Available at www.cbpp.org/about/mission-history. ↩
In Rich States, Poor States, Kansas continues with middle-of-the-pack performance, and fell sharply in the forward-looking forecast.
In the 2016 edition of Rich States, Poor States, Utah continues its streak at the top of Economic Outlook Ranking, meaning that the state is poised for growth and prosperity. Kansas continues with middle-of-the-pack performance rankings, and fell sharply in the forward-looking forecast.
Rich States, Poor States is produced by American Legislative Exchange Council. The authors are economist Dr. Arthur B. Laffer, Stephen Moore, who is Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Project for Economic Growth at The Heritage Foundation, and Jonathan Williams, who is vice president for the Center for State Fiscal Reform at ALEC.
Rich States, Poor States computes two measures for each state. The first is the Economic Performance Ranking, described as “a backward-looking measure based on a state’s performance on three important variables: State Gross Domestic Product, Absolute Domestic Migration, and Non-Farm Payroll Employment — all of which are highly influenced by state policy.” The process looks at the past ten years.
Looking forward, there is the Economic Outlook Ranking, “a forecast based on a state’s current standing in 15 state policy variables. Each of these factors is influenced directly by state lawmakers through the legislative process. Generally speaking, states that spend less — especially on income transfer programs, and states that tax less — particularly on productive activities such as working or investing — experience higher growth rates than states that tax and spend more.”
For economic performance, Kansas is twenty-seventh. That’s up from twenty-eighth last year.
In this year’s compilation for economic outlook, Kansas ranks twenty-seventh, down from eighteenth last year and fifteenth the year before. In 2008, the first year for this measure, Kansas was twenty-ninth.
Kansas compared to other states
A nearby chart shows the Economic Outlook Ranking for Kansas and some nearby states, shown as a trend over time since 2008. The peak of Kansas in 2013 is evident, as is the decline since then.
Why Kansas fell
Kansas fell in the Economic Outlook Ranking from 2013 to 2016. To investigate why, I gathered data for Kansas from 2008 to 2016. The nearby table shows the results for 2016 and the rank among the states, with the trend since 2008 shown. A rank of one is the best ranking, so for the trend lines, an upward slope means a decline in ranking, meaning the state is performing worse.
There are several areas that may account for the difference.
The most notable change is in the measure “Recently Legislated Tax Changes (per $1,000 of personal income)” Kansas fell four positions in rank. By this measure, Kansas added $2.67 in taxes per $1,000 of personal income, which ranked forty-seventh among the states. This is a large change in a negative direction, as Kansas had ranked seventh the year before.
In “Property Tax Burden (per $1,000 of personal income)” Kansas improved one position in the rankings, despite the tax burden rising.
In “Sales Tax Burden (per $1,000 of personal income)” Kansas fell one spot in rank. The burden is calculated proportional to personal income. The sales tax burden, as measured this way, fell slightly in Kansas, but the ranking fell in comparison to other states. (Although the Kansas sales tax rate rose in 2015, this report uses data from 2013, which is the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s likely that the 2015 sales tax hike will increase this burden, but whether the ranking changes depends on actions in other states.)
Kansas improved six rank positions for “Debt Service as a Share of Tax Revenue.”
Kansas remains one of the states with the most public employees, with 672 full-time equivalent employees per 10,000 population. This ranks forty-eighth among the states.
Kansas has no tax and spending limits, which is a disadvantage compared to other states. These limitations could be in the form of an expenditure limit, laws requiring voter approval of tax increases, or supermajority requirements in the legislature to pass tax increases.
How valuable is the ranking?
After the 2012 rankings were computed, ALEC looked retrospectively at rankings compared to actual performance. The nearby chart shows the correlation of ALEC-Laffer state policy ranks and state economic performance. In its discussion, ALEC concluded:
There is a distinctly positive relationship between the Rich States, Poor States’ economic outlook rankings and current and subsequent state economic health.
The formal correlation is not perfect (i.e., it is not equal to 100 percent) because there are other factors that affect a state’s economic prospects. All economists would concede this obvious point. However, the ALEC-Laffer rankings alone have a 25 to 40 percent correlation with state performance rankings. This is a very high percentage for a single variable considering the multiplicity of idiosyncratic factors that affect growth in each state — resource endowments, access to transportation, ports and other marketplaces, etc.
An op-ed on the Kansas economy needs context and correction.
An op-ed about the Kansas economy needs a few corrections before the people of Illinois get a wrong impression of Kansas. The article is Opinion: GOP economics devastated Kansas, published in the Alton (Illinois) Telegraph. The author is John J. Dunphy.
First, Dunphy refers to Sam Brownback as the “Tea Party” governor of Kansas. As far as I know, the tea party favors reducing not only taxation, but spending too. Given the choice, Brownback preferred raising taxes rather than cutting spending. Not very tea party-like.
Dunphy: “Moderate Republicans who voiced objections to such extremist politics were targeted by the Tea Party and voted out of office in 2012. With the legislature now dominated by True Believers, Brownback was able to pass the largest tax cut in Kansas history.” I’ll leave it to others to judge whether the legislators voted into office in 2012 classify as “True Believers.” (My opinion is that True Believers are scarce in the Kansas Legislature.) But I do know this: The tax cuts were passed during the 2012 legislative session, which ended months before the 2012 primary elections. There seems to be a timing issue here.
Dunphy: “With such drastically-reduced revenue, Kansas had to cut social services.” Except Kansas spending has continued to climb, although there have been a few cuts here and there.
Dunphy: “Rather than admit that slashing taxes created a disaster …” Tax cuts allow people to keep more of what is rightfully theirs. That is not a disaster. That is good.
Dunphy: “Trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Although most Republicans choose to ignore it, George H.W. Bush said as much while campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination in 1980.” Contrary to this assertion (made during a political campaign, and we know how much those are worth), the administration and policies of Ronald Reagan ushered in the The Great Moderation, a period of sustained economic growth.
Instead of pranking, Wichita public school students and their leaders might consider a few facts.
KSN News reported on an April Fools’ Day prank at Northwest High School in Kansas. The message is that the school is short of funds.
The KSN news story reported: “Wendy Johnson, the Director of Marketing and Communications for Wichita Public Schools also said, ‘This appears to be someone’s effort at a humorous April Fool’s commentary on the funding crisis that public education is facing in Kansas.'”
Also: “USD 259 Board of Education member Lynn Rogers called the prank, ‘very ingenious.’ Rogers says there was no harm done, but, the education funding issue is at its core, ‘no laughing matter. There’s some dark days for public education right now, and people have been very discouraged,’ Rogers said.”
When looking at this story, I wonder how the pranksters — likely students at the school — developed an opinion of issues like school funding. Who told them there was a “funding crisis?” Is that an opinion high school students developed on their own, or is it an opinion spoon-fed to them? The quotes from school district leaders provide the answer to that question.
It’s unfortunate that students are fed this opinion. Because when we look at actual numbers, the idea of a crisis doesn’t hold water. There is a lot of controversy over school funding in Kansas. Should teacher retirement fund contributions be included, or not? What counts as classroom funding? Should dollar amounts be adjusted for inflation, and at what rate? (Schools argue that their costs rise faster than the general price level.)
Schools tell us that their largest expenditure is on personnel costs. Across the country, the portion of current expenditures going to salaries and benefits hovers around 80 percent. 1
Looking at the number of school employees strips away most of the confounding factors and concentrates on the largest, and most important, cost schools face: Teachers and other employees.
As it turns out, Wichita Northwest High School shouldn’t be complaining about a funding crisis. For one thing, enrollment at this school is falling, from 1,580 in 2009 to 1,399 in 2015, a decline of 11 percent. While the number of teachers and certified employees has varied, the ratios of students to these employees has been level or declining.
For that matter, the ratios of students to teachers and certified employees for the entire Wichita public school district is on a long downward trend, with small interruptions.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Do corporations prefer markets or big government? Legislative malpractice in Kansas. Education reform, or lack thereof. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 115, broadcast April 3, 2016.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: There are a few things that make Bob wonder. Then, a troubling episode for Wichita government and news media. Finally, the harm of teachers unions. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 114, broadcast March 27, 2016.