Tag Archives: Government waste

Wichita has cut waste, officials say

Wichita city officials say they have worked hard to eliminate waste. Well, except for this.

Looking south on Topeka from Broadway, May 29, 2015 at 11:25 am. Four burning street lights are seen here. There were dozens more further south.
Looking south on Topeka from Broadway, May 29, 2015 at 11:25 am. Four burning street lights are seen here. There were dozens more further south.
It’s been an ongoing problem in downtown Wichita. Not only are bench lights apparently permanently switched on, we find the tall street lights also burning in the middle of the day.

This is especially problematic given these two Fridays — with street lights switched on near noon — were Riverfest Fridays. Many visitors, both natives and tourists, may have been downtown to see the waste on display. It doesn’t promote a good image for our city and its leaders.

A Downtown Wichita street light struggles to compete with the midday sun. June 5, 2015.
A Downtown Wichita street light struggles to compete with the midday sun. June 5, 2015.
The wasteful spending on illuminating street lights in the middle of the day is an indication of the attitude of the city as explained in Forget the vampires. Let’s tackle the real monsters. Through public service announcements on television and Facebook, Wichita city officials have urged citizens to do things like unplugging microwave ovens when not in use. This saves a very small — vanishingly small — amount of electricity at a huge cost of inconvenience.

So while the city advises you to unplug alarm clocks and cell phone chargers when not using them, note that the city cares nothing about running the street lights in the middle of the day.

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 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.

City of Wichita official Facebook page.
City of Wichita official Facebook page.
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.

Legislation to end Economic Development Administration introduced

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo calls for an end to a wasteful federal economic development agency.

economic-development-administrationIf you think a proper function of the federal government is spending your tax dollars to build replicas of the Great Pyramids in Indiana or a gift shop in a winery, you’re not going to like legislation introduced by U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican who represents the Kansas fourth district, including the Wichita metropolitan area.

Others, however, will appreciate H.R. 661: EDA Elimination Act of 2015. In the following article from 2012, Pompeo explains the harm of the Economic Development Administration, which he describes as a “politically motivated federal wealth redistribution agency.” Pompeo had introduced similar legislation in the past, and this bill keeps the effort alive in the new Congress.

In his article Pompeo mentions the trip by Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez to Wichita. This was in conjunction with EDA’s grant to Bombardier, part of which was to facilitate production of a new airplane, the LearJet 85. Since then, Fernandez has moved on to the private sector, working for a law firm in a role that seems something like lobbying.

Unfortunately, earlier this year Bombardier mothballed the LearJet 85 project, with industry observers doubting it will be revived.

For more background on the EDA, see Economic Development Administration at Downsizing the Federal Government.

End the Economic Development Administration — Now

By U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo, January, 2012

As part of my efforts to reduce the size of government, I have proposed to eliminate the Economic Development Administration (EDA), a politically motivated federal wealth redistribution agency. Unsurprisingly, the current leader of that agency, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez, has taken acute personal interest in my bill to shutter his agency.

Last week, Secretary Fernandez invited himself to Wichita at taxpayer expense and met with the Wichita Eagle’s editorial board. Afterwards, the paper accurately noted I am advocating eliminating the EDA even though that agency occasionally awards grant money to projects in South Central Kansas. They just don’t get it. Thanks to decades of this flawed “You take yours, I’ll take mine” Washington logic, our nation now faces a crippling $16 trillion national debt.

I first learned about the EDA when Secretary Fernandez testified in front of my subcommittee that the benefits of EDA projects exceed the costs and cited the absurd example of a $1.4 million award for “infrastructure” that allegedly helped a Minnesota town secure a new $1.6 billion steel mill. As a former CEO, I knew there is no way that a taxpayer subsidy equal to less than one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of the total capital needed made a difference in launching the project. That mill was getting built whether EDA’s grant came through or not. So, I decided to dig further.

I discovered that the EDA is a federal agency we can do without. Similar to earmarks that gave us the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” or the Department of Energy loan guarantee scandal that produced Solyndra, the EDA advances local projects that narrowly benefit a particular company or community. To be sure, the EDA occasionally supports a local project here in Kansas. But it takes our tax money every year for projects in 400-plus other congressional districts, many if not most of which are boondoggles. For example: EDA gave $2 million to help construct UNLV’s Harry Reid Research and Technology Park; $2 million for a “culinary amphitheater,” tasting room, and gift shop at a Washington state winery; and $500,000 to construct (never-completed) replicas of the Great Pyramids in rural Indiana.

Several times in recent decades, the Government Accountability Office has questioned the value and efficacy of the EDA. Good-government groups like Citizens Against Government Waste have called for dismantling the agency. In addition, eliminating the EDA was listed among the recommendations of President Obama’s own bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission.

So why hasn’t it been shut down already? Politics. The EDA spreads taxpayer-funded project money far and wide and attacks congressmen who fail to support EDA grants. Soon after that initial hearing, Secretary Fernandez flew in his regional director — again at taxpayer expense — to show me “all the great things we are doing in your home district” and handed me a list of recent and pending local grants. Hint, hint. You can’t say I wasn’t warned to back off. Indeed, Eagle editors missed the real story here: Secretary Fernandez flew to Wichita because he is a bureaucrat trying to save his high-paying gig. The bureaucracy strikes back when conservatives take on bloated, out-of-control, public spending, so I guess I’m making progress.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not faulting cities, universities, or companies for having sought “free” federal money from the EDA. The fault lies squarely with a Washington culture that insists every program is sacred and there is no spending left to cut.

A federal agency run at the Assistant Secretary level has not been eliminated in decades. Now is the time. My bill to eliminate the EDA (HR 3090) would take one small step toward restoring fiscal sanity and constitutional government.

The lights are off, and then they’re off

A problem with wasteful spending in downtown Wichita is gradually curing itself, creating another problem in its place.

Downtown Wichita street lights 2015-02-13 11.29.19 HDRA bench at the heart of downtown Wichita should be illuminated at night by four lights. Only one light works, probably because the others have been left switched on 24 hours per day.

So wasteful spending on street lights during the day is being replaced by unlit streets at night.

What message does wasteful spending on street lights during the day send?

it's difficult to show three nonfunctioning lights next to one that works, I'm afraid.
it’s difficult to show three nonfunctioning lights next to one that works, I’m afraid.
Perhaps more importantly, what impression does nonfunctioning lights at night create — three of four at this bench? And at one of our major downtown intersections? Across the street from our nice boutique hotel?

Is this the “walkable” downtown we’re trying to create?

I suppose that Wichita city leaders want to be seen taking care of our larger problems, and of those, we have a few. But this long-running problem with lights at this downtown street side bench needs to be taken care of soon. Visitors to our town may not be aware of the lofty and sweeping rhetoric of our mayor, bureaucrats, and civic leaders.

But they do notice the downtown street lights.

Wichita schools seek to rebrand

While poormouthing and suing taxpayers for more money, the Wichita school district wants to spend on a rebranding and marketing campaign.

The idea that a government agency needs to market itself illustrates a few inconsistencies, as shown below. But spending any money on this effort shows that the district leadership is a little out of touch with the taxpayers.

First, taxpayers are being sued for more money by a collection of Kansas school districts, including the Wichita district. So the district is using taxpayer money to extract more taxpayer money, and now it wants to spend more taxpayer money to tell taxpayers how wonderful it is.

Second, school districts continually say how spending has been “cut to the bone,” and that there is nowhere else to cut. But, there is money to spend for marketing.

The article quoted Wendy Johnson, director of marketing and communications for the Wichita district: “For people who suggest that we need to operate like a business and employ business strategies: Businesses tune into their customers, do market research, are active listeners all the time.” (Wichita school board to consider hiring marketing firm, rebranding district; Wichita Eagle, January 11, 2015)

First of all, the Wichita school district is not an “active listener.” If you say what the district wants to hear, yes. But the district is not welcoming to those with a different opinion. A notable example comes from 2012 when Betty Arnold was board president. At a meeting, citizens had criticized the board for large and important issues, but also for such mundane things as the amount of the superintendent’s monthly car allowance. Arnold admonished citizens for speaking about things like this in public. It’s not respectful, she said. Finally, after directing a uniformed security guard to station himself near a citizen speaker, Arnold told the audience: “If we need to clear the room, we will clear the room. This board meeting is being held in public, but it is not for the public, or of the public. And I hope you understand that.”

The idea that the Wichita school district is in any way like a business is laughable.

Most businesses do not have laws that force customers to use their products and services. (Mandatory attendance laws.)

Most businesses are not able to force people to pay them even if people do not use their service. Even people who pay to send their children to private schools must still pay the public schools. (Schools are funded by taxes.)

Businesses are not able to decide whether to allow new competitors. (Usually this is the case. Some states have laws that allow existing companies like movers decide whether new moving companies should be allowed to form.)

The article mentioned charter schools as a source of competition for the Wichita school district. But the district must approve the formation of any charter schools within its boundaries. Anyone who investigates would soon realize that the Wichita school district has no intent of allowing charter schools.

If the Wichita school district wanted to experience a little bit of the competition for customers that business face — competition which would improve the district — it could signal its awareness to approve charter school applications. That would do more to improve the experience for Wichita schoolchildren than any marketing message.

Ratios of teachers and employees to students have fallen in the Wichita school district.
Ratios of teachers and employees to students have fallen in the Wichita school district.

WichitaLiberty.TV: The need for reform at Wichita City Hall

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: An episode this week at the Wichita city council meeting highlights the need for campaign finance reform in Wichita. We’ll examine a few incidents and see if there’s a way we can reform Wichita city government so that it is capitalism friendly instead of crony friendly. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 69, broadcast December 21, 2014.

Campaign contribution stacking in Wichita

Those seeking favors from Wichita City Hall use campaign contribution stacking to bypass contribution limits. This has paid off handsomely for them, and has harmed everyone else.

Not long ago a person who is politically active wrote a letter that was published in the Wichita Eagle. It criticized the role of campaign contributions in federal elections, noting “Corporations don’t spend money on politics because they are patriotic; rather, the companies expect a financial return.” Later the letter held this: “Locally, I understand that elections for the Wichita City Council underwent ideal, nonpartisan campaign-finance reform years ago, and that these limits are scrupulously practiced.”

The writer is correct, but only superficially. Our campaign contribution limits for city and school board offices are relatively small. What we find, however, is that the cronies, that is, the people who want stuff from city hall, stack contributions using family members and employees.

Stacked campaign contributions received by James Clendenin from parties associated with Key Construction. Click for larger version.
Stacked campaign contributions received by James Clendenin from parties associated with Key Construction. Click for larger version.
Here’s how a handful of cronies stack campaign contributions. In 2012 council members James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) and Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) were preparing to run again for their offices in spring 2013. Except for $1.57 in unitemized contributions to Clendenin, two groups of related parties accounted for all contributions received by these two incumbents for an entire year. A group associated with Key Construction gave a total of $7,000 — $4,000 to Williams, and $3,000 to Clendenin. Another group of people associated with movie theater owner Bill Warren gave $5,000, all to Clendenin.

The casual observer wouldn’t realize this stacking of campaign contributions by looking at campaign finance reports. That’s because for city offices, the name of the company a contributor works for isn’t required. Industry and occupation are required, but these aren’t of much help. Further, contribution reports are not filed electronically, so the information is not easy to analyze. Some reports are even submitted using handwriting, and barely legible handwriting at that.

So it’s not easy to analyze campaign contributions for Wichita city offices. It takes a bit of effort to unpack the stacking. You have to see a name and investigate who that person is. When you do that, you might find that a man from Valley Center who list his occupation and industry as Manager and Aviation Subcontractor is married to someone who lists her occupation and industry as Director of Marketing. Investigating her reveals that she is an executive of Key Construction.

That company, Key Construction, is a prominent company in Wichita. It is an example of a company that seeks to earn outsized profits through the political system rather than by meeting customer needs in the market. Profits through cronyism, that is. Here’s an example. In August 2011 the Wichita city council voted to award Key Construction a no-bid contract to build the parking garage that is part of the Ambassador Hotel project, now known as Block One. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent. Later the city decided to place the contract for competitive bid. Key Construction won the bidding, but for a price $1.3 million less.

Let me make sure you understand that. Mayor Carl Brewer, Lavonta Williams, and James Clendenin were willing to spend an extra $1.3 million of your tax money to reward their benefactors through a no-bid contract. Since then reforms have been implemented to prevent this. Hopefully the reforms will work. I am skeptical.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer with major campaign donor Dave Wells of Key Construction. Brewer has voted for no-bid contracts for Key.
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer with major campaign donor Dave Wells of Key Construction. Brewer has voted for no-bid contracts for Key.
In 2012 there was another incident involving Key Construction that show the need for campaign finance reform. Key and another construction company were engaged in a dispute as to who should build the new Wichita airport. The city council was tasked to act in a quasi-judicial manner to decide the issue. Given all the campaign contributions Key was making at the time, and given the mayor’s well-known friendship with Dave Wells of Key Construction, can you guess who was awarded the contract? And can you guess whose contract was more expensive for taxpayers?

So back to the letter in the newspaper, which held: “Corporations don’t spend money on politics because they are patriotic; rather, the companies expect a financial return.” I’m not going to defend cronyism at the federal level. It exists and it is harmful. But I would like to let the writer of the letter know that cronyism also exists in Wichita city government. In fact, it may be worse in Wichita. At the federal level, Congress usually passes laws that benefit an entire industry — say the sugar industry or banks — to the detriment of consumers and taxpayers. (Sometimes the benefits are quite specific. American Enterprise Institute reports that the just-passed omnibus bill contains a section that provides protection from an Obamacare provision for exactly one entity: Blue Cross Blue Shield. Conservative writer Yuval Levin explained: “This section is, simply put, a special favor for Blue Cross/Blue Shield allowing them to count ‘quality improvement’ spending as part of the medical loss ratio calculation required of them under Obamacare. And it’s made retroactive for four years, saving them loads of money.”)

That’s bad enough. Here in Wichita, however, the cronyism is more concentrated and personal. The links between campaign contributions and handouts from city hall is much more direct. We should insist that the city council stop picking the pocket of your fellow man so it can give the proceeds to campaign contributors. Campaign finance reform can help.

City of Wichita State Legislative Agenda: Passenger rail

Instead of calling for the expansion of Amtrak — perhaps the worst of all federal agencies — the City of Wichita should do taxpayers a favor and call for an end to government subsidy of Amtrak everywhere.

Wichita Legislative Agenda, November 2014, page 07, Passenger RailThe City of Wichita’s legislative calls for the pursuit of money to pay for the funding of an environmental study of the proposed passenger rail extension to Oklahoma City. Not an actual rail line, just an environmental study.

Amtrak is very expensive. In most parts of the country it relies on massive taxpayer subsidy. For example, for the line from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City — the line proposed for extension to Wichita – taxpayers pay a subsidy of $26.76 per passenger for the trip. And that’s a short trip.

Being expensive, Amtrak is usually pitched as an economic development driver. Yes, taxpayers pay for passengers to ride, but once in your town they spend money there! Never mind that so few people travel on trains (outside the Northeast Corridor) that they are barely noticed. In 2012 intercity Amtrak accounted for 6,804 million passenger-miles of travel. Commercial air racked up 580,501 million passenger-miles, or 85 times as many.

U.S. Passenger Miles, Air and Amtrak. Note difference in scales.
U.S. Passenger Miles, Air and Amtrak. Note difference in scales.

So some people, like Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) take a different tack. Passenger rail is about boosting business productivity.

For him and the local business leaders he’s spoken with, it’s all about productive hours. Meitzner says the people who are interested in regional train travel for business are often people who are currently driving to their destinations instead. They’re equipped with smartphones, tablet computers and other technologies, but they can’t use them much, or at all, while they’re driving. Sitting on trains, businesspeople could get work done, he says. He suggests the rise of new mobile technology is one reason passenger rail travel is on the rise. ( Meitzner says there’s a business case for passenger rail in Wichita, Wichita Business Journal, July 18, 2012)

Unfortunately for Meitzner’s business case, at about this time the New York Times published a piece detailing the extreme frustration Amtrak riders had with on-train wi-fi service, reporting “For rail travelers of the Northeast Corridor, the promise of Wi-Fi has become an infuriating tease.” Contemporary new stories report that Amtrak is still planning to upgrade its wi-fi systems.

Considering the speed at which government works, by the time a passenger rail line could be established between Wichita and Oklahoma City, it’s quite likely that driverless cars will be a reality. (Remember, we’ve been trying to raise money just for an environmental impact study for many years.) Then, workers can be in their car, use their computers for business productivity, and travel directly to their destination instead of to a train station. Plus, they will be able to do this on their own schedule, not Amtrak’s schedule. That is invaluable, as only one train each day is contemplated.

Furthermore, if there really is a business case for travel between Wichita and Oklahoma City, I imagine that some of the entrepreneurs who have built a new industry around inter-city bus travel might establish service. These new companies use buses with wi-fi, first class accommodations, and other amenities. Buses are much lower cost than rail, are more flexible, and most importantly, are operated by private sector entrepreneurs rather than government.

I understand that leaders like Pete Meitzner and others in city hall see federal money being spent elsewhere, and they want that money also spent here. It doesn’t really matter to them whether the spending is worthwhile, they just want it spent here. This greed for federal tax dollars contributes to the cycle of rising spending. We end up buying and building a lot of stuff that doesn’t really work except for lining the pockets of special interest groups. And, in the case of Meitzner’s pet project, we do this with borrowed money.

We expect this behavior from the progressive members of the council. But conservatives are supposed to stand for something else.

Those who call for an end to subsidy for one industry are often asked why they don’t oppose subsidy for all industry. It’s a fair question, although it distracts from the main issue, which is why it is raised. So, let’s end subsidies for all forms of transportation. Let’s try to match relevant user fees such as motor fuel taxes as closely as possible with the compatible expenditures.

The scope of Amtrak subsidy

In 2010 I reported that Subsidyscope, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts, published a study about the taxpayer subsidy flowing into Amtrak. For the Heartland Flyer route, which runs from Fort Worth to Oklahoma, and is proposed by taxpayer-funded rail supporters to extend into Kansas through Wichita and Kansas City, we find these statistics about the finances of this operation:

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

But this number, as bad as it is, is not correct. Subsidyscope calculated a different number. This number, unlike the numbers Amrak publishes, includes depreciation, ancillary businesses and overhead costs — the types of costs that private sector businesses bear and report. When these costs are included, the Heartland Flyer route results in a loss of 13 cents per passenger mile, or a loss of $26.76 per passenger for the trip from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City.

Subsidy to Amtrak compared to other forms of transporation

Table 4 Net Federal Subsidies per Thousand Passenger-Miles by Mode FY 1990-2002

From Federal Subsidies to Passenger Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, December 2004.

From Randal O’Toole Stopping the Runaway Train: The Case for Privatizing Amtrak:

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, after adjusting for inflation to 2011 dollars, subsidies to domestic air travel averaged about $14 billion a year between 1995 and 2007. Considering that the airlines carried an average of more than 500 billion passenger miles a year during those years, average subsidies work out to about 2.8 cents per passenger mile (see Figure 2).

Using Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ numbers, highway subsidies over the same time period averaged about $48 billion a year. Highways carried about 4.1 trillion passenger miles per year, for an average subsidy of 1.1 cents per passenger mile. While 95 percent of the airline subsidies came from the federal government, all of the highway subsidies came from state and local governments.

By comparison, federal Amtrak subsidies over the same time period averaged 25 cents per passenger mile.11 State subsidies averaged another 2.8 cents. Per-passenger-mile subsidies to Amtrak were nearly times subsidies to air travel and nearly 22 times subsidies to highway travel.

Airline, Highway, and Amtrak Subsidies per Passenger Mile, Cato Institute, 2012

From Amtrak And The Progressive Sleight Of Hand, Competitive Enterprise Institute:

The deficit in what Amtrak collects in revenue and what it spends every year cannot even be taken at face value. Unlike most firms, Amtrak does not count maintenance as an operating cost and instead considers it a capital cost. This allows it to treat routine maintenance like long-term investments in new rail and carrier capacity, pushing these costs off its balance sheet.

In Kansas, voters want government to concentrate on efficiency and core services before asking for taxes

A survey of Kansas voters finds that Kansas believe government is not operating efficiently. The also believe government should pursue efficiency savings, focus on core functions, and spend unnecessary cash reserves before cutting services or raising taxes.

This month Kansas Policy Institute produced a survey asking registered voters in Kansas questions on the topic of school spending. The final four questions asked voters’ opinion of government efficiency and how government should respond to budgetary issues.

From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
Question 9 asked this: “How much do you agree or disagree with this statement: Kansas state government operates pretty efficiently and makes effective use of my tax dollars.” As you can see in the nearby table and chart, 31 percent of voters agreed with this statement. 65 percent disagreed, including 39 percent who said they strongly disagree with the statement. That was the most common response.

This result is similar with a survey of Wichita voters conducted by SurveyUSA for KPI in April. The first question in that survey asked “In the past few years, have Wichita city officials used taxpayer money efficiently? Or inefficiently?” Overall, 58 percent believed city spending was inefficient, compared to 28 percent believing spending was efficient.

From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
In question 10, the current survey of Kansas voters asked “How much do you agree or disagree with this statement: Kansas state government could run 5% to 10% more efficiently than it does now.” 74 percent of respondents agreed to some extent, with 42 percent indicating they strongly agree. Only six percent strongly disagreed.

From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
Question 11 asked voters how Kansas state government should react to an unbalanced budget: “How much do you agree or disagree with this statement: I believe the Kansas state government should pursue efficiency savings, focus on core functions, and spend unnecessary cash reserves before raising taxes and/or cutting government functions.” 68 percent agreed with this statement, with 40 percent strongly agreeing. 24 percent disagreed.

From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
From Kansas Policy Institute public opinion survey, November 2014.
Question 12 asked voters how to fix Kansas state budget problems: “What would be the single best way to fix state budget problems? Increasing the income tax? Increasing the sales tax? Cutting spending, even if it means reduced services? Or reducing spending by providing services more efficiently?”

Reducing spending by being more efficient received a majority — 54 percent — of responses. 26 percent of voters responded that taxes should be increased, with income tax hikes more popular than sales tax.

A press release announcing the survey is New Survey: Kansans Remain Misinformed Regarding K-12 Finance. The results of the survey from SurveyUSA are here. Coverage of questions from the survey on education funding is at Kansans still uninformed on school spending.

Wichita wants to expand water project, but abandons its website

As the City of Wichita recommends voters spend $250 million on the expansion of a water project, the project’s accompanying website was abandoned, and has now disappeared.

ASR website as it appeared in January 2012. Click for larger version.
ASR website as it appeared in January 2012. Click for larger version.
The Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) project is a Wichita water utility system. So far its cost has been $247 million. As part of the proposed Wichita one cent per dollar sales tax, another $250 million is earmarked to be spent on its expansion.

To help Wichitans learn about the ASR system, the city built a website at wichitawaterproject.org. Nearby is how the front page of that website appeared in January 2012. As you can see, it’s an attractive design. It holds much information about how ASR works and why the city says we need it.

ASR website as it appears today. Click for larger version.
ASR website as it appears today. Click for larger version.
Here’s how the same website looks today. Around the middle of October the website went “dark.” Prior to this shutdown, it appears that the last time the website was significantly updated was December 2011.

What has happened since January 2012 and now? First, a major city investment was completed. That’s Phase II of the ASR project. The ASR website says Phase II is expected to cost $220 million. But the ASR website was not updated to track the progress of Phase II during its completion and commissioning stages.

The second thing that’s happened since the ASR website was abandoned is that the city has decided that expansion of the ASR system is the best way to provide for future Wichita water supply. In November voters will decide whether a one cent per dollar sales tax will be implemented, with 63 percent of the funds used to pay for ASR expansion.

So the ASR system is important. If the city proceeds with its plan, about one-half billion dollars will have been spent on the project, plus an unknown amount of financing charges from the city’s decision to pay for the current system with long-term debt. ($500 million is about $1,300 for each Wichita resident.)

Here’s an indication of the city’s priorities. The city’s communication staff has time to produce videos about something called “Ghoulish Gala.” (It’s a fundraising event for Botanica.) The city has the time and capability to produce and post news releases on items like a Beatles tribute concert coming to Century II.

But what about something really important, like the spending of half a billion dollars on a water project? That website has been abandoned.

City Government Relations Director Dale Goter explained to me that a staff person had been updating the ASR website, but that person is no longer available.

The handling of the ASR website represents a management failure. The ASR website was attractive. It had a lot of functionality. Sites like that are somewhat complex and may require people with experience and training for their creation and updating.

But citizens need basic information about their government. Websites that are simple and functional are easy to build, maintain, and update. There are systems like wordpress.com where websites can be hosted at no charge. It takes about five minutes to take a press release or budget document and post it on a WordPress site.

But that’s not what the city decided to do. It went with a fancy design instead of a simple and functional design that could be maintained and updated by city communications or public works staff. Now, that website has disappeared, right at the time the ASR system is in the center of the news.

I wonder: Was the ASR website really needed, if the city did not care that it was abandoned?

Wichita sends educational mailer to non-Wichitans, using Wichita taxes

Why is the City of Wichita spending taxpayer money mailing to voters who don’t live in the city and can’t vote on the issue?

A resident of Bel Aire thought it was curious that she received an informational mailing regarding an issue she can’t vote on. The issue is the proposed one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax that is on the November ballot.

Envelope of sales tax mailer sent by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer to Bel Aire resident. Click for larger version.
Envelope of sales tax mailer sent by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer to Bel Aire resident. Click for larger version.
What is curious about her receiving this mail about the Wichita sales tax? She can’t vote on this issue because she lives in Bel Aire, not in Wichita. Only those voters who live in Wichita will have the question on their ballots. Bel Aire is a nice town, but it is not Wichita.

So why did the City of Wichita spend tax dollars informing residents of Bel Aire about an issue on which they may not vote?

Many Wichitans question whether the city should have spent tax dollars on this mailer. Especially when it’s pretty clear that the material is designed to encourage citizens to vote in favor of the tax.

(If you doubt whether the city’s educational material is advocating for passage of the sales tax, consider this: The “Yes Wichita” group campaigns for passage of the tax. This group refers voters to the city’s website to learn about the issue. “Yes Wichita” would not do that if the city’s material contained anything that might discourage a “Yes” vote.)

I’ve been involved in political campaigns. I’ve always been quite careful to send mail only to those voters who live in the relevant jurisdiction. That is, I don’t waste donors’ money mailing to people who are not able to vote for my candidate.

The return address on this envelope indicates the mail came from the Office of the Mayor. So may I ask, Mayor Carl Brewer, why are you wasting taxpayer money sending mail to people who can’t vote on this issue?

WichitaLiberty.TV: The proposed one cent per dollar Wichita sales tax

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: We’ll talk about the proposed Wichita sales tax, including who pays it, and who gets special exemptions from paying it. Then, can we believe the promises the city makes about accountability and transparency? Finally, has the chosen solution for a future water supply proven itself as viable, and why are we asking low-income households to pay more sales tax on groceries for drought protection? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 63, broadcast October 26, 2014.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Government waste in Wichita

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: At the time Wichita city government asks for more tax revenue, government waste is abundant. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Originally broadcast September 7, 2014. For more on this issue, see For downtown Wichita, some progress in controlling waste and Wichita planning results in delay, waste.

WichitaLiberty.TV: The proposed one cent per dollar Wichita sales tax

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Considering the proposed Wichita sales tax, looking at unmet maintenance needs, claims that we have few economic development incentives, the cost of the sales tax to families, the taxes already going to the transit system, and the bad choice the city gives us for water. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 61, broadcast October 5, 2014.

Wichita sales tax does little to close maintenance gap

The proposed Wichita sales tax does little to close the city’s delinquent infrastructure maintenance gap. Despite this, there are rumors of another sales tax next year for quality of life items.

Earlier this year the steering committee for the Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investments Plan delivered a report to the Wichita City Council. The report contains facts that are very relevant to the proposed Wichita one cent per dollar sales tax. Voters will decide on this in November.

Community Investments Plan document, February 2014
Community Investments Plan document, February 2014. Click for larger version.
The most important thing Wichita voters need to know that the city is delinquent in maintaining the assets that taxpayers have purchased. The cost to remedy this lack of maintenance is substantial. 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.

How does this relate to the proposed sales tax? Of the funds the sales tax is projected to raise over five years, $27.8 million is allocated for street maintenance and repairs. That’s $5.6 million per year.

Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment PlanSubtract that from what the Community Investments Plan says we need to spend on deficient infrastructure, and we’re left with (roughly) $40 to $50 million per year in additional spending on deficient infrastructure. Remember, that’s on top of ongoing infrastructure depreciation/replacement costs.

Does the proposed sales tax do anything to address those needs? No, it doesn’t.

So what about the deficiency? Is it likely that Wichitans will be asked to provide additional tax revenue to address the city’s deficient infrastructure? So far, city hall hasn’t asked for that, except for recommending that Wichita voters approve $5.6 million per year for streets from a sales tax.

But if we believe the numbers in the Community Investments Plan, we should be prepared for city hall to ask for a lot more tax revenue. That is, if the city is to adequately maintain the things that taxpayers have paid to provide.

It gets even worse.

Wichita has unmet maintenance requirements, and many wants on top of that.
Wichita has unmet maintenance requirements, and many wants on top of that.
Earlier this year the city council considered various proposals for spending a new source of tax money. Four survived the discussion and will be the recipient of sales tax funds, if Wichita voters approve. Those needs are a new water supply, jobs and economic development, transit, and street maintenance and repair.

There were proposals that did not make the cut for the proposed sales tax, generally in the category of “quality of life” facilities. These include a new convention center, new performing arts center, new central library, newly renovated Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, renovation of the Dunbar Theater, renovation of O.J. Watson Park, and help for the homeless.

Evidently there are many who are not happy that these proposals will not receive sales tax money. Rumors afloat that groups — including city officials — are plotting for another sales tax increase to fund these items.

People are rightly concerned that even though the proposed Wichita sales tax ordinance specifies an end to the tax in five years, these taxes have a way of continuing. The State of Kansas recently had a temporary sales tax. It went away, but only partly. The Kansas state sales tax rate we pay today is higher than it was before the start of the “temporary” sales tax.

But the people who want to spend your tax dollars on these “quality of life” items aren’t content to wait five years for the proposed sales tax to end. They are plotting to have it start perhaps one year from now.

These are things that Wichita voters need to consider: There is a backlog of maintenance, and there is appetite for more tax revenue for more spending. Even if the sales tax passes, these remain unfulfilled.

Before spending on new infrastructure, Wichita voters should ask why so much deferred maintenance

As the City of Wichita asks for more tax money for infrastructure, Wichita voters need to be aware of the projected costs of the city’s deferred maintenance.

When the Wichita City Council voted to increase water rates in November 2013, meeting minutes reported these remarks from the city manager explaining that Wichita has not adequately maintained its infrastructure:

Bob Layton City Manager stated the Council told staff last year that they wanted staff to continue to look at operation efficiencies to reduce the operating costs, which they are doing. Stated the rate recommendation does reflect the three percent efficiency increase. Stated over the last several years 80% of those rate increases have gone to infrastructure improvements and a lot of it is because of deferred maintenance that occurred over a long period of time. Stated they recognize even with these increases that it will difficult to keep up with the maintenance requirements of our system but are also aware of concerns residents have about significant rate increases.

This was not the first time, nor the last time, that Wichitans might have heard about problems with deferred maintenance of city infrastructure. In his 2013 State of the City address Mayor Carl Brewer told the city that over the next 30 years, “Wichita’s aging water, sewer, and storm drainage systems will require significant maintenance or replacement. Total replacement of these systems is estimated to cost $2.1 BILLION.” (emphasis in original)

Earlier this year a report presented to the Community Investments Plan Steering Committee held language like “Decades of under-investment in infrastructure maintenance … 38% of Wichita’s infrastructure is in ‘deficient/fair’ condition.”

The report also told the committee that the “cost to bring existing deficient infrastructure up to standards” is given as an additional $45 to $55 million per year.

It’s important to note that these costs are not for building new infrastructure. Also, these costs are not for routine, ongoing maintenance. Instead, these numbers are what it costs to catch up with what the city should have been doing. As the report says: To bring existing deficient infrastructure up to standards.

This is important for Wichita voters to know as they consider their decision on a proposed one cent per dollar sales tax that will appear on the November ballot. Almost two-thirds of the tax proceeds would be spent on water.

Wichita Area Future Water Supply: A Model Program for Other Municipalities
Wichita Area Future Water Supply: A Model Program for Other Municipalities
But it’s important to note that the purpose of the $250 million allocated for water is not for catching up on the maintenance backlog. Instead, it’s earmarked for building additional water supply capability.

Whether the sales tax passes or not, the deferred maintenance needs of our existing infrastructure will remain. There will be pressure for water rates to rise, or for some other source of revenue to catch up on maintenance.

It won’t do us much good to have a new water source (the purpose of which is to allow for the watering of lawns and washing of cars during droughts) if the water pipes are broken. Perhaps Wichita voters should ask that the city present a plan for maintaining the assets we have before sending more tax dollars to city hall.

And let’s also ask this: Why hasn’t the city maintained the infrastructure that taxpayers and water users have already paid for?

For downtown Wichita, some progress in controlling waste

Downtown Wichita, September 12, 2014, 11:17 am
Downtown Wichita, September 12, 2014, 11:17 am
It was a cloudy day, and while the sidewalk bench lights were on, at least the tall street lights were off. Other good news: The outdoor lights at the Wichita Transit Center were also turned off. So Wichita’s making some progress in controlling the blatant waste of electricity. Either that, or the lights at the Transit Center finally burned out from being on all day.

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 As Wichita asks for more taxes, it continues to waste what it has, Before asking for more taxes, Wichita should stop wasting what it has, 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.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita’s blatant waste, Transforming Wichita, and how you can help

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Let’s ask that Wichita trim its blatant waste of tax dollars before asking for more. We’ll look back at a program called Transforming Wichita. Then: We need to hold campaigns accountable. I’ll give you examples why, and tell how you can help. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 57, broadcast September 7, 2014.

‘Transforming Wichita’ a reminder of the value of government promises

When Wichita voters weigh the plausibility of the city’s plans for spending proposed new sales tax revenue, they should remember this is not the first time the city has promised results and accountability.

Do you remember Transforming Wichita? According to the city, “Transforming Wichita is the journey by which we are fundamentally changing the way we measure, report and perform the work of delivering services to the citizens of Wichita.”

In more detail, the city website proclaimed: “TW is the journey by which we will be fundamentally changing the way we deliver services to the citizens of Wichita. Our vision is for Wichita to be a premiere Midwestern city where people want to visit, live and play and for the city government to be a model of world class city governance where citizens receive the best possible value for their tax dollars and have confidence in their city government.”

At the end of this article I present the complete page from the city’s website as captured on November 10, 2007. That’s just seven years ago. There are officeholders (Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, City Council member Jeff Longwell, City Council member Lavonta Williams) and many bureaucrats still in office from that year. It’s not ancient history.

Some of the most frequently-mentioned concepts in this document are:

  • performance
  • accountability
  • trust
  • confidence
  • measure and report

Wichita spending data.
Wichita spending data.
The document mentions “supported by modernized information systems that facilitate collaboration with our partners.” That promise was made seven years ago. Today, do you know what you get when you ask the City of Wichita for spending records? The city can supply data of only limited utility. When I asked for spending records, what was supplied to me was data in pdf form, and as images, not text. It would be difficult — beyond the capability of most citizens — to translate the data to useful format. Even if someone translated the reports to computer-readable format, I don’t think the data would be very useful. This is a serious defect in the city’s transparency efforts.

How does Wichita compare to other jurisdictions in this regard? Many governmental agencies post their checkbooks on their websites, having mastered this aspect of accountability and trust years ago. Not so the City of Wichita.

Speaking of websites: The new and “improved” wichita.gov website is actually less useful than the city’s website in 2007. For more on this see A transparency agenda for Wichita.

Regarding performance: One of the most important functions city leaders say they perform is economic development, specifically the creation of jobs. Last year when the Wichita Eagle asked for job creation figures, it reported this:

“It will take us some time to pull together all the agenda reports on the five-year reviews going back to 2003. That same research will also reveal any abatements that were ‘retooled’ as a result of the five-year reviews,” city urban development director Allen Bell said.

One might have thought that the city was keeping records on the number of jobs created on at least an annual basis for management purposes, and would have these figures ready for immediate review. If the city had these figures available, it would be evidence of trustworthiness, performance, accountability, and measuring and reporting. But the city isn’t doing this.

Regarding values for dollars spent: During the past decade Wichita spent $247 million on the Aquifer Storage and Recovery Program, or ASR. As that project was contemplated, Wichita was told there was sufficient water for the next 50 years. We should ask: What value did we receive for those dollars?

Speaking of accountability: Much of the money used to pay for the ASR project was borrowed in the form of long-term debt. Now we are told that long-term borrowing to pay for a new water supply would be bad fiscal management. So was it was prudent and advisable to borrow over $200 million for water projects during the last decade? Who do we hold accountable for that decision, if what city leaders now say is correct?

Here’s a page from the city’s website as captured on November 10, 2007:

Transforming Wichita

Transforming Wichita is the journey by which we are fundamentally changing the way we measure, report and perform the work of delivering services to the citizens of Wichita. Our Vision:

  • For Wichita to be a premiere Midwestern city where people want to visit, live and play (as envisioned in Visioneering Wichita).
  • For Wichita City government to be a model of world class city governance — where citizens are getting the best possible value for their dollars and the City has the public’s confidence and trust. For this vision to be attained, we have to adapt to change!

twWhile we are doing a lot of things right, we can’t be complacent, resting on our laurels from past successes. The paradox is that we must retain faith that the future is bright, while being willing to face challenges of our current situation. We must be willing to challenge every aspect of how we’re doing things today. We must position ourselves for the future.

We will do this by transforming City government into a high performance organization that:

  • Focuses on results
  • Understands what results matter most to their customers
  • Makes performance matter
  • Moves decision-making down and out to the front-line, closest to customers; and
  • Fosters an environment of excellence, inclusiveness, accountability, learning and innovation.

Through Transformation Wichita:

  • We deliver outstanding results that matter to our customers and are trustworthy stewards of the funds with which citizens have entrusted us;
  • We utilize team work and the best business processes, supported by modernized information systems that facilitate collaboration with our partners;
  • We measure and report on our work, using a balanced scorecard that shows progress and results in how we carry out programs and activities, so that performance matters; and
  • We engage in work that produces results that matter for our customers; we will work with colleagues in an environment where learning enriches us and innovation expands our potential.

More about TW

TW is the journey by which we will be fundamentally changing the way we deliver services to the citizens of Wichita. Our vision is for Wichita to be a premiere Midwestern city where people want to visit, live and play and for the city government to be a model of world class city governance where citizens receive the best possible value for their tax dollars and have confidence in their city government.

While the City is doing a lot of things right, we can’t be complacent. We must be willing to challenge every aspect of how we’re doing things today and position ourselves for the future.

We will accomplish this by transforming City government into a high performance organization that:

  • Delivers outstanding results that matter to our customers and is a trustworthy steward of the funds with which citizens have entrusted us;
  • We utilize team work and the best business processes, supported by modernized information systems that facilitate collaboration with our partners;
  • We measure and report on our work, using processes that show progress and results in how we carry out programs and activities; and
  • We engage in work that produces results that matter for our customers.

Wichita planning results in delay, waste

Wichita plans an ambitious road project that turns out to be too expensive, resulting in continued delays for Wichita drivers and purchases of land that may not be needed.

A major road construction project in east Wichita is deferred after the design is too expensive, reports the Wichita Eagle. (East Kellogg interchange plan getting major reboot, August 30, 2014)

It’s bad news that Wichita drivers will suffer through more years of delay as they travel through east Wichita. The value of the lost hours sitting in traffic? It’s impossible to say.

But here’s something that will probably be easy to appraise: The waste of taxpayer dollars due to the actions of government planners. From the Eagle story:

It’s unclear how the redesign would affect the ongoing lawsuit between the city of Wichita and 10 property owners whose land was taken by eminent domain for the project. The city also has acquired another 30 parcels in the area.

A court-appointed panel of three appraisers awarded the owners of the 10 parcels a collective $19.6 million for their properties in November.

The Wichita City Council approved the award, as required by the court, but the amount far exceeded an internal estimate in the $4 million to $5 million range.

In December, the city sued the landowners to see if a court would reduce the valuations.

Some of that land probably would not be needed if the interchange is redesigned.

Did you catch that? The city spent nearly five times as much as original estimates to seize property through eminent domain, and also purchased other property. Buildings with remaining useful life have been razed. Now, we learn that this land may not be needed.

As Wichita city hall asks citizens to trust the plans for the proceeds of a new sales tax, remember lessons like this.

As Wichita asks for more taxes, it continues to waste what it has

The lights are on at the Wichita Transit Center on a sunny day — on a day the buses are not running.

The City of Wichita is recommending that voters approve a new city sales tax. Part would be used to fund the existing bus transit system and expand service.

Wichita Transit Center, Sunday August 31, 2014. It may be difficult to detect that some lights are on, as it's a sunny day.
Wichita Transit Center, Sunday August 31, 2014. It may be difficult to detect that some lights are on, as it’s a sunny day.
Whether or not you agree with that goal, people want government to spend taxpayer money carefully and efficiently. This is why it’s annoying to see the outside lights turned on in the middle of a sunny day. Especially so on Sunday, when the Transit Center is not open and buses do not run.

Wasting electricity like this is common at the Transit Center and other parts of downtown Wichita. I’m pretty sure that fixing this problem won’t fix the transit system’s failing finances. But we’ve learned that Wichita city hall isn’t concerned about blatant waste of taxpayer funds. And when we see city hall indifferent to the blatant waste of tax dollars, what about all the waste that’s not easy to see like street lights burning during the day?

Your smartphone is your activism toolkit

Your smartphone is a valuable tool for activism. Here are two ways to get involved.

Many people wonder how they can be involved in helping to improve government as a citizen activist. It may be that you have a valuable tool that’s in your pocket, and that you take everywhere you go: Your smartphone.

Street lights in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
Street lights in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
You may have seen me showing photographs of street lights burning in downtown Wichita during the middle of sunny afternoons. Have you ever spotted government waste like that? I’m sure that you have. I think people forget they have a fairly high-quality camera with them at all times in their smartphones. So here’s something that you can do: Take a photograph or shoot some video. Send it to me or to your local government watchdog. People like me need information. I need tips. Put your smartphone to work for something beside selfies.

Another thing you can do with your smartphone that is very helpful is to capture documents. Here’s an example. At election time, campaigns and political groups send a lot of mail pieces to voters. Some of these will contain falsehoods or distortions that need to be exposed so that the guilty parties can be held accountable. But much of the time, these political mailings go unnoticed. That’s because a Kansas House of Representatives campaign, for example, covers a relatively small population. Then, campaigns may send mail to only the people they consider active voters, and may narrow down the list using other criteria like political party. Or campaigns may send certain mail pieces to small subsets of voters. So any single campaign mail piece may go to a relatively small number of households.

What can you do to help? Use your smartphone or regular camera to capture documents like campaign mailers. You can do this by simply take a regular photograph with the built-in camera app. That usually works well enough if you follow a few guidelines, and with a little practice you can create documents are are very usable.

Probably the three most important things to remember are to avoid glare, maintain perspective, and crop. If your light source or flash creates glare on the document, the document may not be usable. By perspective, I mean having your camera square and perpendicular relative to the document so that its dimensions are not distorted. (I find that placing the document on the floor and then getting right over it helps.) Finally, cropping removes unneeded parts of the image. Remember, what we’re trying to do here is to create usable documents that can be read. We don’t have to worry about creating archival-quality documents like you would be if you’re digitizing and preserving family photographs.

As I said, you can do this with the regular camera app in your smartphone. But there are specialized document scanning apps. I’ve used several, and one I can recommend is called Scanbot. Another is CamScanner.

Using Scanbot
Using Scanbot
Scanbot is free for both Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, although there is a paid version with extra features like optical character recognition. What I like about Scanbot is that as you’re taking a photo, the app coaches you on the screen with tips like “too dark,” “get closer,” or “perspective.” Finally, it will command “don’t move” and it will snap the photo. You can then add more pages.

When finished, it creates a pdf from the scan. That’s really handy, as you then have one pdf document that holds all pages of the campaign mailer or other document. Then, you can have the app send the pdf by email or upload it to cloud-based storage systems like DropBox or Google Drive. (I recommend both of these systems.)

Be careful about sharing personal information.
Be careful about sharing personal information.
I should warn you: If you plan on sending something that you received in the mail that has your address or any other personal information on it, be aware and be careful. You could erase it using an editing app on your smartphone or computer, but in many cases the easiest thing to do is to obliterate your address with a marker pen before you capture the document. Or, you might cover it with paper, or excise it with scissors.

This type of intelligence-gathering is extremely valuable. Now, you may be thinking “Wait a minute. Don’t political campaigns post their mailers on their websites or Facebook?” The answer is some do, and some don’t. For the negative mail pieces — the ones that often contain the type of distortions that need to be exposed — it’s rare for a political campaign to make these mailers available to the public.

So this is a way you can be involved in gathering information. It could be campaign mailers, political campaign handouts, meeting agendas, material distributed at meetings, things you see on your computer screen, anything. It could be material distributed

I can’t tell you how many times people have complained to me about something they received in the mail or at a meeting. I ask “can you scan it and send it to me?” Well, not many people have scanners in their home. But now many people have smartphones. With a little practice, you can capture these documents in electronic form.

Then, what do you do with these documents? The campaigns of candidates that you support need intelligence like this. News reporters need documents for tips and substantiation of stories. You can share documents on social media like Facebook and Twitter. You can send them to me or your local government watchdog person or organization. There’s a lot you can do.

Government officials at all levels count on the average citizen not being interested or informed about government. We can hold government more closely accountable if we have information, and this a way that anyone can help.

Public opinion on Wichita sales tax

As Wichita prepares to debate the desirability of a sales tax increase, a public opinion poll finds little support for the tax and the city’s plans.

Wichita City Hall 2014-08-05 11In April Kansas Policy Institute commissioned SurveyUSA to conduct a scientific poll concerning current topics in Wichita. The press release from KPI, along with a link to the complete survey results, is available at Poll: Wichitans don’t want sales tax increase. In summary:

  • Only 28% say the city has been spending efficiently.
  • Only 34% agree with the idea of local governments using taxpayer money to provide subsidies to certain businesses for economic development.
  • When asked whether they would personally pay a higher sales tax to pay for certain things, there was majority support for securing a long term water source, maintaining existing infrastructure, and building new infrastructure, but one-third or less would pay a higher sales tax for business incentives, developing downtown Wichita, and expanding or renovating convention spaces.
  • 78% said that to fund existing infrastructure, build new infrastructure, and secure a long-term water source Wichita should fund those items by adjusting spending and being more efficient rather than raising taxes.

More detail on these results follows.

Is city spending efficiently?

The first question the survey asked was “In the past few years, have Wichita city officials used taxpayer money efficiently? Or inefficiently?” Following are the results for everyone, and then divided by political party and political ideology.

Overall, 58 percent believe city spending was inefficient, compared to 28 percent believing spending was efficient.

The results are surprisingly consistent. An exception is that political independents strongly believed that city spending was inefficient. Those identifying as liberal were more likely to say that city spending was inefficient.

kansas-policy-institute-2014-04-q01-01

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Taxes for subsidies for economic development

About one-third of voters polled support local governments using taxpayer money to provide subsidies to certain businesses for economic development.

The second question the survey asked was “In general, do you agree? Or disagree? With the idea of local governments using taxpayer money to provide subsidies to certain businesses for economic development?” Following are the results for everyone, and then divided by political party and political ideology.

Overall, 55 percent disagreed with using taxpayer money to provide subsidies to certain businesses for economic development. 34 percent agreed.

The results are fairly consistent across political party and ideology, although Republicans are somewhat more likely to agree with using taxpayer funds for economic development incentives, as are those who self-identify as political moderates.

kansas-policy-institute-2014-04-q02-01

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kansas-policy-institute-2014-04-q02-03

Voters willing to pay for fundamentals

Voters are willing to pay a higher sales tax for fundamentals like infrastructure and water supply, and less willing for business incentives, downtown development, and convention centers.

In a series of questions asking if Wichita voters would be willing to pay a higher sales tax to provide certain services, a pattern appeared: Voters are willing to pay for things that are fundamental in nature, and less willing to pay for others.

As can be seen in the nearby chart, voters are willing to pay for infrastructure, and more willing to pay for maintenance of existing infrastructure than for new infrastructure. Voters are most willing to pay for securing a long-term water source.

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

For business incentives, downtown development, and convention centers, Wichita voters express less willingness to pay higher sales tax to fund these items.

For the first three items, the average was 68 percent of voters willing to pay a higher sales tax. For the last three, the average is 30 percent.

Following is the complete text of the questions:

Would you personally be willing to pay a higher sales tax in the city of Wichita to fund incentives to businesses expanding in Wichita or moving here from other states?

Would you personally be willing to pay a higher sales tax in the city of Wichita to fund maintenance work on existing infrastructure, such as sewers and roads?

Would you personally be willing to pay a higher sales tax in the city of Wichita to fund new infrastructure, such as new highways and passenger rail connections?

Would you personally be willing to pay a higher sales tax in the city of Wichita to continue developing downtown Wichita with apartments, businesses, and entertainment destinations?

Would you personally be willing to pay a higher sales tax in the city of Wichita to expand or renovate convention spaces, such as the Hyatt Hotel and Century II?

Would you personally be willing to pay a higher sales tax in the city of Wichita to secure a long-term water source?

How to pay for infrastructure

Wichita voters prefer adjusting spending, becoming more efficient, using public-private partnerships, and privatization to raising taxes.

Question nine asked how Wichita voters preferred paying for new government spending: “To fund existing infrastructure, build new infrastructure, and secure a long-term water source should Wichita fund those items by adjusting spending and being more efficient rather than raising taxes?”

Overall, 78 percent of Wichita voters answered “Yes,” meaning they prefer that Wichita adjust spending and become more efficient. 12 percent answered “No,” meaning they were in favor of raising taxes instead.

A related question was “Should Wichita fund those items through public-private partnerships, or privatization, rather than raising taxes?”

Overall, 65 percent answered “Yes,” meaning they prefer public-private partnerships, or privatization. 25 percent answered “No,” indicating a preference for raising taxes.

kansas-policy-institute-2014-04-q09-01

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Before asking for more taxes, Wichita should stop wasting what it has

Voters should ask that Wichita stop blatant and avoidable waste before approving additional taxes.

Wichita Transit Center, August 11, 2014, 6:13 pm
Wichita Transit Center, August 11, 2014, 6:13 pm
At 6:13 pm on August 11, 2014, a full two hours and nine minutes before sunset, with Wichita bathed in golden sunshine, the outside lights are on at the Wichita Transit Center. I wasn’t surprised to see this. These lights were probably burning and wasting electricity all day long.

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 on sunny days. This is indicative of the attitude of the city as explained in Forget the vampires. Let’s tackle the real monsters.

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.
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.

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.

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: 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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Water, waste, signs, gaps, economic development, jobs, cronyism, and water again.

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A look at a variety of topics, including an upcoming educational event concerning water in Wichita, more wasteful spending by the city, yard signs during election season, problems with economic development and cronyism in Wichita, and water again. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 50, broadcast July 6, 2014.

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 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.

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?

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.

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.