Tag Archives: Kansas Governor

Wichita Eagle Now Consider This

For Wichita Eagle, no immediate Kansas budget solution

The Wichita Eagle shows how its adherence to ideology misinforms Kansans and limits their exposure to practical solutions for governance.

In an op-ed posted the day before election day, the editorial board of the Wichita Eagle wrote of the problems it believes the next Kansas governor will face:

The candidates vying to be Kansas governor have lofty-sounding goals and campaign promises. But here’s the grim reality: Whoever wins Tuesday will spend the next several years trying to fill a budget hole.

And that hole keeps growing deeper. (“Budget hole awaits winner,” November 3, 2014)

The state has to make changes. We’ve cut taxes, but we’ve not yet met the challenge of cutting spending to match. The problem with this op-ed is the assertion that will take several years to fix. Here’s what I left in reply:

I have to disagree. Kansas Policy Institute has examined the Kansas budget and found ways to make several structural changes that would immediately (within one year) balance the Kansas budget. This would preserve existing services and fully fund the increases in K-12 school spending and social service caseloads that Kansas Legislative Research has projected. The policy brief that KPI has prepared on this matter is only ten pages long and not difficult to comprehend.

The changes that KPI recommends are specific adjustments to the way Kansas spends money. They are not the vague calls to eliminate waste that we see politicians campaign on. This is something that Kansas could do if both Democrats and Republicans have the will.

Dave Trabert, president of Kansas Policy Institute, added this:

Bob is right. And the Eagle is well aware of our budget plan but declines to let readers know that the budget can be balanced without service reductions or tax increases. It won’t take “several years” to fix the budget; our plan could be implemented by passing a few pieces of legislation.

The policy brief I referenced may be downloaded from KPI at A Five-Year Budget Plan for the State of Kansas: How to balance the budget and have healthy ending balances without tax increases or service reductions or alternatively from Scribd here (may work better on mobile devices). A press release from KPI announcing the policy brief is at 5 Year Budget Plan Outlines Path To Protect Essential Services and Tax Reform.

Religion and politics; two subjects that divide friends and family members alike

By Eileen Umbehr, wife of Libertarian Candidate for Kansas Governor Keen Umbehr
November 1, 2014

Keen and Eileen Umbehr
Keen and Eileen Umbehr
As this campaign draws to a close, my heart is heavy. Not so much because Keen was treated as a second-class candidate who didn’t deserve a seat at the table with his Democrat and Republican opponents, but because of the way I’ve seen God used as a selling point in politics.

For example, Keen is solidly pro-life. He believes in freedom as long as you do not cause harm to another human being, and a baby is a human being. But because he also acknowledges the reality that unless and until Roe v. Wade is overturned women maintain their right to choose, he is not considered pro-life enough.

The issue of same-sex marriage has also been deeply divisive and been used to garner votes. How a candidate may feel about two members of the same sex uniting in marriage is separate from his or her duty as a government official to ensure that all laws apply equally to all citizens. Could the government decide not to issue gay people a license to teach, cut hair, practice law, or engage in business?

What each of us believe and the tenets we choose to follow in our private lives is a personal matter. While Keen and I are both Christians who try to live according to the principles set forth in the Bible, where we differ from many of our fellow Christians is that we don’t believe it is our right — or the government’s right — to impose any particular religious belief on anyone. Even God doesn’t do that. If He did, wouldn’t He simply force everyone to believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins so they would all go to Heaven?

Keen is a strict constitutionalist. He believes in the First Amendment right of free speech even when it means that the Phelps’ family can spew messages of hate, causing immeasurable harm to families burying their loved ones. And he believes in the Sixth Amendment right to counsel even when the accused may be guilty of a heinous crime.

When it comes to the Fourteenth Amendment, there are many who feel it should not apply to gays wanting to marry because homosexuality is classified as a sin in the Bible. But isn’t fornication and sex before marriage also classified as a sin in the Bible? And yet no one is suggesting that folks who have engaged in these acts should be denied a marriage license.

Someone posted the following statement about Keen on a liberty-based Facebook page: “Don’t be deceived, this guy is pumping for same sex marriage.” Keen posted the following reply: “I am not ‘pumping’ for same sex marriage, I am ‘pumping’ for adhering to the Constitution which requires equal protection under the law. As long as the State of Kansas is in the business of issuing licenses — whether they be drivers’ licenses, marriage licenses or business licenses — they cannot discriminate against individuals on the basis of religion, gender, or race. How each individual chooses to live their lives is their business, not the government’s.”

In conclusion, if we really want to protect religious freedom in our country, then we should elect candidates who will defend the rights of all citizens to practice whichever religion they choose. That is true religious liberty.

But then, a candidate like that wouldn’t be considered Christian enough.

Kansas Capitol

SEC orders Kansas to stop doing what it did under Sebelius and Parkinson

The Securities and Exchange Commission found that Kansas mislead bond investors. It ordered the state to implement reforms, which it has.

Kansas Capitol
Kansas Capitol
According to a press release from the Securities and Exchange Commission, the State of Kansas “failed to disclose that the state’s pension system was significantly underfunded, and the unfunded pension liability created a repayment risk for investors in those bonds.”

This refers to a series of eight debt, or bond, issues in 2009 and 2010. Collectively they were worth $273 million. The SEC press release explains:

According to the SEC’s order against Kansas, the series of bond offerings were issued through the Kansas Development Finance Authority (KDFA) on behalf of the state and its agencies. According to one study at the time, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) was the second-most underfunded statewide public pension system in the nation. In the offering documents for the bonds, however, Kansas did not disclose the existence of the significant unfunded liability in KPERS. Nor did the documents describe the effect of such an unfunded liability on the risk of non-appropriation of debt service payments by the Kansas state legislature. The SEC’s investigation found that the failure to disclose this material information resulted from insufficient procedures and poor communications between the KDFA and the Kansas Department of Administration, which provided the KDFA with the information to include in the offering materials.

“Kansas failed to adequately disclose its multi-billion-dollar pension liability in bond offering documents, leaving investors with an incomplete picture of the state’s finances and its ability to repay the bonds amid competing strains on the state budget,” said LeeAnn Ghazil Gaunt, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit. “In determining the settlement, the Commission considered Kansas’s significant remedial actions to mitigate these issues as well as the cooperation of state officials with SEC staff during the investigation.”

In other words, Kansas had a grossly underfunded state pension system, and did not adequately disclose that to potential purchasers of new state debt. The full text of the order gives more detail as to how Kansas was an outlier among the states, not only in the magnitude of its problem, but in its lack of disclosure:

Kansas’s practice of not disclosing the underfunded status of KPERS became increasingly inconsistent with the practice of most states issuing municipal securities, which generally provided disclosure in their CAFRs or the body of their Official Statements regarding the financial health of their pension funds. By 2008, with the exception of Kansas, the overwhelming majority of the Official Statements for state-level bond issuances at a minimum disclosed the UAAL or funded ratios of the associated state-level pension plans, particularly if those plans were significantly underfunded.

Here’s what this means to public policy:

First, the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS) was in terrible financial condition, compared to other states.

Second, Kansas did not adequately disclose that to potential investors, according to the SEC.

Third, reforms have been implement to the satisfaction of the SEC.

Kansas Department of Administration logoFourth, the SEC was quite critical of the Kansas Department of Administration, or KDA.

Fifth, the head of KDA at the time was Duane Goossen. On his blog his biography contains: “[Goossen] was appointed by Sebelius in 2004 to concurrently serve as Secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration, the agency that manages state facilities, accounting, information services and employee programs.”

Although retired from state government, Goossen maintained a role in public affairs as former Vice President for Fiscal and Health Policy at Kansas Health Institute, and now authors a blog concerning issues related to the Kansas budget.

More reporting on this matter from Kansas Watchdog is at SEC charges Kansas with fraud for Parkinson-era omissions.

Kansas Flint Hills

Kansas values, applied to schools

A Kansas public policy advocacy group makes an emotional pitch to petition signers, but signers should first be aware of actual facts.

To drum up support for its positions, Kansas Values Institute has started on online petition urging Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to veto HB 2506. Here’s the pitch made to potential petition signers:

“Governor Brownback has had four years to make schools a priority, but all he has to show for it is classrooms that are over crowded, parents paying rising school fees, and his signature achievement: the largest cut to classrooms in the history of Kansas. The Supreme Court’s ruling gave the Governor a chance to correct his course.”

Now, the governor has not necessarily been a friend of education, if by that we mean Kansas schoolchildren and parents. His lack of advocacy for school choice programs stands out from the progress that other Republican governors have made in their states. See The Year of School Choice and 2013: Yet Another ‘Year of School Choice.’

Kansas school spending, per student, from state, local, and federal sources, adjusted for inflation.
Kansas school spending, per student, from state, local, and federal sources, adjusted for inflation.
But we ought to hold public discourse like this to a certain standard, and the pitch made by Kansas Values Institute deserves examination.

Kansas school spending, per student, adjusted for inflation. While base state aid per pupil has declined, state and total spending has remained steady after declining during the recession.
Kansas school spending, per student, adjusted for inflation. While base state aid per pupil has declined, state and total spending has remained steady after declining during the recession.
With regard to school funding, cuts were made by Brownback’s predecessors. Since he became governor, funding is pretty level, on a per student basis adjusted for inflation. It’s true that base state aid per pupil has declined due to the cuts made by governors before Brownback. But state and total funding has been steady since then.

Nonetheless, some people insist on using base state aid as the measure of school spending. They make this argument even though total Kansas state spending per pupil the past year was $6,984, or 1.82 times base state aid of $3,838. Adding local and federal sources, spending was $12,781 per student, or 3.33 times base state aid.

Ratios of school spending to base state aid.
Ratios of school spending to base state aid.
Further, as can be seen in the nearby chart, there has been a steady increase in the ratios of state and total school spending to base state aid.

This is important, as the Kansas Supreme Court issued some instructions in the recent Gannon decision when it remanded part the case to the lower court. The Court said all funding sources are to be considered: “In the panel’s assessment, funds from all available resources, including grants and federal assistance, should be considered.” This will certainly test the faith in courts that school spending boosters have proclaimed.

So the claims of the present governor being responsible for “the largest cut to classrooms in the history of Kansas” is false.

Then, what about “classrooms that are over crowded”? Kansas State Department of Education has data on this topic, sort of. KSDE provides the number of employees in school districts and the number of students. I obtained and analyzed this data. I found that the situation is not the same in every school district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

Kansas school employment ratios

The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio of these employees to pupils has fallen.

There’s also a video explaining these statistics. Click here to view it at YouTube. Others have noticed discrepancies in school job claims. See Kansas school employment: Mainstream media notices.

In its pitch, Kansas Values Institute complain that class sizes in Kansas schools are rising. The data that we have, which is the ratio of teachers to pupils, is not the same statistic as class size. They measure different things. But if Kansas schools, considered as a whole, have rising teacher and certified employment levels and the pupil to teacher ratio is decreasing, and at the same time class sizes are increasing — we have to wonder about the management of schools. What are schools doing with these new employees?

As far as I know, no one tracks school district fees across the state. I’d welcome learning of such data.

But regarding data we do have, we see that Kansas Values Institute is either not paying attention, or simply doesn’t care about truthfulness.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee). Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

Voice for Liberty Radio: Jeff Glendening, Americans for Prosperity

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150In this episode of WichitaLiberty Podcasts: The day after Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s State of the State Address, I talk with Jeff Glendening at the Kansas Capitol. He’s Kansas State Director for Americans for Prosperity.

Prior to joining AFP in 2013, Jeff most recently was vice president of political affairs with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, where he worked to expand the Chamber’s grassroots network, and to promote a pro-growth economic climate in Kansas. Aside from his work with the Kansas Chamber, Jeff has been involved in Kansas politics for a number of years, and has worked on the staffs of several members of legislative leadership, including Speaker of the House, House Majority Leader and Speaker Pro Tem. Jeff has also worked on gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and U.S. House campaigns.

This is podcast episode number 3, released on January 17, 2014.

Shownotes

Americans for Prosperity-Kansas
Americans for Prosperity, national site
Americans for Prosperity-Kansas statement on State of the State Address
State of the State address for 2014, by Sam Brownback
Response by House of Representatives Minority Leader Paul Davis

Kansas school employment

Kansas school employment: The claims compared to statistics

School

Claims made about Kansas schools don’t match the state’s statistics.

Responding to the State of the State Address delivered by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Kansas House of Representatives Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis provided figures regarding Kansas public schools, telling Kansans: “On top of that, public school class sizes are growing, [and] teachers have been laid off by the thousands.”

Statistics from Kansas State Department of Education, however, show that school employment has rebounded, both in terms of absolute numbers of teachers and certified employees, and the ratios of pupils to these employees.

Kansas school employment

The story is not the same in every district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen. (This ratio is not the same statistic as average class size, but it’s the data we have. Plus, if schools are hiring teachers at a rate higher than the increase in students, we should expect class sizes to fall.)

Kansas school employment ratios

The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee). Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

There’s also this to consider about class size. In 2011 the Center for American Progress released a report about class size reduction in schools and the false promise it holds for improving student achievement. (The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction)

It’s quite astonishing to see CAP cite evidence from Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution and Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Hoover. These two researchers are usually condemned by the public education establishment and bureaucracy, including teachers unions. These are some of the key constituents CAP usually caters to.

In a nutshell, class size reduction produces very little benefit for students. It’s also very expensive, and there are other things we should be doing instead if we really want to increase student achievement.

The report summarizes the important studies in class size reduction. The upshot is that there is only one study showing positive results from class size reduction, and that effect was found only among the early grades. The effect decreased after a few years, even though small class sizes were still used.

The report also notes that class size reduction is very expensive to implement. Because it is, the report says we should look to other ways to increase student achievement, such as policies relating to teacher effectiveness: “The emerging consensus that teacher effectiveness is the single most important in-school determinant of student achievement suggests that teacher recruitment, retention, and compensation policies ought to rank high on the list.”

On teacher quality and teacher effectiveness: When Sandi Jacobs of National Council for Teacher Quality appeared in Kansas a few years ago, we learned that Kansas ranks below average on its policies that promote teacher quality.

In the example she illustrated, third graders who had teachers in the top 20 percent of effectiveness for the next three years went from the 50th percentile in performance to the 90th. For students with teachers in the lowest 20 percent for the same period, their performance dropped from the 50th percentile to the 37th percentile. More on this topic is at Kansas ranks low in policies on teacher quality.

Job claims in Kansas addresses

Kansas Capitol

How can conflicting jobs claims made by two Kansas leaders and candidates for governor be reconciled?

Listening to the State of the State Address and the official response might cause Kansans to become confused, or worse. The claims made by Sam Brownback and Paul Davis appear to contain conflicting views of Kansas employment.

In the State of the State Address, Brownback said “Since December 2010, Kansas has added on average, more than a thousand private sector jobs every month.”

Davis, in the official response, said “According to the latest jobs report — released just a few weeks ago — there are 16,000 fewer Kansans working than when Governor Brownback took office.”

bureau-labor-statistics-logoWho is correct? The answer is not easy to provide. That’s because there are two series of employment data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The two series don’t measure exactly the same thing, and each of these candidates for Kansas governor has chosen to use the series that benefits their campaign. Nearby is an example of just how different the two series can appear.

cps-ces-difference-example-2013-12

A document from BLS titled Employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys: summary of recent trends explains in brief: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. … These estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.”

Another BLS document explains in detail the differences between the CPS and CES data. For example: CES: “Designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings with significant industrial and geographic detail” CPS: “Designed to measure employment and unemployment with significant demographic detail.”

Another difference: CES: “Self-employed persons are excluded.” CPS: “Self-employed persons are included.” (See Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.)

I’ve prepared a table showing the claims made primarily by the Davis campaign in December (since it provided the most detail) and gathered data from both the CES and CPS series. I’ve also showed the seasonally adjusted data compared to the raw data when available. Sometimes the numbers match exactly with the claims made by the campaigns, and sometimes the numbers are a little different. Click here for the full table.

cps-ces-jobs-compared-2013-12
I’ve also created an interactive visualization of the CPS and CES data for Kansas. Click here to open it in a new window.

Each campaign uses the data that best makes its case. Generally speaking, the CES data shows larger employment gains.

We still have this question: Who is correct? Here’s something to consider. On the national level, a widely-watched number each month is the count of new jobs created. This number, which is universally considered to be important, comes from the CES survey. That’s the number that shows quite a bit of job growth in Kansas.

Download (PDF, 42KB)

Kansas schoolchildren shortchanged by Kansas City Star

kansas-city-star-opinion

Another newspaper editorialist ignores the facts about Kansas schools. This is starting to be routine.

In a collection of toasts and roasts, Kansas City Star columnist Steve Rose criticizes Kansas Governor Sam Brownback on a variety of fronts, especially on school funding:

A ROAST to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who led the charge for the most radical and irresponsible tax cuts in the history of Kansas and, perhaps, the entire country. One of the unfortunate victims of these cuts is education, both K-12 and higher education. The damage will be gradual, but it will be felt to be sure. Brownback says he is investing in more jobs. But he is dis-investing in education. What could be more vital to the Kansas economy and attracting businesses than a high quality educational system? (Roasts and toasts suitable for the new year, January 11, 2014)

kansas-school-spending-per-student-2013-10-chart-01

Dis-investing in education.: Nearby is a chart of Kansas school spending. It’s adjusted for inflation. Spending is not as high as it was at its peak, but claims of “slashing” or “dis-investing” don’t apply, either.

Those who claim school spending is inadequate usually cite only base state aid per pupil, which has fallen. But it’s only the starting point for all the other spending. In totality, spending on schools in Kansas is over three times the level of base state aid. Also, comparisons are often made to what the Kansas Supreme Court said base state aid should be to its actual value. But the court doesn’t know how much should be spent on schools.

Those who make claims of cutting schools should note this: Considering the entire state, two trends have emerged. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the student-teacher ratio has fallen. The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen.

Kansas school employment

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts.

Kansas school employment ratios

Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee).

What could be more vital to the Kansas economy and attracting businesses than a high quality educational system? Rose is right. Good schools are vital to our future. If only Kansas had them.

The focus on school spending — that’s all writers like Rose write about — keeps attention away from some unfortunate and unpleasant facts about Kansas schools. Kansas needs to confront these facts for the sake of Kansas schoolchildren. Editorials like this are very harmful to Kansas schoolchildren, because if spending is increased, not much is likely to improve, but the public school establishment and editorialists like Steve Rose will say that everything that’s wrong has been fixed.

Here’s what Kansas needs to confront. Regarding Kansas school performance, we have to confront two unpleasant realities. First, Kansas has set low standards for its schools, compared to other states. Then, when the Kansas Supreme Court ordered more spending in 2005, the state responded by lowering school standards further. Kansas school superintendents defend these standards.

When referring to “strong public school system,” here’s what Kansans need to know. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks pretty high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation. An illustrative video is available here.

Kansas and National NAEP Scores, 2011, by Ethnicity and Race

If we compare Kansas NAEP scores to those of Texas, we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

What explains this paradox is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of students in ethnic groups. In Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 33 percent. This large difference in the composition of students is what makes it look like Kansas students perform better on the NAEP than Texas students.

But looking at the scores for ethnic subgroups, which state would you say has the most desirable set of NAEP scores? It’s important to know that aggregated data can mask or hide underlying trends.

Here’s a question for you: Have you heard Kansas school leaders talk about this? Do Steve Rose and the Kansas City Star editorial board know this?

2013 year in review: Top 10 stories from the Sunflower State

2013 year in review: Top 10 stories from the Sunflower State

By Travis Perry, Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — It’s over, done, finalized, finito. With the final days and hours of 2013 ticking to a close, we figured it’s a good time for reflection on what the last 12 months have brought the Sunflower State.

So, without further delay, Kansas Watchdog presents its Top 10 stories of 2013.

Strip Club

1. Wayward welfare dollars

An in-depth investigation into howKansans spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in government welfare money came to a shocking conclusion: a striking number of transactions appear to be going toward anything but the basic necessities. From casinos and liquor stores to smoke shops and even strip clubs, Kansas Watchdog uncovered more than $43,000 in transactions at shady ATM locations around the state. To make matters worse, all this only took place over a three-month period.

Read It:
Kansans spent welfare cash on strippers, smokes and sour mash

Video camera

2. Camera-shy state lawmakers

Fun fact: Did you know the Kansas Capitol is capable of broadcasting live video online of some of the Legislature’s most important committee meetings? Don’t beat yourself up over it. A striking number of lawmakers don’t know, either. It’s the end result of years of apathy that has led the state to be one of only 11 nationwide that do not stream some form of live video. If some kid in the middle of nowhere can attract global eyeballs with nothing more than a camera phone, what’s keeping the Kansas Legislature off the air?

Read it:
Camera shy: Kansas legislators sidestep transparency
Eye in the sky: Kansas legislative leader won’t require streaming video

3. Judicial selection gymnastics

Here’s a shocking revelation: politics sway candidate commentaries, and Kansas is no exception. Gov. Sam Brownback’s pick for the Kansas Court of Appeals is a prime example of this, after the situation prompted his Democratic gubernatorial challenger to switch sides on his stance to oppose the new nominee. And how could we forget that, in their rush to criticize the conservative governor, Kansas Democrats conveniently forgot thatKathleen Sebelius did almost the exact same thing only a few years earlier.

Read it:
Democratic leader flip-flops on Kansas judicial nominee
Partisan politics fuel Kansas Democrat’s change of heart
Kansas Democrats use double standard on judicial nomination criticism

4. Follow the money

And as long as we’re on the topic of judicial nominees, how about we turn the spotlight on a few other critics of Brownback’s decision? Namely theLeague of Women Voters and Justice At Stake, both of which claim to be nonpartisan organizations while simultaneously accepting large sums of cash from George Soros’ liberal nonprofits, the Tides Foundation and Open Society Institute.

Read it:
Soros bankrolls ‘nonpartisan’ critics of Kansas governor
‘Nonpartisan’ critic says Soros cash hasn’t caused political bias
money-limit

5. Fiscal follies

Ever wonder just how much work goes into calculating the cost of a legislative proposal? Not that much, apparently. While state agencies claim they don’t pad their figures, government critics charge them with doing just that, and a close inspection of a few cost estimates only bolsters the case. Should it cost $17,000 for the state to put online a spreadsheet of data it already has? What about $20,000 for a program agency officials say could have been absorbed in-house? Yea, we thought so too.

Read it:
Fiscal follies: Kansas cost estimates draw criticism

 
money jail

6. Your money, behind bars

How much should Kansas spend to lock up individuals whose only crime is drug related? While lawmakers are struggling to figure out what that figure should be, the reality is that Kansas drops about $42 million annually to keep these men and women in prison. To make matters worse, state law enforcement statistics suggest it’s overwhelmingly because of Kansas continues to wage war against marijuana.

Read it:
Kansas spends millions to keep non-violent drug offenders behind bars
Twinkies-2

7. Raking-in the dough

Remember the media flurry surrounding the implosion of Hostess, one of America’s most iconic snack food manufacturers? Well here’s something you probably missed. According to the government, former employees were knocked out due to foreign trade pressure, and for that deserve extra benefits above and beyond standard unemployment insurance. But everything uncovered by Kansas Watchdog seems to point to the contrary. Curious? So were we.

Read it:
Former Hostess workers land sweet deal, taxpayers foot bill
Did foreign trade really cause Hostess’ demise?
Couch fire

8. Couch crackdown

If you’re looking for the nuttiest story of the year, look no further. The City ofLawrence, Kansas’ liberal bastion, only months ago brought us the headache-inducing mandate that city residents are not, in fact, capable of policing their own safety. Rather, officials passed a ban on front porch couches, despite the fact that local and nationwide statistics suggest it’s less of an issue than advocates would have folks believe.

Read it:
Kansas community cracks down on couches
Islam Display

9. Islamic fervor

Wichita-area school came under fire earlier this year after students and parents were greeted on the first day of school with a large display outlining the five pillars of the Islamic faith. The matter prompted emotions of all scope and size, and landed the school squarely in the national spotlight.

Read it:
Kansas lawmaker ‘appalled’ by Islamic display in school
KansasSeal

10. Counting for attendance

The legislative session is a busy time for any elected official, but some are less (or more) busy than others, it seems. After Kansas lawmakers headed for home in June, Kansas Watchdog took an in-depth peek at how they faired in the preceding months, and what we found was jaw-dropping. In all, seven members of the House of Representatives had missed more votes than all other members of the House combined.

Read it:

Handful of Kansas lawmakers outpace all others for missed votes

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at@muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

Job growth, Kansas and other states

Kansas Capitol 2013-11-11 14.58.34Critics of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and his economic growth plans say Kansas hasn’t been creating jobs. A look at the statistics tells us that Kansas has produced substandard performance in job growth for a long time.

job-growth-states-compound-annual-rate-2013-12

The nearby chart (click for a larger version) shows the compound annual rate of growth of jobs in the states, with Kansas highlighted in blue.

From 1992 to 2012, Kansas created jobs at the rate of 1.022 percent per year, compounded. Arkansas managed 1.096 percent over the same period. That seems like a small difference, just 0.074 percentage points. But over time, compounding adds up, so to speak. If both states started with one million jobs and continued growing at these rates, in ten years Arkansas would have 8,136 more jobs than Kansas. In 20 years, the difference would be 18,080 jobs. That’s about as many people as work in each of Finney and Ford Counties, home to Dodge City and Garden City, respectively.

Or, consider Texas, the state Kansas progressives love to hate. It’s has created jobs at the rate of 2.001 percent. If both states started with one million jobs and grew at these rates, in ten years Texas would have 112,083 more jobs than Kansas would have. In 20 years the difference would be 260,722 jobs. That’s almost as many people as work in the Wichita metropolitan area.

Using the visualization.
Using the visualization.
If you’d like to use the interactive visualization of state employment data, you may click here to open it in a new window. Data is from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Kansas jobs: Who do we believe?

bownback-davis-logo-02

Earlier this week we saw that candidates for Kansas governor have released statements on recent job figures in Kansas. The news releases from Sam Brownback and Paul Davis appear to contain conflicting views of Kansas employment.

But we saw that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends. There’s the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and there is also the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. BLS explains: “These estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.”

cps-ces-jobs-compared-2013-12Both the Davis and Brownback campaign appear to cite the data correctly. So which is the better measure to use? Which gives the best indication of the performance of the Kansas economy in creating jobs?

Here’s something to consider. On the national level, a widely-watched number each month is the count of new jobs created. This number, which is universally considered to be important, comes from the CES survey. That’s the number that shows quite a bit of job growth in Kansas. But in order to belittle the Brownback effort, the Davis campaign cites the other data series.

So let’s be fair. The next time Davis and Democrats praise good job creation figures at the national level as evidence of the goodness of Barack Obama, let’s ask them to give the same credit to Sam Brownback.

In Kansas, dueling job claims

bownback-davis-logo-01Candidates for Kansas governor last week released statements on recent job figures in Kansas. The releases from Sam Brownback and Paul Davis appear to contain conflicting views of Kansas employment.

Brownback released a statement containing this, in part: “In the past year, we have seen more than 20,000 new jobs in Kansas and a total of 45,600 new jobs created from January 2011 through October 2013.” (Click here for the full statement.)

Davis released a statement containing this, in part: “From January 2011 – Oct 2013: Period during which Brownback cites 46,500 new jobs … Employed: +3,634 (not 46,500, which is what was claimed by Brownback)” (Click here for the full statement.)

So which campaign is correct? The answer is not easy to provide. That’s because there are two series of employment data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The two series don’t measure exactly the same thing, and each campaign has chosen to use the series that benefits their campaign. Nearby is an example of just how different the two series can appear.

cps-ces-difference-example-2013-12
A document from BLS titled Employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys: summary of recent trends explains in brief: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. … These estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.”

Another BLS document explains in detail the differences between the CPS and CES data. For example: CES: “Designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings with significant industrial and geographic detail” CPS: “Designed to measure employment and unemployment with significant demographic detail.”

Another difference: CES: “Self-employed persons are excluded.” CPS: “Self-employed persons are included.” (See Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.)

I’ve prepared a table showing the claims made primarily by the Davis campaign (since it provided the most detail) and gathered data from both the CES and CPS series. I’ve also showed the seasonally adjusted data compared to the raw data when available. Sometimes the numbers match exactly with the claims made by the campaigns, and sometimes the numbers are a little different. Click here for the full table.

cps-ces-jobs-compared-2013-12
I’ve also created an interactive visualization of the CPS and CES data for Kansas. Click here to open it in a new window.

Each campaign uses the data that best makes its case. Generally speaking, the CES data shows larger employment gains.

Download (PDF, 42KB)

Spinning for fundraising, Kansas-style

Kansas liberals accuse Republicans of “spinning” statistics on school funding. Can we look at some actual numbers?

Candidate for Kansas Governor Paul Davis sent this fundraising email:

paul-davis-facebook-2013-11-20

This weekend another independent advocate for our schools called attention to Sam Brownback’s attempt to mislead Kansans about his real record on education. The fact is, Sam Brownback made the largest cut to our schools in Kansas history — leading to larger class sizes, school closings, and increased fees for parents.

But being the politician that he is, Sam Brownback is trying to spin his record. We won’t be fooled.

Kevin McWhorter of the Goddard School Board said it plainly, “State funding for education will continue to decline, and state officials will continue to twist the numbers to ask you to believe otherwise. Don’t fall for it. It’s just spin.”

Davis is referring to an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle written by a Goddard school board member. (Kevin R. McWhorter: Don’t fall for spin on school funding, November 17, 2013)

In his op-ed, McWhorter complains that present funding from the state is not as high as statute requires. He calls that a cut. He concludes that the “governor’s economic policy is a train wreck” and that “state funding for education will continue to decline.”

goddard-school-spending-2013-11

Nearby you may find charts of data for the Goddard school district. (Click for larger versions.) You may draw your own conclusions. Recall that Sam Brownback became governor in 2011. The charts are derived from visualizations of data obtained from the Kansas State Department of Education. You may click here to access the visualization for school spending. Information about school employment, including a video and interactive visualization is at Kansas school employment trends.

goddard-school-employment-2013-11

Charts for the entire state look similar: Employment going down, then rising. Ratios of employees to students improve correspondingly. This is not the case in every school district, however.

But not everyone believes the statistics. When the Kansas Republican Party posted a chart of statewide school employment on its Facebook page, someone remarked “Where do I find the facts supporting this graft [sic]? Where did the numbers come from? How are these more than 400 additional teachers and 500 certified employees being paid when school funding has been reduced?”

Sounds like someone’s been spun.

Kansas editorial writers aren’t helping

Recently it has become fashionable for newspapers to carry editorials bemoaning the current state of affairs in Kansas, contrasting the current regime to a tradition of moderation in Kansas governance. In particular, Governor Sam Brownback is singled out for criticism.

Examples of such columns are Kansas 1861-2013 in the Hutchinson News, Kansas slipping away from its people in the Topeka Capital-Journal, and Which Kansas is that? in the Wichita Eagle.

The common thread in these articles is willing ignorance of the facts. I say willing ignorance because these writers ought to know facts. If they don’t know facts about the Kansas economy and schools, we have to wonder why they are writing editorials that will be read by thousands of Kansans?

Here’s a brief rundown of the state of Kansas:

Kansas population has been growing at a slower rate than the country. A chart is here.

Kansas has been growing jobs at a slower rate than many other states. Here’s a link to an interactive visualization of job growth in the states. You can compare Kansas to any other state or combination of states. Should we be satisfied with the performance of Kansas compared to other states over the past few decades? No, we shouldn’t be satisfied with our record during the period that these editorialists write about.

Kansas has been growing its private-sector gross domestic product at a rate slower than most states. An interactive visualization is here.

Kansas has lost ground in interstate migrants. Many more people leave Kansas for other states than move to Kansas, as can be seen here. In the 2012 United Van Lines migration study, Kansas is seen as “balanced.” But Atlas has more outbound shipments than inbound.

While Kansas newspaper editorial writers like to boast of outstanding public schools, a proper examination of NAEP scores finds that Kansas can’t do better than Texas, a state that we often compare with ourselves in a negative way. Comparing Kansas to national averages, Kansas performs well compared to other states in math and reading in grades four and eight, scoring better than the national average in all these cases. But if we look at the data separated by racial/ethnic subgroups, something different becomes apparent: Kansas lags behind the national average in some of these areas. A table of these figures is here.

Regarding Texas again: Editorial writers say that because Texas has no income tax, its property and sales taxes are higher. Perhaps. But overall, Texas collects less taxes from its citizens. In 2011 Kansas state government collected $2,378 in taxes for each person. Texas collected $1,682. Texas may have higher sales or property taxes than Kansas, but the total tax burden in Texas is lower.

Spending follows the same pattern. In 2011 Kansas state government spent $5,115 per person in total, with $1,974 in general fund spending and $130 in bond spending. For Texas the total was $3,718 spent per person in total, with $1,654 in general fund spending and $50 in bond spending. The lower level of spending means Texas has a less burdensome state government, which allows more money to remain in the productive private sector. In Kansas, we spend more on government.

The “sea of oil” and bountiful severance tax revenue that newspaper editorial writers say benefits Texas but not Kansas: In 2011 Kansas, which has a severance tax of its own, collected $42.54 in this form of tax for each person. Texas collected $104.29 per person in its severance tax. The difference between the two — $61.75 per person per year — is only a small portion of the difference between Kansas and Texas taxation.

I could go on. But the more facts one states, the more criticism one receives.

It’s not that what our governor is doing is perfect. It wasn’t the best course to single out certain forms of business organization to receive tax cuts. Everyone should have their taxes cut the same way.

Governor Brownback still meddles in the economy, supporting harmful policies like the renewable portfolio standard for electricity generation. The Hutchinson News editorial wrote of how “Kansas proved to be a state teeming with inventiveness, ingenuity, determination and a savvy sense of business” and mentioned iconic Kansas-founded companies like Cessna, Beech, Stearman, Coleman, Pizza Hut, and White Castle. But today our state is strangling entrepreneurs, expanding control over economic development under the Brownback regime. Kansas has expanded the realm of public-private partnerships to the detriment of entrepreneurship. Cities like Wichita implement new regulations over industries like parking lot striping, taxicab driving, and haunted house attractions.

Instead of moving to a modern pension system for state employees, we’re considering borrowing money to cover up the mistakes of the past, with no reform forthcoming and few lessons learned.

Most inexplicably, Governor Brownback was absent in this year’s debate over important school reform measures like charter schools and school choice. These are initiatives that are working in other states, but not in Kansas.

It isn’t supportive of our state (or county, city, or school district) to overlook facts in order to create a false impression of a prosperous state with successful schools. Yet that’s exactly what these newspaper editorials want us to do.

If we don’t learn the facts and if we don’t accept the facts, we don’t have a common base of understanding and a common starting point for debate. Even if the facts are uncomfortable — especially then — we must recognize where we’ve been and what is the actual condition of our state.

Hoping that Kansans won’t notice might be politically expedient. Both parties can be guilty of valuing political gain more than the health of Kansas. But it’s a severe loss to Kansas that these newspaper editorial writers will not recognize facts, and a shame that they prefer political attacks to reality.

In Kansas, arguing about the wrong school issues

School blackboard

Sunday’s Wichita Eagle makes a state-wide issue (literally) out of something that could self-regulate, if only we would let it.

The issue is what proportion of Kansas school spending finds its way “into the classroom” — whatever that means — and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s use of this statistic.

The front page Sunday article (Governor’s numbers come under question) spent over 1,000 words on the topic. It covers where Brownback got the number he uses, the controversy over how to classify spending as “classroom” or other, and troubles surrounding an advocacy group that pushed for more spending going to the classroom.

Why is this issue important? In Kansas, most children attend government schools that are funded and regulated by government. This means that how schools spend money is a political issue. There will be arguments.

In the private sector, however, we don’t see these types of arguments. Do we argue in public about how much the grocery store spends on administrative overhead compared to other spending? Of course not. The managers and owners of the grocery store are intensely interested in this issue. The public is too, but only in how the management of the grocery store affects their shopping experience.

If shoppers don’t like the way a store is managed, they shop somewhere else. Management may notice this and make changes that customers appreciate. If management doesn’t adapt, the store will likely close and be replaced by other stores that do a better job delivering what customers want.

Or, some shoppers may like a high level of management in a grocery store — one with more personal service. Some like a bare-bones store where you sack the groceries yourself. This variation in customer tastes and needs leads to what we observe: diversity in the types of grocery stores shoppers can choose from.

The point is that in the private sector, people get to choose what they like. They choose what’s best for them. But with our system of public schools funded and regulated by government, there is no choice. (Yes, you can escape the public schools and use others, but you still must pay for the government schools.)

There’s a factor that leads to this diversity of grocery stores and self-regulation focused on meeting consumers’ needs. It’s market competition.

But Kansas has no market competition in schools, unless you want to escape the system entirely and still pay for it. We have a very weak charter school law, meaning there are very few charter schools in Kansas. We have no vouchers or tax credit scholarships.

If we had these instruments of school choice in Kansas, government schools would face market competition. They would have to start being responsive to customers. We could allow schools to decide for themselves how much to spend on management and things other than the classroom. Market competition would guide schools in structuring their management and budgets to best meet the needs of schoolchildren and parents.

If we had school choice in Kansas, we would have a more diverse slate of schools for parents to select from. We could rely on the nature of markets to self-regulate schools like we rely on markets to regulate grocery stores.

We could quit arguing about things like how much is spent in the classroom, and we could actually focus on teaching children.

But the Kansas school education establishment doesn’t want that. That establishment fights every attempt to introduce even small elements of choice into Kansas. We’ll see this soon as several bills facilitating school choice are introduced in the Kansas Legislature.

Kansas school efficiency task force report

In an effort to spur greater efficiency in Kansas public schools, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback created a school efficiency task force. The task force has released its report, which may be viewed here.

While some of the recommendations are very useful and should be implemented, some are minor in nature, and some — especially the ones that would reduce the power of the teachers union — will be very difficult to implement. There is also a list of mostly generic “best practices,” such as “Look for savings on utilities.” The task force also solicited anonymous suggestions from the public, and a representative sample is included.

Two specific recommendations relate to the issue of the various funds schools use and their balances. This has been a contentious issue, with schools defending the need for large (and increasing) fund balances. See Kansas schools have used funds to increase spending for background.

School districts have complained that the state has been late in making its payments. School districts use this as an argument for the need for high fund balances. So it’s not surprising to see this recommendation: “Place a priority emphasis on the timely transfer of state payments to school districts in June and January.”

There’s also this recommendation: “Legislatively eliminate, reduce, and consolidate the statutory cash reserve accounts and separate fund accounts that currently exist, thereby ending the ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ policy and allowing the funding contained in each fund category to be more broadly spent across the full variety of educational requirements. Accounts that remain, including the General Fund, should be allowed a modest amount of carryover from year to year.”

The explanation tells us that the current system of accounts restricts school districts’ ability to effectively use funding. And obviously, “use-it-or-lose-it” is a bad policy.

There is also the recommendation to form a definition of what counts as “instructional” spending, and whether the current target of 65 percent instruction spending is the best goal.

In school bond issue campaigns, a popular selling point made to voters is that the state will pay for some of the bond payments. It’s pitched as free money, or at least as a way to get back the money the taxpayers have been sending to Topeka to pay for other school districts’ bonds. So another recommendation is to consider reevaluating this program.

The issue of accounting and data management is addressed, with examples of the state requiring reports that are “cumbersome, inefficient, and time-consuming” to provide. The reports calls for data to be trackable down to the building level, and made more readily available to the public.

There are also recommendations that are sure to be opposed by Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union. These include a review of teacher tenure, seen as limiting administrators’ ability to efficiently allocate resources. Instead of the strict salary schedule that is currently used, the report recommends a salary range, which could include factors like experience and area of expertise.

There is also recommended a reduction in the matters that are subject to negotiation with the union, specifically mentioning “work hours, amount of work, insurance benefits, force reductions, professional evaluation procedures, etc.” as no longer subject to mandatory negotiation.

Missing from the dialog

Perhaps it was not included in the mandate given to this task force, but missing from the recommendations is using the power of markets to improve the education of Kansas schoolchildren.

For example: Private sector firms don’t need to be told to “Look for savings on utilities.” The profit motive induces them to do things like this, either to earn a better return on investment, or in the case of non-profit institutions, to better serve more customers (students).

While public education spending advocates insist that schools shouldn’t be subject to the same competitive market forces that rule the business world, competition works wonders in states where it is allowed to exist. Since Kansas has a very weak charter school law (and therefore very few charter schools) and no school choice through vouchers or tax credit scholarships, Kansas schoolchildren don’t benefit from the dynamism that we see in other states.

We also don’t experience the cost savings that states with school choice see. The The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has found — over and over — that school choice programs save money.

Unfortunately, Governor Brownback has not expressed support for school choice programs, or even for charter schools.

Schools are sure to oppose most of the recommendations, even those that are the hallmark of good government. An example is a KSN Television news story which reported that Newton school superintendent John Morton thinks it is “a real concern” when citizens have access to data about government spending. This is a common reaction by government bureaucrats and officials. They prefer to operate without citizen scrutiny.

Finally, there is this irony: The Kansas school bureaucracy says that everything they do “is for the kids.” You might think that they would already be doing everything they can to increase school efficiency in order to benefit students. They have much of the power they need to do this. It’s time to see whether they’re actually willing to act in the best interests of Kansas schoolchildren, and for taxpayers, too.

Kansas Governor’s School Efficiency Task Force Recommendations

Kansas judicial selection: The need for reform

Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen J. Ware appeared on the KAKE Television public affairs program This Week in Kansas to discuss the method of judicial selection in Kansas. Phil Journey and Chapman Rackaway appear as panelists. Tim Brown is the host.

In today’s debate the issue of judicial selection reform is usually characterized as strictly political. Now that Kansas has a conservative governor and a conservative legislature, it is said that conservatives want to remake the courts to suit their ideology.

That may be the motivation for many. But Professor Ware has advocated for reform for a long time, favoring a system of appointment by the governor with confirmation by the senate. Ware’s 2007 research paper on this matter, published by the Federalist Society, may be read at Selection to the Kansas Supreme Court. The opening sentence of this report starkly states the singular character of the process in Kansas: “Kansas is the only state in the union that gives the members of its bar majority control over the selection of state supreme court justices.”

At the time Ware wrote this paper and convinced me of the need for reform, Democrat Kathleen Sebelius had just been re-elected Kansas Governor. The senate — which would confirm the governor’s appointments — was firmly in the control of political liberals and moderates who would be sure to rubberstamp her pick. Rubberstamp — that’s a word we see used today by progressives to describe the machinery of Kansas politics at the state level.

Another paper by Ware explains the problem with the process used in Kansas. The paper is titled Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study and may be downloaded at no charge.

Kansas Policy Institute on Kansas 2014 budget

Kansas Policy Institute president Dave Trabert offered the following statement today regarding the release of fiscal year 2014 — 2015 budget proposal by Governor Sam Brownback:

On taxes: “HB 2117 was a great step in the right direction on taxes and we should absolutely continue to lower taxes on all Kansans. We applaud Governor Brownback’s efforts to eliminate income taxes in Kansas, but increasing sales taxes in July is not the way to do it. Completely eliminating the income may require a sales tax increase, but the rate cannot be determined until government stops giving away taxpayer money in the name of economic development and gets spending under control.”

On spending: “We can’t know how much government should spend until we actually look for ways to be more efficient. Spending less is not about cutting service, it’s about providing the same or better service at a better price. The Governor’s budget does so in some places but it should go further. 31 states are estimated to have spent less per-resident than Kansas in 2012 so we can certainly find ways to be more efficient — especially given that general fund spending has increased 32% since 2005.”

“We often hear laughter when we ask people around the state if government operates efficiently and a recent public opinion poll we conducted with SurveyUSA backs this up. In fact, 83 percent of Kansans believe the state government could operate five to 10 percent more efficiently.”

On K-12 Finance and Gannon implications: “The $654 increase in Base State Aid Per-Pupil called for in the Gannon court ruling, would bring total taxpayer aid to schools to $14,045 per-pupil this year. It costs a lot of money to operate our schools, but it’s how the money is spent that matters, not how much. No study has ever been conducted in Kansas to determine what it costs for students to achieve required outcomes and have schools organized and operating in a cost-effective manner. Legislators have an obligation to fund schools, but they also have an obligation to do so in a way that makes effective use of taxpayer money.”

“The education focus should be on outcomes. Billions in increased aid to schools over the years have not improved student achievement on independent national exams. Even state assessments show that only 56 percent of 11th grade students read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension. More money isn’t the answer to raising student achievement. It’s time to start looking for real solutions..”

On KPERS: “Gov. Brownback clearly recognizes that last year’s KPERS reform didn’t go as far as it needs to. So even though it isn’t formally in the budget a move to a 401(k) style plan for new hires and non-vested current employees stops the likely $15 billion KPERS hole from getting deeper and, if properly structured, starts filling it back in.

Reaction to Kansas State of the State Address, 2013

Governor Sam Brownback delivered his State of the State Address on January 15, 2013. The as-prepared text of the address may be read here.

Americans for Prosperity-Kansas:

“Americans for Prosperity-Kansas continues to support the eventual elimination of the income tax in Kansas, and we applaud Gov. Brownback for making this a priority in 2013″” said AFP-Kansas state director Derrick Sontag. “We would support a trigger mechanism for future rate reductions in the proposal rather than legislators continuing to seek a reduction in the rate every year.

“We have no doubt that continued reductions in the income tax rate will help create economic activity, expand the tax base and create jobs.

“We’re coming off a years-long cycle in which excessive government spending stifled Kansas families and resulted in stagnant population growth, taxpayers migrating to other states, and the loss of tens of thousands of private sector jobs. The Governor said it best when he pointed out that some choose to grow spending rather than jobs.

“We look forward to working with legislators and the Governor in the coming session on other important areas of reform such as judicial selection — giving citizens of Kansas more direct input in the judges who sit on the Kansas Supreme Court and Kansas Court of Appeals. Senate confirmation or elections of judges would certainly create a more transparent process that is accountable to the people.”

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley and House Democratic Leader Paul Davis issued the following statement. Hensley is wrong about the school spending figures, as I report in Kansas Democrats wrong on school spending.

“Governor Brownback’s $2.5 billion dollar self-inflicted budget shortfall, a result of his irresponsible tax policy, has brought Kansas to the edge of its own fiscal cliff. He has brought Washington, D.C. politics to Kansas, and they do not belong here,” said Hensley. “Four months into office, he signed the single largest cut to public education in Kansas history. In just three school years, statewide funding for K-12 education was cut nearly $442 million, or a cut of $620 per child. It is no surprise that a three-judge panel issued its ruling last Friday that the Legislature isn’t meeting its K-12 school funding duty under the Kansas Constitution. Members of the Legislature took an oath just yesterday swearing to uphold the Constitution of Kansas. What is our oath worth if we renege on our constitutional duty to adequately and fairly fund our schools?”

The 2013 legislative session will likely be marked by three major issues: a budget deficit created by tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations, a court order to restore funding to Kansas public schools and a fundamental debate over checks and balances in Kansas.

“Democrats want to be part of the solution to this problem, but we cannot support proposals that make the gap between the rich and the middle class even wider. The most troubling part of the Brownback Agenda is the extent to which it brings Washington-style politics to Kansas. We need Kansas based solutions to our Kansas problems, which means funding for Kansas schools, lower property taxes, and proposals to create good paying jobs for middle class families,” said Davis.

Some tweets:

Someone doesn’t understand the difference between “deductible” and “refundable”:

Kansas traditional: the platform

Will “traditional,” “reasonable,” “moderate” Kansan Republicans be defeated in the August 7, 2012 Kansas primary? Would that defeat be good or bad for Kansas?

Kansas newspapers have featured an op-ed by H. Edward Flentje of the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs at Wichita State University. (A referendum on Brownback, July 27 Winfield Courier.) His tone, as is that of many newspaper editorials appearing through the state, is that it is vital to preserve the “traditional” moderate Republican approach to Kansas government, as it is those who “believe government has a more affirmative role in assuring a high quality of life for Kansans.” The implication, made explicit later on, is that the rise of a conservative majority in the Kansas Senate would be bad.

Here’s one area in which Flentje is incorrect. He characterizes the moderates as “Republican legislators who may exercise independent judgment on alliance issues.” He and others use the phrase “march in lockstep with [Kansas Governor Sam] Brownback” as criticism of conservative challengers, who they say will be merely puppets of Brownback, incapable of independent thought.

But when we look at the record of “moderate Republican” legislators, we usually see them “marching in lockstep” with the Kansas National Education Association, labor unions — especially public employee unions, trial lawyers, and other assorted special interest groups.

Following are the areas in which Flentje says Brownback wants legislators to “march in lockstep” and whether it would be good to maintain these policies that Flentje prefers.

“Eliminating state income taxes and seeking higher sales and property taxes to address state obligations, consequently shifting the state tax burden to lower-income residents.” I’m not aware that conservatives are pressing for higher sales and property taxes. There has been some difference of opinion over ending the temporary statewide sales tax increase, and that may play out in the next legislative session. The best way we can address state spending — living up to the obligations Flentje alludes to — is to streamline Kansas government. But moderates oppose this. See Kansas reasonable: Government reform.

The best way to pay for government services is to grow the economy and create jobs. But Kansas has performed poorly during the past decade under the reign of “traditional” moderate Republicans (and their coalition with Democrats) in the House and Senate. Just a few years ago, after a decade of moderate policies, Kansas was the only state to have a loss in private sector jobs over the past year.

“Restraining state spending on public schools and shifting school funding to property taxes at the local level.” Moderates oppose one way we can save on schools: school choice through charter schools, vouchers, or scholarship tax credits. All these programs reduce the burden of school spending on both the state and school districts. Other than this, moderates “march in lockstep” with those who constantly call for more school spending, even to the point of suing the state’s taxpayers for more money. They join with the special interests who fight against accountability measures. They also fight against an honest assessment of the condition of public schools in Kansas, and when you look under the covers, it’s not the pretty picture that education bureaucrats paint. See Kansas reasonable: The education candidates.

“Cutting funding for the arts and public broadcasting.” Those who seek money from government for arts are a special interest group. They make an economic case that government spending on the arts is good for the economy, but there’s no evidence that this form of government spending is different from any other. Instead, it takes tax money from people and forces them to spend it on things they may not want. Instead, government bureaucrats — listening to narrow special interest groups — decide how to spend money.

“Shifting the funding of state universities to students and their families through higher tuition and fees.” What a novel idea! Expecting those who use a service to pay for it!

“Challenging judicial independence and enacting measures that make state judges more susceptible to outside political influence.” Kansas judicial selection is highly politicized and undemocratic, with out-sized power concentrated in a special interest group: lawyers. Among the fifty states, Kansas is at the undemocratic extreme in the way we select judges, and moderates support this. See Kansas reasonable: Judicial selection.

“Placing out-of-state, for-profit insurance companies in charge of managing aid to elderly, disabled and vulnerable residents.” Outsourcing is one way that governments can increase quality of service and reduce cost. There’s no reason to think that just because a service is presently provided by the state, that is the best way to provide it. In fact, waste and inefficiency are characteristic of government. Far from being a rip-off or waste of taxpayer monies, the profit motive — found only in the private sector — is a reliable motivator. The challenge of the state will be to make sure that companies profit when they provide good service, efficiently.

“Spending more time finding ways to limit a woman’s access to abortion and targeting with legal action any group that supports such access.” My focus is primarily on issues of economic freedom. Others will have to weigh in on this issue.

“Punishing party members who dare to cooperate with Democrats on legislation.” Both parties do this. Ask Senator Chris Steineger how the Kansas Democratic Party feels about those who don’t toe the party line.

Whether the election is or is not a referendum on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Kansans need to reflect on the legacy of traditional Republican leadership and governance and realize this has not been the path to jobs and prosperity.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday January 16, 2012

Tax cuts = extra income? Commenting on Kansas tax reform, Wichita Business Journal editor Bill Roy said “Certainly for business people, it’s the elimination of the income tax on business income. … They’ll appreciate having that extra income that they can use on other things in their business.” I don’t know how much thought Roy gave to these remarks, but his easy likening of lower taxes to extra income is symptomatic of the problem: We have become accustomed to government having a claim on our income. In the rare instances where government gives up part of that claim, we taxpayers are supposed to view it as a gift, as something extra. Roy’s remarks were broadcast on the KPTS television program Impact while discussing Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s tax reform plan. … Similar lines of thinking are revealed whenever it is said that tax cuts “cost” the government. The proper way of thinking is that government is a cost to the people, and whenever the cost of government is reduced, we experience a benefit. That is, we the people, as contrasted to the political class. If the government cuts taxes, the government gives us nothing. It simply takes less of what is ours in the first place. … I’m also reminded of former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who when commenting on a reduction of the Kansas business machinery tax, said “We’re not giving away money for the sake of giving it away.”

Revenue-neutral tax reform. If Kansas tax reform is to be revenue-neutral, that — by definition — means that if one person pays less, someone else has to make up the difference. Peter Hancock of Kansas Education Policy Report has such an example in his post Winners and Losers in Brownback’s Tax Plan. A low-income family would experience a tax increase of $442 (mostly through loss of the Earned Income Tax Credit), while a middle class family with business income would save about $300. These examples were released by Kansas Democrats. … Hancock also reports that the Brownback administration’s projections assume 5.9 percent annual growth, instead of the standard 4 percent used by the Consensus Estimating Group. A common criticism of President Barack Obama’s administration is that its projections are based on an overly-optimistic rate of future economic growth. We shouldn’t do the same in Kansas.

Peterjohn to speak. This Friday (January 20th) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn. He says he will speak on “critical national problems we are facing with a historical perspective.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. Upcoming speakers: On January 27, 2012: The Honorable Jennifer Jones, Administrative Judge, Wichita Municipal Court, speaking on “An overview of the Wichita Municipal Court.”

Southwest to fly to Wichita. Since it gobbled up AirTran, the question has been: Will Southwest Airlines provide service in Wichita? Now we know the answer is yes. While the airline has recently started service in some markets without the large, ongoing subsidies that Wichita and the state provide, that won’t be the case in Wichita, according to news reports. … Last year I reported on Southwest starting service in Charleston, South Carolina, whose metropolitan area population is similar to that of Wichita: “In the Charleston situation, there evidently won’t be the massive state-supplied subsidy as we have in Kansas. But Southwest will still get a leg up: A USA Today story quotes a Charleston airport official saying ‘Southwest didn’t want a state subsidy, but was interested in the airport’s incentives a temporary waiver of landing fees, up to $10,000 to market new flights, and up to $150,000 for other start-up costs.'” That’s a lot less than what Wichita and Kansas offer. .. Will the need for subsidies last? About this time last year, Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said “The Southwest business model doesn’t require subsidies over a long period of time.” Of course, we were told that the subsidy for AirTran would be required for only a short period, but the program grew and grew until it is now considered part of our state’s transportation infrastructure.

Kansas economic development incentives. In an Insight Kansas column, Professor Chapman Rackaway of Fort Hays State University concludes: “No state will abandon the tax-incentive recruitment strategy for fear of being the only business suitor with nothing to offer. But the tax-incentive strategy remains a risky one, and perhaps it is time for Kansas and other governments to re-evaluate the practice.” … Earlier in the article he cites the lack of oversight among the states: “States and localities are regularly in competition with one another for scarce jobs. However, a 2001 article in Economic Development Quarterly reported that, despite the billions distributed annually as incentives, states were doing little evaluation of incentives’ effectiveness or their return on investment.” (Kansas has done a little of this; see here. A quote from the Kansas audit: “Most studies of economic development incentives suggest these incentives don’t have a significant impact on economic growth. The literature we reviewed concluded that, thus far, negative and inconclusive findings are far more numerous than positive findings. Most reviews of economic development assistance find few results are achieved — a theme that audits in Kansas and other states commonly find, as well. Findings of ineffectiveness include promised jobs weren’t created, return on investment is low or negative, and incentives offered weren’t a determining factor.” But also: “The literature also suggests that economic development incentives must be offered to remain competitive with other states.”) … But I think there is a way out. In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Professor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business wrote this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers that are the subject of Rackaway’s article: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

Story is broken. “Prof. Art Carden responds to ‘The Story of Broke,’ a recent video by the creators of ‘The Story of Stuff.’ In ‘The Story of Broke,’ Annie Leonard claims that the government isn’t actually broke. Rather, the government just wastes resources on the wrong things like subsidies to the dinosaur economy and war. She claims that the government should change its ways, and instead, subsidize firms that will bring us the future we really want. Art Carden agrees with Leonard that war and subsidies are wasteful, but is skeptical of notion that there is one unified vision for the future. To Carden, everyone has a different vision for the future. Our path to the future, he argues, is determined by the interactions of billions of unique individuals pursuing their own objectives. … Carden concludes that government spending won’t buy a brighter future. A brighter future will emerge when people are allowed to spend money on things they care about. Put another way, positive change will come from billions of people cooperating freely and voluntarily with one another, not from pushing trillions of dollars through a broken political process.” This video is from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, and many other informative videos are available.

Kansas spending is the problem

While Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has some good ideas in his State of the State address and tax reform plan, there are two important points that need to be made.

First, the governor has said that tax reform is designed to be revenue neutral. That goal means that if one person pays less, someone else has to pay more. It also means that the state’s thirst for spending is not quenched. It is continued spending that prevents us from dramatically reducing or eliminating income tax rates in Kansas.

Critics of lowering income tax rates point to the advantages that states with no income tax have. Texas is often mentioned, where it is said that the state’s oil wealth and the taxes it generates make it possible for Texas to have no income tax.

There are two rebuttals to this argument. First, Kansas may have much new activity in oil and gas in the very near future. With the severance tax and taxes from other economic activity — as many as 25,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment over five years — new revenue may be flowing to the state. Brownback has called for limiting the growth of state spending to two percent annually, with revenue growth above that dedicated towards reducing income tax rates.

The second rebuttal is that states with low or no income tax generally spend much less than Kansas. Using figures I compiled for 2010, Kansas state spending per person is $4,923, which ranks it 35th among the states. Only 15 states spend more than Kansas, on a per person basis.

Texas, with no income tax, spends $3,703 per person. Florida, another state with no income tax, spends $3,300 per person.

Kansas Democrats have called for restoring school spending, and increasing it in the future. They have other plans for state spending, too. That’s why it is important that Kansas implement something that 47 states have, but Kansas does not. Unfortunately, the governor didn’t mention it in his address. That missing ingredient in the Kansas state financial plan is a rainy day fund.

Rainy day funds operate in different ways in the states that have them, but generally there are strict rules about spending the money in the fund. A rainy day fund would have helped Kansas whether a downturn in revenue without resorting to a tax increase. That’s vitally important, as once tax increases are in place, they are very difficult to remove. We have such an example of this now in Kansas: The increase in the statewide sales tax, promoted to last just three years, is now recommended to be permanent, according to the governor’s plan.

(Shifting sands: Kansas Senator Carolyn McGinn, who voted for the sales tax increase, now wants it ended a year earlier than originally planned. That was a transparent response to her having to face a conservative challenger in her primary election this year. But now she finds herself opposing the governor on this issue.)

Kansas has a requirement for a 7.5 percent ending balance in the general fund. That requirement is often waived by the legislature, as it has been for several years in a row. Rainy day fund legislation is often implemented in states’ constitutions, which can’t easily be waived or ignored by spending-happy legislature. The strict requirements as to how and when the fund balances can be spent is much different from a simple ending balance. Kansas Democrats, for example, are calling for spending the year’s ending balance.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday January 11, 2012

A legislator would do this? In his At The Rail column, Kansas statehouse reporter Martin Hawver speculates that even routine procedural votes, as well as votes in committee, may be material for campaign ads and mailers in this election year. “You’ve seen the mailings in election years, you know, the ones with a photo of a few lines apparently ripped from the official journal of the House or Senate. The scrap is always tilted a bit to make it more visually interesting. And, by gosh, that bit of an official document almost always shows — usually with a swipe of yellow highlighter — that a candidate voted for or against something that the rest of the brochure deems politically or fiscally or culturally important. … So, we’re going to be watching closely, to see whether a vote in a committee on something relatively unimportant becomes the theme of a campaign or two out there, and whether the public will be much moved by a vote even when it is dramatically presented as a fact ‘ripped from the official record’ of some committee or another. Key might be that it’s the final votes, not necessarily some little acting-out behavior in a committee, that is the real indication of just where a legislator is on legislation that you care about.” … I should tell you this: I’m more than a little shocked to learn this goes on in Topeka.

Where to see, listen to State of State Address. Tonight’s 6:30 pm address by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback can see seen on television by tuning in to KTPS (Wichita), KTWU (Topeka), or Smoky Hills Public Television. Radio coverage is on Kansas Information Network, KSAL-Salina 1150 AM, KANU-Lawrence/Topeka/Kansas City FM 91.5, KANH-Emporia FM 89.7, KANV-Olsburg/Junction City FM 91.3 and in Manhattan on FM 99.5, KANZ- Garden City FM 91.1, KZNA-Hill City FM 90.5, KHCC-Hutchinson/Wichita FM 90.1, KHCD-Salina/Manhattan FM 89.5, KHCT-Great Bend/Hays FM 90.9, KMUW-Wichita FM 89.1, KRPS-Pittsburg KS FM 89.9, KCUR-Kansas City Missouri FM 89.3, and online at www.KWCH.com, kslegislature.org, www.khi.org, and www.am580wibw.com.

Kansas Policy Institute launches blog. In its newsletter, the Kansas Policy Institute announces the start of a blog: “We believe this will be a venue to have an open discussion on the challenges facing our state and advancing liberty and freedom. Of course, we will continue the work we’ve been doing, but this is an opportunity to provide more real time analysis, share videos and stories from around the web, and allow concerned Kansans can debate the issues of the day.” The blog is located at KPI Blog. … KPI’s primary communications with Kansans have been through policy analysis and reports, and through newspaper op-ed columns. The blog should make KPI a more familiar source of news and information.

Kansas House Speaker criticized. “Continuous abuse of power and nepotism” along with his role in a lawsuit against the State of Kansas are the charges leveled against Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal. The writer of the letter with the charges is Kansas Representative Owen Donohoe of the 39th district, which covers parts of Johnson, Leavenworth, and Wyandotte counties. … In 2010 O’Neal faced an legislative ethics panel investigation into his role as attorney for clients suing the state. The panel decided that O’Neal broke no rules, but that the legislature’s ethics rules should prohibit what O’Neal was doing, citing the “appearance of impropriety” such actions create. … In 2009, O’Neal faced a complaint relating to nepotism, and a panel found there was insufficient evidence to support the charges. … Last year O’Neal made several committee reassignments that were seen as motivated by a desire to silence critics of policies that O’Neal supported. These included Rep. Charlotte O’Hara for her position on health care issues, Rep. Kasha Kelly for her position on state spending, and Donohoe himself. Coverage is at More trouble brewing for House Speaker O’Neal and Kansas Republican legislator blasts House Speaker Mike O’Neal. … The public policy issue is this: Does legislative leadership — Speaker of the House, Senate President, Committee Chairs — have too much power? From my observation of the Kansas Legislature over the past few years, my answer is: Yes.

Kansas presidential caucus. Kansas Republicans will hold their presidential nominating caucus on Saturday, March 10th. Participants must be registered as Republicans to participate, and the last day to register as such is February 17th. Photo ID will be required for admission.

Democrats urged to help Republicans. In an email, Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), the teachers union, urges Kansas Democrats to help Republican select their nominees in the August primary elections. Writes the union to its minions: “Given the registration advantage that Republicans have over Democrats in Kansas, it is not surprising that many elections are decided in the August primaries. In many districts the Republican nominee will likely win. This means that unaffiliated and Democratic voters are very limited in the influence they can have on who will be their Representative or Senator. The reality is that, while it might feel good to register your disgust with both parties by registering as an unaffiliated voter, it dramatically reduces the influence of your vote in the election. … If you want your vote to have a greater influence this year, then we would urge you to consider your registration and participation in the primary election in August. If you live in a district that will likely elect a Republican in the general election, wouldn’t it be nice to have a say in which Republican that will be? If you want that voice, you will need to be a registered Republican by July 16, 2012.”

Kansas health issues. The Kansas Health Institute News Service has identified the issues related to health that are important in this year’s legislative session. Medicaid reform and health care exchanges are the first two mentioned, with Medicaid reform a very large and important issue. The article is Health issues facing the 2012 Legislature.

Separation of art and state. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback may be wavering on his opposition to state funding for the arts in Kansas, according to Lawrence Journal-World reporting. I recently urged legislators — borrowing a term from David Boaz — to respect the separation of art and state. In his book The Politics of Freedom: Taking on The Left, The Right and Threats to Our Liberties, Boaz explained why this is important: “It is precisely because art has power, because it deals with basic human truths, that it must be kept separate from government. Government, as I noted earlier, involves the organization of coercion. In a free society coercion should be reserved only for such essential functions of government as protecting rights and punishing criminals. People should not be forced to contribute money to artistic endeavors that they may not approve, nor should artists be forced to trim their sails to meet government standards. Government funding of anything involves government control.”

Numbers trouble Americans. “Many Americans have strong opinions about policy issues shaping the presidential campaign, from immigration to Social Security. But their grasp of numbers that underlie those issues can be tenuous.” The Wall Street Journal article Americans Stumble on Math of Big Issues covers this topic. “‘It’s pretty apparent that Americans routinely don’t know objective facts about the government,’ says Joshua Clinton, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University. Americans’ numerical misapprehension can be traced to a range of factors, including where they live, the news they consume, the political rhetoric they hear and even the challenges of numbers themselves. And it isn’t even clear how much this matters: Telling people the right numbers often doesn’t change their views.”

Capitalism. “The Occupy Wall Street movement expresses valid frustrations, but do the protesters aim their accusations in the wrong direction? Economics Professor Chris Coyne draws the distinction between crony capitalism and legitimate capitalism. Crony capitalism is government favoritism fueled by handouts and is responsible for the plight of the 99%. Legitimate capitalism, on the other hand, uses competition to align consumer and producer interests and serves to improve everyone’s standard of living. … Coyne says: “What we need is constraints on government … The minute you open the floodgates of government handouts, people are going to start lining up to grab them. And the people that are going to tend to get those handout are those that have money and political connections. So the solution to this is simple. Instead of spreading out losses, we need to do is to allow people to earn profits when they produce things that people value, and suffer losses when the fail to do so. When you have that type of system, the only way to earn wealth is to improve peoples’ standards of living.”… This video is from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, and many other informative videos are available.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday January 9, 2012

Wichita City Council. This week the Wichita City Council will consider the formation of a STAR bond district in northeast Wichita. While this is a complex issue that will take some study to fully understand, the action the council will consider this week is only to set a public hearing for February 14th. A concern is that the developers for the proposed Wichita project are also responsible for the Village West project in Kansas City, Kansas. On November 22, I reported this regarding that project: “The Legends at Village West, a huge shopping development in Kansas City near the Kansas Speedway, has defaulted on its loan. According to reporting in Commercial Real Estate Direct, the property never met its cash flow projections, topping out at $10.3 million per year in 2008. The loan assumed it would generate $11.1 million. Since 2008 cash flow has fallen. The public policy interest is that this facility, along with the nearby racetrack, received millions in sales tax (STAR) bond financing, to be repaid by taxpayers through sales tax collections.”

Kansas House Speaker speaking in Wichita. This Friday (January 13th) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal, speaking on “The untold school finance story.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. Upcoming speakers: On January 20th: Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn. … On January 27, 2012: The Honorable Jennifer Jones, Administrative Judge, Wichita Municipal Court, speaking on “An overview of the Wichita Municipal Court.”

Legislature starts. Today is the first day of the 2012 session of the Kansas Legislature.

State of the State address. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback will deliver the “State of the State” address this Wednesday at 6:30 pm. It appears that public television and radio are the only way to experience this address. A much-anticipated portion of the address is the governor’s plan for tax reform. The plan has been in the works for several months, and requests for information about the process have been refused.

Kansas State Sovereignty Rally. This Friday (January 13th) afternoon is the 4th Annual State Sovereignty Rally, held at the Kansas State Capitol. Topics include constitutional issues, health care reform, and the Kansas budget. A printable flier with details is here. There are transportation opportunities from Wichita; contact Larry Halloran at 316-777-9352 or LarryHalloran@aol.com.

Making Economics Come Alive. Tonight the Americans for Prosperity monthly meeting will feature the topic “Making Economics Come Alive” with a video presentation by John Stossel. Topics include Government Spending, Deficits, and Debt, Are We Heading Toward a Debt Crisis?, Can Government Spending Be Cut?, Growth of Government, Spending, Taxes and the role of Government, International Trade and Trade Barriers, International Trade: Criticisms and Responses, Economics of Trade Deficits, Why Some Nations Prosper and Others Stagnate, Why Do Nations Prosper?, and Economic Freedom and Quality of Life. This meeting is at a different location: Central Branch Wichita Public Library, 223 S. Main (3rd Floor Meeting Room). The meeting starts at 7:00 pm. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

Kansas needs pro-growth policies

A theme of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback when he spoke in Wichita this week was jobs and opportunities, and how Kansas needs pro-growth policies to break out of a slump.

The governor spoke at the annual dinner of the Kansas Policy Institute. He said: “We cannot continue on this path and hope that we are going to move forward and win in the future. It won’t work. We have got to change course, and we’ve got to be aggressive about it, or we’re doomed to a slow decline, which we’ve had for some period of time.”

Brownback said we need to move to a pro-growth tax policy, although he wasn’t ready to release details at the time.

Looking at a few charts of job growth in Kansas, we can easily see the problem Brownback referred to. A chart of the number of private sector jobs in Kansas as compared to a few surrounding states over the past ten years shows Kansas at or near the bottom.

Kansas private sector job growth compared to other statesKansas private sector job growth compared to other states. Data is indexed, with January 2001 equal to 1. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Looking at year-to-year job changes over since January 2010, we again see Kansas at or near the bottom.

Kansas private sector job change, year-to-year, compared to other statesKansas private sector job change, year-to-year, compared to other states.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday August 10, 2011

Kansas House Appropriations Chair to speak. This Friday’s meeting (August 12th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club Kansas Representative Marc Rhoades, Chair of the Kansas House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, speaking on the topic “The impact of the freshman legislators on the 2011 House budgetary process.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club … Upcoming speakers: On August 19, Jay M. Price, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Director of the public history program at Wichita State University, speaking on “Clashes of Values in Kansas History.” His recent Wichita Eagle op-ed was Kansas a stage for “values showdowns.” … On August 26, Kansas State Representatives Jim Howell and Joseph Scapa speaking on “Our freshmen year in the Kansas Legislature.” … On September 2 the Petroleum Club is closed for the holiday, so there will be no meeting. … On September 9, Mark Masterson, Director, Sedgwick County Department of Corrections, on the topic “Juvenile Justice System in Sedgwick County.” Following, from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm, Pachyderm Club members and guests are invited to tour the Sedgwick County Juvenile Detention Center located at 700 South Hydraulic, Wichita, Kansas. … On September 16, Merrill Eisenhower Atwater, great grandson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, will present a program with the topic to be determined. … On September 23, Dave Trabert, President of Kansas Policy Institute, speaking on the topic Why Not Kansas,” an initiative to provide information about school choice. … On September 30, U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo of Wichita on “An update from Washington.”

Sebelius responds to waivers inquiry. In June U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, who is in his first term representing the Kansas first district, along with others asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for information about the Obamacare waivers HHS has been granting. He got a response — except it’s not a response. In a statement, Huelskamp said “No details and no additional information about the Annual Limit Waivers were provided, so again we remain in the dark about this secretive process. Candidate Obama promised to be the most ‘open and transparent’ in history — a far cry from President Obama. The American people have a right to know why this new health care law is unfairly applied and what they can do to be exempted from ObamaCare. If one person, labor union, state, or business can get a waiver, then everybody should be able to get waivers.” … Huelskamp is not alone in noting the lack of transparency in the Obama administration.

Brownback to Sebelius: No thanks. Speaking of Secretary Sebelius, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has decided to return a grant the state received for being an “early innovator” in implementing portions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), better known as Obamacare. A statement from the governor’s office reads: “There is much uncertainty surrounding the ability of the federal government to meet it’s already budgeted future spending obligations. Every state should be preparing for fewer federal resources, not more. To deal with that reality Kansas needs to maintain maximum flexibility. That requires freeing Kansas from the strings attached to the Early Innovator Grant. … “Federal Medicaid mandates have cost Kansans over 400 million in the past 2 years alone. Full implementation of the mandates in the President’s health care law would cost billions more,” said {Lieutenant Governor] Dr. [Jeff] Colyer. “We will work to find innovative Kansas based solutions to Kansas challenges and be very selective in the federal funds the state applies for and receives. We look forward to working with legislative leaders and Insurance Commissioner Praeger as we develop Kansas solutions.”

‘Nullify Now’ tour in Kansas City. The idea that states can nullify unconstitutional laws passed by Congress is gaining traction as a way to reign in the federal government. Next week an event in Kansas City will help citizens learn more about this possibility. Writes the event’s organizers: “Crushing debt, health care mandates, ‘super’ congress, and more. The list of constitutional violations from DC never seems to end. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for DC to fix itself. As Thomas Jefferson told us, state nullification is “THE RIGHTFUL REMEDY” to unconstitutional actions by the federal government. … At Nullify Now! Kansas City, you’ll hear nationally-renowned speaker Thomas Woods (and nine others) present the constitutional case for nullification. You’ll learn: the constitutional basis for nullification, how nullification has been used in history, how nullification is being called upon right now vs Obamacare, to protect gun rights, against the TSA, and more, and what YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW to get your state to put a stop to the Feds.” The event is Saturday August 20, and tickets, ranging in cost from free to $75, are required. For more information click on Nullify Now! Kansas City.

‘Birth of Freedom’ screening. On Monday (August 15th) the film The Birth of Freedom will be shown for free in Wichita. The film is a product of the Acton Institute, whose mission statement describes the institute as “[promoting] a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.” This free event is Monday from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. The event’s sponsor is Americans for Prosperity, Kansas. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415. … I’ve been told by those who have viewed the film that it is a very moving presentation. A trailer or preview may be viewed below.

KDHE, Sunflower Electric, Earthjustice, Center for Climate Strategies: different peas in the same pod

Evidence that a business seeking regulatory approval of its project enjoyed an apparently close relationship with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment should not be surprising.

Reporting in the Kansas City Star leads with “Hundreds of emails document that officials of a Kansas power plant enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Kansas regulators who issued them a building permit in December.” (Kansas agency, utility worked closely on permit for plant)

A press release from Earthjustice, the legal advocacy arm of the Sierra Club, proclaimed “A new report reveals Sunflower Electric (Sunflower) enjoyed a cozy relationship with Kansas regulators during the permitting process for the highly controversial coal-fired power plant Sunflower seeks to build in Holcomb.”

This incident — the details are not important for understanding the broad lesson — may be looked on as an example of regulatory capture. As defined in Wikipedia, “regulatory capture occurs when a state regulatory agency created to act in the public interest instead advances the commercial or special interests that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.”

In more detail, the Wikipedia article explains: “For public choice theorists, regulatory capture occurs because groups or individuals with a high-stakes interest in the outcome of policy or regulatory decisions can be expected to focus their resources and energies in attempting to gain the policy outcomes they prefer, while members of the public, each with only a tiny individual stake in the outcome, will ignore it altogether. Regulatory capture refers to when this imbalance of focused resources devoted to a particular policy outcome is successful at ‘capturing’ influence with the staff or commission members of the regulatory agency, so that the preferred policy outcomes of the special interest are implemented.”

Regulatory capture — or at least the heavy-handed attempt by special interest groups to influence public policy to fit their interests — is a non-partisan sport. We shouldn’t be surprised to see this form of government failure taking place at all times, no matter which party or politicians are in power.

As an example on point, the same type of activity happened during the administration of former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius regarding the same electric plant that is the focus of controversy today. Her regulator, former KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby, denied the permit for the plant based on its carbon dioxide emissions, the first time that had been done in the United States.

Radical environmentalists rejoiced. Sebelius was invited to speak at an Earthjustice conference held in Denver in June, 2008. Here are a portion of her written remarks, as supplied to me at that time by her press office, thanking Earthjustice for all it had done in Kansas to help Sebelius and mold her regulatory regime:

When Big Coal pumped their money and politics into Kansas, EarthJustice was there to fight back:

  • Provided litigation and public support
  • Helped shape the media messaging and outreach
  • Rallied supporters and engaged the public to get involved

It was a victory for all of us and I appreciate their help.

About that time Sebelius established the Kansas Energy and Environmental Policy Advisory Group, or KEEP. The activities of this group were managed — at no cost to the state — by the Center for Climate Strategies, a group that expressly advocates for energy policies and regulations based on an extremist view of climate science.

The invasion of Kansas — at least the Sebelius administration — by Earthjustice and Center for Climate Studies proves the point: Regulatory capture is a non-partisan opportunity.

Kansas jobs creation numbers in perspective

This week the administration of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback announced job creation figures that, on the surface, sound like good news. But before we celebrate too much, we need to place the job numbers in context and look at the larger picture, specifically whether these economic development wins are good for the Kansas economy.

The governor’s office announced that since January 10th, almost exactly one-half year ago, the Brownback administration is taking credit for creating 3,163 jobs. These jobs, according to the governor’s office, are in companies that are moving to Kansas or expanding their current operations. Some of the jobs, like those in the recently-announced Mars Chocolate plant to be built in Topeka, won’t start for perhaps two years.

To place this number on an annual basis, extrapolating to a full year, we get 6,326 jobs created during the first year of Brownback’s term.

That sound like a lot of jobs. But we need to place that number in context. To do so, I gathered some figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in particular figures for the gross number of jobs created in the private sector. According to BLS, “Gross job gains are the sum of increases in employment from expansions at existing units and the addition of new jobs at opening units.” In other words, jobs created — just like the governor’s definition.

Looking at the numbers, we find that for the years 2000 to 2009, the Kansas economy created gross jobs in the private sector at the average rate of 293,335 per year. Of course, jobs are lost, too. In Kansas, again for 2000 to 2009, there was a net loss of 61,394 jobs in the private sector. Not a good number.

Each year, then, many jobs are created and lost, nearly 300,000 per year in Kansas. This illustrates the dynamic nature of the economy. Each year many jobs are created, and many are lost. Even in 2009 — a recession year — the Kansas economy created 232,717 jobs in the private sector. That same year 294,111 jobs were lost. But in most years, the number of jobs created is pretty close to the number of jobs lost.

Kansas job gains and lossesKansas job gains and losses

Now we have context. If we compare the 6,326 jobs (the extrapolated annual rate) the state created through its economic development efforts to the average number of private sector jobs created each year, we find that number to be 2.2 percent.

If we use a recession year (2009) figure for private sector job creation, the state’s efforts amount to 2.7 percent of the jobs created by the private sector economy.

These numbers, I would say, are small. About one of 40 jobs created in Kansas is created through the efforts of the state’s economic development machinery. This assumes that these jobs would not have been created without government intervention, and I think that’s something we can’t assume one hundred percent.

These jobs that Brownback takes credit for come at great cost. In the case of Mars, the incentive package is reported to be worth $9 million, or $45,000 for each of the 200 people to be initially hired. I haven’t asked the Department of Commerce for a full rundown of the incentives offered, but in my experience the press releases and news stories based on them understate the full cost of the incentives.

But in any case, the incentives used by the state’s economic development efforts have costs. Some require the direct expenditure of state funds.

Some incentives require that the state spend money through the tax system in the form of tax credits. These expenditures made through the tax system have the same fiscal impact on the state’s budget as if the legislature appropriated funds and wrote a check for the amount of the tax credit.

Other incentives require that the state give up a claim to tax revenue that it would otherwise collect. This means that other taxpayers must make up the difference, unless the state were to reduce spending.

The cost of these incentives is born by the taxpayers of the state of Kansas. This cost is a negative drag on jobs that would have been created or retained in companies that don’t receive incentives. The Brownback administration knows this, although it doesn’t recognize this job loss when it trumpets its accomplishments in creating new jobs through targeted economic development incentives. One of the major initiatives of Brownback is to reduce Kansas taxes, particularly the personal and corporate income tax, in order to grow the Kansas economy. The governor — correctly — recognizes that low taxes are good for economic growth.

The governor also needs to recognize that targeted economic development incentives have a cost. That cost is paid in the form of taxes that someone else pays. That cost leads to foregone economic activity, and that leads to lost jobs.

While the state’s wins in job creation are easy to see — there are government employees paid to make sure we’re aware of them — the lost jobs, however, are spread throughout the state. These job losses don’t often take the form of a large — or even small — business closing or moving to another state, although sometimes it does.

Instead, the job loss occurs in dribs and drabs across the state. A restaurant manager finds his store is not as busy as last month, so he lets a server go. A small retail outlet finds it can’t quite keep up with its overhead, so it shuts down. These events don’t often make news. The jobs lost are difficult to detect — nearly invisible — although the cumulative impact is very real.

Instead of relying on traditional, targeted economic development efforts, Kansas needs to follow the advice of Dr. Art Hall. He recommends policies to encourage as much business experimentation as possible. These policies, basically, call for low taxes for all business firms. Then, it is through markets, not the government’s economic development officials, that successful and productive firms are identified.

Portions of Dr. Hall’s advice was incorporated in Governor Brownback’s economic development plan. Specifically, page 10 of the plan contains this language: “Over the decades, Kansas has enacted a variety of tax policies intended to advance economic development. Many of them provide a meaningful economic incentive to make new investments and create new jobs. Almost all of the policies provide a meaningful incentive to a small number of worthy businesses to the exclusion of tens of thousands of other worthy businesses. The initiatives in this plan seek to end the exclusion. They begin the process of fulfilling the vision that every business matters; they seek to replace the old vision of ‘targeting’ with a new vision of ‘dynamism.'”

It’s time that the governor and his administration apply this advice. That’s going to be hard to do. The crowing over the Mars deal — the very type of targeted economic development “win” that the plan criticizes — shows that politicians love to be seen as actively pursuing and creating jobs. A dynamic, free market-based job-creating economy requires that politicians and bureaucrats keep their hands off — something that goes against their very nature.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday May 31, 2011

Pachyderm to feature DA Foulston. This Friday (June 3) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Nola Tedesco Foulston, District Attorney for the Eighteenth Judicial District of Kansas, whose boundaries are coincident with Sedgwick County. Foulston’s topic will be “An office overview and current events at the Eighteenth Judicial District of Kansas District Attorney’s office.” Foulston, a Democrat, was elected to her office in 1988 and has served continuously since then. … Appearances by speakers other than Republicans at Pachyderm often generate controversy, and this week is no exception. Pachyderm is a Republican club, and the mission statement of the national organization reads: “Promote active citizen involvement and education in government and politics through the formation and support of grassroots, Republican clubs across America.” Some feel that an appearance at Pachyderm will bolster Foulston’s re-election prospects, should she decide to run again next year. Others believe that no Democrat should be be a speaker — ever. In my opinion, the sentiment of the Pachyderm board and of many of the club’s regular attendees is that while Pachyderm is indeed Republican and conservative, the club’s mission of political education and civic engagement allows — in fact, encourages — appearances by prominent officeholders of any political party. In any county, the District Attorney is a powerful force in local government, with broad discretion as to the prosecution of criminal cases. This is a speaker that the members of Pachyderm should be encouraged to hear, even though members may not agree with her politics. …. Foulston will likely face several tough questions from the usually spirited Pachyderm audience. … Upcoming speakers: On June 10, John Allison, Superintendent of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, on “An update from USD 259.” On June 17, The Honorable Lawton R. Nuss, Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice on “The State of the Kansas Courts.” On June 24, Jim Mason, Naturalist at the Great Plains Nature Center will have a presentation and book signing. Mason is author of Wichita’s Riverside Parks, published in April 2011. On July 1, Jay M. Price, Director of the Public History Program at Wichita State University, speaking on “Classes of Values in Kansas History.” On July 8, Dave Trabert, President, Kansas Policy Institute, on “Stabilizing the Kansas Budget.”

Sedgwick County Commission. In its Wednesday meeting, the Sedgwick County Commission will consider making two forgivable loans for the purposes of economic development. These loans have become popular with economic development officials, and often the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County make loans of equal amount to the same company. … The program works by loaning the company an amount of money, with the entire amount paid out at once. Then, if performance goals are met over a period of time, the loan (and interest) is forgiven. Otherwise, portions of it, with interest, may become due. Often the term of the loan is four or five years, with a portion of the loan forgiven each year if goals are met. The performance goals are usually the number of full-time or equivalent employees. … The Golf Warehouse in northeast Wichita is asking for a $48,000 forgivable loan. It recently received a loan of that amount from the City of Wichita. Mid-Continent Instrument, Inc. is asking for $10,000. … Usually economic development incentives are accompanied by a cost-benefit study performed by Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research. The county hasn’t supplied such analysis for these two items.

Kansas budget signed. On Saturday — a holiday weekend day — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed the budget bill. He used his line-item veto authority to strike an across-the-board reduction in spending, preferring to make targeted cuts instead. Although the governor had proposed ending funding for public broadcasting, the legislature included funding, and the governor did not veto it. … Most controversial of the governor’s handful of changes to the bill will be his veto of funding for the Kansas Arts Commission. This action was not a surprise, as recently the administration laid off all the commission’s employees. Associated Press reports that the chairman of the commission isn’t ruling out a lawsuit.

KPERS suit threatened. Changes made by the Kansas Legislature to Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, or KPERS have caused state employee organizations to consider a lawsuit, according to Associated Press reporting. The changes made this year are mild compared to the changes that must be made if KPERS is ever to become self-sustaining. The threat of a lawsuit over these minor changes doesn’t foretell a future of cooperation from state employees in making the much larger reforms that must be made.

Stimulus jobs — or not. Malcolm Harris calls attention to an analysis of the job-creation performance of the 2009 stimulus bill. The working paper is titled The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: Public Sector Jobs Saved, Private Sector Jobs Forestalled. Its goal, according to authors Timothy Conley and Bill Dupor, is to “understand the causal effect on employment of the government spending component of the ARRA.” The key finding is this: “Our benchmark point estimates suggest that the ARRA created/saved approximately 450 thousand state and local government jobs and destroyed/forestalled roughly one million private sector jobs.” That’s a net loss of jobs. … The authors note there is “appreciable estimation uncertainty” in the estimates. Still, they are able to conclude: “However, our estimates are precise enough to state that we find no evidence of large positive private-sector job effects.” … The report includes a section summarizing other researchers’ findings, which usually find that the stimulus program created or save many jobs. The studies that find large job creation usually rely on “fiscal policy multipliers,” a Keynesian economics concept.

Government doesn’t create jobs. Investor’s Business Daily relies partly on the Conley and Dupor paper in its editorial Government Doesn’t Create Jobs. IBD asks “In a joint op-ed with the British prime minister, President Obama admits that jobs are created by an innovative private sector. So why is he strangling ours with regulations, rules and taxes? We would hope it was a candid admission of the truth rather than just boilerplate rhetoric in an op-ed in the Times of London by President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. But there it was: ‘Governments do not create jobs; bold people and innovative businesses do.'” Continuing: “For once, the president is spot on. Businesses create jobs to fill a need, and their incentive is profit. Businesses invest; governments can only spend. Businesses create wealth, as do their employees. Government consumes wealth and sucks the economic oxygen out of the room. Its employees create paperwork and regulations that restrict economic growth.”

In Kansas Legislature this year, opportunities for saving were lost

This year the Kansas Legislature lost three opportunities to improve the operations and reduce the cost of state government. Three bills, each with this goal, were passed by the House of Representatives, but each failed to make through the Senate, or had its contents stripped and replaced with different legislation.

Each of these bills represents a lost opportunity for state government services to be streamlined, delivered more efficiently, or measured and managed.

Kansas Streamlining Government Act

HB 2120, according to its supplemental note, “would establish the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, which would have the purpose of improving the performance, efficiency, and operations of state government by reviewing certain state agencies, programs, boards, and commissions.” Fee-funded agencies — examples include Kansas dental board and Kansas real estate commission — would be exempt from this bill.

In more detail, the text of the bill explains: “The purposes of the Kansas streamlining government act are to improve the performance, streamline the operations, improve the effectiveness and efficiency, and reduce the operating costs of the executive branch of state government by reviewing state programs, policies, processes, original positions, staffing levels, agencies, boards and commissions, identifying those that should be eliminated, combined, reorganized, downsized or otherwise altered, and recommending proposed executive reorganization orders, executive orders, legislation, rules and regulations, or other actions to accomplish such changes and achieve such results.”

In testimony in support of this legislation, Dave Trabert, President of Kansas Policy Institute offered testimony that echoed findings of the public choice school of economics and politics: “Some people may view a particular expenditure as unnecessary to the fulfillment of a program’s or an agency’s primary mission while others may see it as essential. Absent an independent review, we are expecting government employees to put their own self-interests aside and make completely unbiased decisions on how best to spend taxpayer funds. It’s not that government employees are intentionally wasteful; it’s that they are human beings and setting self-interests aside is challenge we all face.”

On February 25 the bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 79 to 40. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs, where it did not advance.

Privatization and public-private partnerships

Another bill that did not advance was HB 2194, which in its original form would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships.

According to the supplemental note for the bill, “The purpose of the Council would be to ensure that certain state agencies, including the Board of Regents and postsecondary educational institutions, would: 1) focus on the core mission and provide goods and services efficiently and effectively; 2) develop a process to analyze opportunities to improve efficiency, cost-effectiveness and provide quality services, operations, functions, and activities; and 3) evaluate for feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency opportunities that could be outsourced. Excluded from the state agencies covered by the bill would be any entity not receiving State General Fund or federal funds appropriation.”

This bill passed by a vote of 68 to 51 in the House of Representatives. It did not advance in the Senate, falling victim to a “gut-and-go” maneuver where its contents were replaced with legislation on an entirely different topic.

Opposing this bill was Kansas Organization of State Employees (KOSE), a union for executive branch state employees. It advised its “brothers and sisters” that the bill “… establishes a partisan commission of big-business interests to privatize state services putting a wolf in charge of the hen house. To be clear, this bill allows for future privatization of nearly all services provided by state workers. Make no mistake, this proposal is a privatization scheme that will begin the process of outsourcing our work to private contractors. Under a privatization scheme for any state agency or service, the employees involved will lose their rights under our MOA and will be forced to adhere to the whims of a private contractor who typically provides less pay and poor benefits. Most workers affected by privatization schemes are not guaranteed to keep their jobs once an agency or service is outsourced.”

Note the use of “outsourcing our work.” This underscores the sense of entitlement of many government workers: It is not work done for the benefit of Kansans, it is our work.

Then, there’s the warning that private industry pays less. Most of the time representatives of state workers like KOSE make the case that it is they who are underpaid, but here the argument is turned around when it supports the case they want to make. One thing is probably true: Benefits — at least pension plans — may be lower in the private sector. But we’re now painfully aware that state government has promised its workers more pension benefits than the state has been willing to pay for.

Performance measures

Another bill that didn’t pass the entire legislature 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, with Wichita’s Nile Dillmore and Geraldine Flaharty the two nay votes. In the Senate, this bill was stripped of its content using the “gut-and-go” procedure and did not proceed intact to a vote.

Opposition to these bills from Democrats often included remarks on the irony of those who were recently elected on the promise of shrinking government now proposing to enlarge government through the creation of these commissions and councils. These bills, however, proposed to spend modest amounts increasing the manageability of government, not the actual range and scope of government itself. 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.

These proposals to scale back the services that government provides — or to have existing services be delivered by the private sector — mean that there will be fewer government employees, and fewer members of government worker unions. This is another fertile area of gathering support for killing these bills.

State workers and their supporters also argue that fewer state workers mean fewer people paying state and other taxes. Forgotten by them is the fact that the taxes taken to pay these workers means less economic activity and fewer jobs in the private sector. And, in fact, Kansas has seen the number of government workers — at all levels — rise.

As to not wanting performance measures: Supporters of the status quo say that people outside of government don’t understand how to make the decisions that government workers make. In one sense, this may be true. In the private sector, profitability is the benchmark of success. Government has no comparable measure when it decides to, say, spend some $300 million to renovate the Kansas Capitol. But once it decides to do so, the benchmark and measurement of profitability in executing the service can be utilized by private sector operators. Of course, private contractors will be subject to the discipline of the profit and loss system, something again missing from government.

Curiously, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback didn’t use his prestige and influence to support these bills, at not publicly. Perhaps next year, an election year not only for the House but also for the entire membership of the Senate, will be different.

Wind power again reaps subsidy

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is at the forefront of letting Americans know just how bad an investment our country is making in wind power, as well as other forms of renewable energy. A recent Review and Outlook piece titled The Wind Subsidy Bubble: Green pork should be a GOP budget target holds these facts:

  • The recent tax bill has a $3 billion grant for wind projects.
  • The 2009 stimulus bill had $30 billion for wind.
  • Wind power installations are way down from recent years.
  • The 2008 stimulus bill forces taxpayers to pay 30% of a renewable energy project’s costs. Wind energy also get a tax credit for each unit of power produced.
  • “Subsidies for renewable energy cost taxpayers about $475,000 for every job generated.”
  • “The wind industry claims to employ 85,000 Americans. That’s almost certainly an exaggeration, but if it is true it compares with roughly 140,000 miners and others directly employed by the coal industry. Wind accounts for a little more than 1% of electricity generation and coal almost 50%. So it takes at least 25 times more workers to produce a kilowatt of electricity from wind as from coal.”

This information is timely as Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson recently released a list of his “achievements,” three of which involve increasing wind power in Kansas.

Incoming Kansas governor Sam Brownback is in favor of wind energy too, and he also supports federal subsidies and mandates for ethanol production and use. In endorsing Brownback the Kansas Association of Ethanol Producers said “… no other public official has done more to promote the merits of ethanol than Sam Brownback. Whereas ethanol is the future of America’s fuel supply, Sam Brownback is the future of Kansas.”

The Wall Street Journal has also long been opposed to this intervention in the market for ethanol, recently quoting a report by a group of U.S. Senators: “Historically our government has helped a product compete in one of three ways: subsidize it, protect it from competition, or require its use. We understand that ethanol may be the only product receiving all three forms of support from the U.S. government at this time.”

Kansas Governor Parkinson says “thank you”

This week outgoing Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson released a “thank you” to Kansans that has been commented on — favorably — in many Kansas newspapers and media outlets. The entire piece may be read at the governor’s site at Thanks So Much.

The governor’s list of “achievements” — his language, not mine — is a reminder that under Parkinson and his predecessor Kathleen Sebelius Kansans have lost economic and personal freedom. It’s nothing that we should thank Parkinson for, and nothing he should be proud of.

Under achievement number one (“Steering the state budget through a very challenging time”) Parkinson wrote “Suffice it to say that I cut state spending more than any governor in Kansas history.” He doesn’t mention that he was forced to make these cuts, as Kansas can’t run deficits like the federal government.

Achievements two, three, and four have to do with his promotion of wind power in Kansas. It’s almost impossible to overstate how unwise these policies are. See Wind power: a wise investment for Wichita and Kansas? for a recent discussion of why wind power is a bad investment. Relying on the manufacturing of wind power equipment as an economic development strategy is an even worse idea. The governor praises legislation that requires utilities to increase their usage of renewable power such as wind. But I’d ask the governor this: If electricity from wind is so desirable, why do utilities have to be forced — and heavily subsidized — to produce it?

Achievement seven highlights “Economic development wins,” mentioning Black and Veatch, Cerner, Bombardier LearJet, and Hawker Beechcraft in particular. Each of these “wins” required large subsidy from the state. Worse, these taxpayer giveaways cement our practice of bureaucratic management of economic development instead of creating a vibrant Kansas business climate where innovation and entrepreneurship thrive. This state policy filters down to counties and cities, to the point where the first consideration for businesses and entrepreneurs is not is this something that will create value for customers and profit for me and my investors but rather what type of government help can I get?

Achievement eight is the statewide smoking ban. Parkinson’s championing of it means that he doesn’t believe that adult Kansans can decide for themselves whether they want to be around smokey places, and that he has little respect for private property rights.

Achievement nine is the new transportation plan. The governor claims it will create or keep 175,000 jobs. Most of these must be highway construction jobs, as it is that industry that heavily supported the plan. As usual, the governor and other advocates of government spending fail to see the jobs that are lost due to the government spending and the taxes necessary to pay for it. Veronique de Rugy explains: “Taxes simply transfer resources from consumers to government, displacing private spending and investment. Families whose taxes have increased will have less money to spend on themselves. They are poorer and will consume less. They also save less money, which in turn reduces the resources available for lending.” In addition, Kansas roads rate very well, even number one among the states in one highly-publicized study. Why the need to so much new investment?

Finally, achievement number ten is “Keeping Kansas a great place to do business.” If this is true, I wonder why do we have to spend so much on subsidies to keep Kansas companies from expanding elsewhere or packing up and leaving entirely, as with Hawker Beechcraft?

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday December 27, 2010

This week at Wichita City Council. This week, as is the usual practice for the fourth Tuesday of each month, the agenda for the Wichita City Council features only consent items. These consent items are thought — at least by someone — to be of routine and non-controversial nature, and the council votes on them in bulk as a single item, unless a council member wishes to “pull” an item for discussion and possibly a separate vote. One such consent item is “Payment for Settlement of Claim — Estate of Christopher Perkins.” As Brent Wistrom reports in the Wichita Eagle’s, Wichitopekington blog, “A police car en route to an emergency call smashed into a Saturn coup last December, killing the coup’s 30-year-old driver, Christopher Perkins. Perkins’ family filed a negligence claim, and, on Tuesday, Wichita City Council members will vote to settle the case for $300,000.” The agenda packet is at Wichita City Council, December 28, 2010. … Also, the city will vote whether to spend $400,000 for an analysis of nine aging fire stations and what repairs and upgrades they might require. Whatever work is found to be necessary would cost much more, presumably. The cost of the analysis is being paid for by borrowing money through general obligation bonds. … Usually these “fourth Tuesday” meetings are followed by a workshop, but as of this moment, no agenda is available. … The Sedgwick County Commission will not meet this week.

Kansas schools’ unspent funds. Perhaps this will be the year in which Kansas schools — along with other state agencies — will publicly confront the reality of their budgets and unspent funds. Kansas Watchdog takes a look on Truth Emerging on Unencumbered K-12 Education Funds .

Which Brownback will govern? The Lawrence Journal-World looks at the future of incoming Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and wonders how he will govern. Perhaps the most telling observation is that of Wichita State University professor H. Edward Flentje: “Then Brownback got elected to Congress as a budget-taming conservative, Flentje said. But the budget couldn’t be tamed, and Brownback morphed into the social conservative for which he is most well-known, or, as Flentje describes it, ‘wearing his faith in the public square.'” So now I’m wondering: Can this year’s Kansas budget be tamed? … On the role of national politics: “Kansas University political science professor Burdett Loomis said that although Brownback is known for his social conservative views, he may be moderated somewhat by national aspirations.”

Rapidly rising costs at Kansas Universities criticized. Tuition at our state’s two flagship universities — The University of Kansas and Kansas State University have risen much faster than inflation, writes John R. LaPlante, educational policy fellow the Kansas Policy Institute in a letter to the Topeka Capital-Journal. Rapidly rising administrative costs are one reason, he writes. But costs can be controlled: “Cutting administrative expenses isn’t just a nice thing to do, it is possible. Iowa State, Texas A&M and the University of Missouri actually reduced their administrative expenses. It should be no surprise that they had smaller tuition increases than every other university in the conference, save Texas Tech.”

States and their pension problems. George Will in the Washington Post writing on the problem with under-funded state employee pension plans: “The nation’s menu of crises caused by governmental malpractice may soon include states coming to Congress as mendicants, seeking relief from the consequences of their choices. Congress should forestall this by passing a bill with a bland title but explosive potential.” Will goes on to describe a bill in Congress that would mandate transaprency of just how bad the problem is: H.R. 6484: Public Employee Pension Transparency Act. … In Kansas, efforts to merely describe the severity of the problem result in attacks on the messenger. In Wichita, the head of Service Employees International Union Local (SEIU) 513 appeared before the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, in order to denounce the reports and what he claimed where the political motives behind it. See video at KPERS report sparks backlash from Wichita SEIU.

Airport security found lacking. From the ABC News report Gaping Holes in Airline Security: Loaded Gun Slips Past TSA Screeners: “But the TSA did miss [the loaded gun], and despite what most people believe about the painstaking effort to screen airline passengers and their luggage before they enter the terminal, it was not that unusual. Experts tell ABC News that every year since the September 11 terror attacks, federal agencies have conducted random, covert “red team tests,” where undercover agents try to see just how much they can get past security checks at major U.S. airports. And while the Department of Homeland Security closely guards the results as classified, those that have leaked in media reports have been shocking.”

Compact strategy against Obamacare outlined. From the Weekly Standard: “An issue of interest to two or more states can lead to a compact. It works this way: State legislatures approve a proposal, the states agree on the parts of mutual concern (such as buying insurance across state lines), then the compact is dispatched to Washington for ratification by Congress and the president (though the need for White House assent isn’t spelled out in the Constitution). Ratification turns the compact into federal law. However, there’s a bigger reason for forming a compact against Obamacare. By banding together, states would have far more political clout in Washington.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday December 21, 2010

Steineger switches teams. Chris Steineger, a Kansas State Senator from Kansas City, has switched to the Republican Party. As a Democrat, Steineger had compiled a voting record more conservative than many senate Republicans. On the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for this year — recognizing that supporting economic freedom is not the same as conservatism or Republicanism — Steineger had a voting record more in favor of economic freedom than that of 15 of the senate’s Republicans.

Kansas school funding reform to wait. Incoming Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says that the Kansas economy comes first, and then school finance, Medicaid, and KPERS in a “year or two.” Tim Carpenter of the Topeka Capital-Journal reports in Revitalizing the Kansas economy is the governor-elect’s No. 1 priority.

Tax cuts in Kansas not likely, says new senate leader. Yesterday Kansas Senate Republicans elected Jay Emler of Lindsborg to be the majority leader, replacing Derek Schmidt, who will become Attorney General. As the Associated Press reports, Emler is not in favor of any tax cuts, including a repeal of the recent increase in the statewide sales tax.

McGinn to lead Ways and Means. Carolyn McGinn, a Kansas Senator from Sedgwick, will chair the Ways and Means Committee. This important committee handles appropriations — in other words, the actual spending of money. On the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for this year, McGinn scored seven percent, tying her with Senate President Stephen Morris as the Republicans most opposed to economic freedom. She also scores low in the Kansas Taxpayer Network/Americans for Prosperity ratings.

Kansas holds on to House seats. At one time it was feared that the 2010 U.S. Census might find Kansas losing one of its four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. But Kansas will retain them. Texas picks up four seats, Florida adds two, while Georgia, South Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah gain one seat each. Ohio and New York lose two each, while Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and New Jersey lose one each.

Rasmussen polls. As often, Rasmussen is the bearer of bad news. Like: What’s the deal with Obama? “For the first time since he became president, only 35% of voters say Barack Obama thinks society is fair and decent. That’s almost half as many as voters who hold that belief themselves. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that 49%, on the other hand, say Obama thinks society is unfair and discriminatory.” See America’s Best Days: Fewer Voters Than Ever Say Obama Thinks Society is Fair and Decent. … Tea Party people skeptical of newly elected officeholders: “Most Tea Party members view the candidates they elected in November as agents of change from government business as usual, but non-members are a lot more skeptical. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone poll finds that only 34% of all Likely U.S. Voters think Tea Party candidates elected in November will remain true to their beliefs. See Most Tea Party Members Think Those They Elected Won’t Sell Out, Others Aren’t So Sure. … Others are pessimistic, too: “Just 23% of Likely U.S. Voters now say the country is heading in the right direction.” See Right Direction or Wrong Track.

Brownback appointments a mixed bag

Incoming Kansas governor Sam Brownback has made some appointments to his economic team. Two of the appointments illustrate why Kansans need to maintain a cautious watch on Brownback as he takes over the governor’s office. A third gives us hope that the Kansas budget can be fully understood and managed.

The major mistake made by the new governor is retaining Deb Miller as Kansas Secretary of Transportation. Miller promoted the very expensive and largely unneeded highway plan that passed the legislature and was signed by the governor. She also promotes the expansion of passenger rail service in Kansas, which is a very expensive proposition that will be used by very few people.

An appointment that has both positive and negative aspects is that of Nick Jordan to be Kansas Secretary of Revenue. Jordan served in the Kansas Senate for several terms where he earned a moderate-to-conservative voting record, based on my assessment of ratings from the Kansas Taxpayers Network. The most troublesome aspect of Jordan’s legislative career is his shepherding of the Kansas Economic Growth Act. This legislation greatly expanded the power of the state to engage in large-scale economic intervention. It’s all in the name of growing the economy of Kansas, which is a noble and desirable goal. But the legislation presumes that government knows how to grow an economy better than markets do, which is a false presumption.

The very pleasant surprise is the appointment of Steven J. Andersonas Budget Director. He has worked to develop model budgets for Americans for Prosperity. He also prepared a document titled Analysis of State Unencumbered Fund Balances in Kansas for the Kansas Policy Institute.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday October 26, 2010

Karl Rove. “Former George W. Bush aide Matt Latimer was there to observe the dealings of Karl Rove during the previous administration, and he writes that there’s no secret why most conservatives have now come to view Rove as a fraud. Latimer says that Rove has become symbolic of a GOP establishment that’s known for its utter betrayal and ruin of the Party that Reagan had left so strong. Now that his secret is out, Rove’s influence will only continue to diminish as time goes on and the Tea Parties take over.” A fascinating look at the legacy of Rove, and illustrates the tension between the tea party and the Republican establishment. From Karl Rove’s Flameout.

Waiting for Superman. The Kansas Policy Institute will host a free screening of Waiting for Superman on Thursday November 4th. Of the film, the Wall Street Journal wrote: “The new film ‘Waiting for ‘Superman'” is getting good reviews for its portrayal of children seeking alternatives to dreadful public schools, and to judge by the film’s opponents it is having an impact. Witness the scene on a recent Friday night in front of a Loews multiplex in New York City, where some 50 protestors blasted the film as propaganda for charter schools.” In Kansas, the Wichita Eagle printed an op-ed penned by the education bureaucracy status quoSharon Hartin Iorio, dean of the Wichita State University College of Education in this case — to inoculate Wichitans against the effects of what I am told is a powerful film. Let’s hope this film gets Kansans to thinking about public schools in our state, as Kansas is way behind the curve on innovation, compared to other states. The film will be shown at 7:00pm at the Warren Theatre East (11611 E. 13th St.). KPI asks that you RSVP by Tuesday, November 2 to James Franko at james.franko@kansaspolicy.org. Space is limited.

Brownback at Wichita Pachyderm. Friday’s meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm club will feature United States Senator and candidate for Kansas governor Sam Brownback. The public is welcome at Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Right to work = economic growth. In The Daily Caller, Emporia State University’s Greg Schneider looks at the history of unions in America and right-to-work laws. The number of union jobs has declined as unionized companies became less competitive, not because of right-to-work laws.

Kansas private sector loses jobs, government grows. “Roughly 7,600 private sector jobs in Kansas disappeared from August to September, while government jobs grew by 21,000 over the same time period.” Most of the government jobs were in schools, writes Rachel Whitten in the Kansas Reporter.

Tea Party plans to exert influence. As newly-elected members of Congress arrive in Washington to assume their seats, a tea party group plans to lay down expectations. “The meeting of newly elected officials, the date of which hasn’t been set, is designed to keep new representatives connected to ‘what we expect from them,’ according to the memo. Incumbent Republican members of Congress and the party’s national leadership won’t be invited, said Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, in an interview. ‘The incumbents have allowed us to get into the problems we are in now,’ he said. ‘We hope to get to the freshmen before the incumbents get to them, and start twisting their arms.”” The full story in the Wall Street Journal is Group Plans to Keep Pressure on Newly Elected Conservatives. There is definitely conflict between the Tea Party and the Republican Establishment.

Goyle numbers explained by rats and cats. Candidate for U.S. Congress from the Kansas fourth district Raj Goyle says he has voted with Republicans in the Kansas House of Representatives 80 percent of the time. While a detailed analysis of the votes would be difficult and time-consuming, the majority of measures voted on by legislatures pass nearly unanimously — the so-called “rats and cats” bills. The important cases this year where Goyle voted against his party — the big-spending budget and the statewide sales tax increase — represent either a genuine change in Goyle’s political philosophy, or election-year window dressing. Voters have to make the call.

Holland claim doubted. In an interview with the Dodge City Daily Globe, Kansas governor hopeful Democrat Tom Holland said “Now I have a proven track record in the Kansas Legislature of reaching across the aisle and working with Republicans.” Evidence, however, points the other way. In the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for this year, Holland is the only Kansas Senator that earned a score of 0 percent. KEFI is not designed to group legislators into Republican or Democratic camps, but Holland ranks alone at the extreme end of the spectrum — voting against economic freedom in all cases.

Arts in Wichita promoted. Today John D’Angelo, manager of Wichita’s Division of Arts and Cultural Services, contributes a piece to the Wichita Eagle titled How can Wichita sustain, grow arts sector? The answer to this question is: reduce government involvement in the arts, first by abolishing Mr. D’Angelo’s department and city taxation for spending on the arts. This will force arts organizations to meet the demands of consumers as expressed in free markets. Currently, a board of cronies dishes out tax money to arts organizations using political rather than market criteria. This process lets these organizations exists by appealing to Wichita’s cultural elites, rather than the broad market. See Government Art in Wichita. Economic fallacy supports arts in Wichita provides background to D’Angelo’s claim of the economic benefit of the arts, at least government spending on arts.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Sunday October 24, 2010

Surprise endorsement from Wichita Eagle. Today the Wichita Eagle endorsed Republican Mike Pompeo over Democrat Raj Goyle in the race for the Kansas fourth Congressional district. Surprising. Still, the Eagle editorial board can’t help reveal its preference for big, expansive government by taking a few digs at Pompeo, describing his free-market, limited government views as “overly idealistic at times.” Continuing, the Eagle wrote “For example, he believes that there wouldn’t be a need for farm subsidies or economic development incentives if there were lower tax rates and a friendlier and more stable regulatory environment. That’s not the real world.” The Eagle editorial board said that Pompeo is “too ideological and wouldn’t seek practical political solutions.” Well, are the “practical” solutions imposed on us by the current federal regime working? I would say not. Other evidence of the Eagle’s unbelief in the power of freedom, free people, and free markets was noticed in its failure to endorse Richard Ranzau for Sedgwick county commission, in which the Eagle mentioned his “inflexible anti-tax, free-market views.” The Eagle prefers “nuanced” politicians.

Who is Raj Goyle? On today’s episode of KAKE Television’s This Week in Kansas hosted by Tim Brown, guests Randy Brown and Ed Flentje discussed the fourth district Congressional race race, and Goyle in particular. The reliably liberal [Randy] Brown said that Goyle made a mistake in not voting for the statewide sales tax increase, which Brown characterized as a “responsible thing to do.” This, he said, caused people — including Democrats — to view Goyle as a political opportunist, and Goyle lost a chance to distinguish himself from his opponent. Flentje said “he does appear to be quite flexible,” which elicited hearty laughter from the panel. He continued: “It’s hard to figure out exactly where he is … he’s trying to address overwhelming Republican advantage in registration. He’s been for the most part a good legislator, campaigns aggressively, but he’s going uphill … I kind of feel for him.”

Who is Sam Brownback? “Most agree that Sam Brownback will be elected governor on November 2, but what kind of governor he will be is less than clear. Even after nearly a quarter century in Kansas politics and government, his divergent political lives prompt voters to ask: Will the real Sam Brownback please stand up?” H. Edward Flentje, political science professor at Wichita State University, through State of the State Kansas. Flentje appeared on today’s episode of KAKE Television’s This Week in Kansas to discuss this column. Fellow guest Randy Brown said “In terms of being a political opportunist, he strikes me as the classic person who tells whatever group of people he’s in front of what they want to hear.” Flentje disagreed with this. The column traces Brownback’s evolution in both the personal and political spheres, and does ask the question “So, will the real Sam Brownback as Kansas governor please stand up?”

Kansas candidates score free TV. “Democratic incumbents Chris Biggs and Dennis McKinney are riding a $100,000-plus wave of television advertising their Republican opponents denounce as thinly veiled self-promotion and an abuse of office that should be stamped out by the Legislature.” More by Tim Carpenter at Topeka Capital-Journal. We shouldn’t be surprised at this, as a look at the Kansas agency websites headed by elected officials shows them using these sites as campaign billboards year round.

Jim Powell political advertisement on Facebook

Politicians advertise on Facebook. Here’s an example of a politician running for office that uses Facebook for advertising. With Facebook ads, you can target who your advertisement is displayed to in great detail.

Putting a price on professors. The Wall Street Journal covers an effort in Texas to evaluate the worth of state university faculty members from a financial viewpoint: “A 265-page spreadsheet, released last month by the chancellor of the Texas A&M University system, amounted to a profit-and-loss statement for each faculty member, weighing annual salary against students taught, tuition generated, and research grants obtained. … The balance sheet sparked an immediate uproar from faculty, who called it misleading, simplistic and crass — not to mention, riddled with errors. But the move here comes amid a national drive, backed by some on both the left and the right, to assess more rigorously what, exactly, public universities are doing with their students — and their tax dollars.” The article notes some dismal statistics of the type we’re used to hearing about K through 12 education: “Just over half of all freshmen entering four-year public colleges will earn a degree from that institution within six years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. And among those with diplomas, just 31% could pass the most recent national prose literacy test, given in 2003; that’s down from 40% a decade earlier, the department says.” Credit goes to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a state-based think tank that is often at the forefront of the fight for fiscal responsibility.

Pretending the union money doesn’t exist. From RedState: “Desperate Democrats have been hyperventilating for the past month over money being spent by corporate and other groups, notably the Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, to run campaign commercials. To conservatives, running commercials to attempt to persuade voters in advance of an election is known as ‘free speech,’ and turnabout is fair play after corporate money went heavily for Obama in 2008, but let’s play along here; how much of an advantage does the GOP have here? … That’s right, three of the five largest campaign spenders this year are not business or pro-business groups but unions affiliated with the Democrats and dominated by public employees.”

iPhone screen

We forget the blessings of technology. As I write this I am plugged into my iPhone. I carry it with me wherever I go. I would rather leave home forgetting my wallet than my iPhone. As it is more than just a telephone, it also holds my music, as seen in the accompanying depiction of its screen. The ability to carry with me — wherever I travel — examples of the great works of music, in this case Beethoven violin and piano sonatas, is something that is truly remarkable. More than that, it’s a miracle. Now when I check in to a hotel, it’s not uncommon to find a clock radio where I can dock or plug in my iPhone and listen to my music as I unpack and prepare for the day’s events. The back of my iPhone reads “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” If not for this international cooperation, would the miracle of the iPhone — and other similar technology — be affordable, or even possible?

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday October 22, 2010

My best tweet yesterday. I just uninstalled the NPR News app from my iPhone. #NPR #Juan

Many have already voted. Wednesday Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Bill Gale told commissioners that his office had sent 63,000 mail ballots to voters in the county, and 20,000 had been returned. In the 2006 general election, a midterm election comparable to this year, 118,258 ballots were cast in Sedgwick County. Gale’s numbers tell us that around half of voters will use the advance voting system, and perhaps 17 percent have already voted as far as two weeks in advance of election day.

Goyle on defense pork barrel spending. Yesterday Kansas fourth Congressional district candidate Democrat Raj Goyle criticized Republican Mike Pompeo for not supporting a second engine for the F-35 fighter jet program. Goyle says we need to protect 800 jobs in Cowley county by approving this project. The problem is this federal spending program is not needed and wasteful. According to Forbes: “The problem General Electric and teammate Rolls Royce face is that both the Bush and the Obama administrations concluded the single-engine F-35 would do just fine with only one engine supplier. … Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decided to make termination of the second engine a test case of whether Congress is committed to eliminating waste.” Spending money on this jet engine that is not needed is the very definition of government waste. A question: If these jobs were not in the Congressional district Goyle is running in, would he support this project? If the answer is yes, he fails the Defense Secretary’s test for whether Congress is really ready to eliminate waste. If the answer is no, he’s already engaging in the type of pork-grabbing — getting anything and everything for the home district, no matter what the cost — that he purportedly disdains.

They do this too? Here’s another example of left-wing bloggers and writers claiming to have “uncovered” something that sits in plain sight. This time it comes from Think Progress, a project of the hard left — but innocently-named — Center for American Progress Action Fund, which in turn is a project of George Soros. Jonathan Adler explains at National Review Online: “Think Progress has a breathless post up today alleging they have uncovered the Koch brothers sinister plot to coordinate corporate, libertarian, and conservative donors to outside groups and think tanks. What they’ve actually uncovered is (horrors) an invitation-only conference of generally like-minded philanthropic and other organizations that likes to discuss issues and strategies and hear from prominent thinkers and commentators (including, on at least one occasion, NRO’s Ramesh Ponnuru and frequent contributor Veronique de Rugy). Think Progress acts as if this is some sort of revelation, but this sort of thing has been common for some time, particularly on the left. The Environmental Grantmakers Association is one example of an organizational umbrella for like-minded philanthropists that has sponsored closed-door conferences for strategy discussions, but there are others. The Kendall Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and other specific funders have, at times, also taken very aggressive steps to ensure coordination by funders and grant recipients. I wrote about this fifteen years ago in my book on the environmentalist movement. Next thing Think Progress will tell us there’s gambling in Atlantic City.” By the way, the Wichita Eagle will rely on Think Progress as a source.

Does business favor free markets? Many people naively assume that business automatically supports free markets and less regulation. The Washington Examiner’s Timothy P. Carney tells us that this is not so. Writing about his speaking experiences at an event sponsored by Charles Koch, Carney writes: “I’ve often said — and I said it at the dinner — that privately held businesses tend to favor free markets, even when they get big; while publicly held businesses (like those on the Fortune 500), tend to want bigger government as often or more often than they want free markets, depending on the industry and who’s in power.” Carney lists a number of companies — BP, Conoco, Shell, and Wal-Mart that are in favor of more government regulation. Wal-Mart, for example, favored higher minimum wage legislation because it already paid higher wages than its competitors, and the new minimum wage would hurt them, giving Wal-Mart a competitive advantage obtained through regulation. Carney also makes the case that liberals don’t often realize that they’re being played: “This may be the most important point that folks like [left-wing bloggers] Zernike, Yglesias, and Fang miss: many of these businessmen could profit even more under the policies the Left favors than they do under the free market.” As it applies to Koch Industries specifically, Carney notes that strict regulation of refineries makes entry by competitors difficult to impossible, relying on the Los Angeles Times for evidence: “California refiners are simply cashing in on a system that allows a handful of players to keep prices high by carefully controlling supplies. The result is a kind of miracle market in which profits abound, outsiders can’t compete and a dwindling cadre of gas station operators has little choice but go along. Indeed, the recent history of California’s fuel industry is a textbook case of how a once-competitive business can become skewed to the advantage of a few, all with the federal government’s blessing.” I would add that in competitive markets, business firms must seek to please a diverse array of customers, and that’s harder to do than pleasing politicians and regulators.

Kansas politics in New York Times. Particularly the governor’s race. The article contains an accurate assessment on how things really work in Kansas, and should be noted by those who blame all of our state’s problems in Republicans: “But while Republicans dominate the State Legislature and the governor was once chairman of the state party, the reality about those who currently control Kansas is far subtler — the effective majority in the Legislature is a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats, while the governor defected to the Democratic Party.” See Kansas Governor’s Race Seen Redefining G.O.P.

Sedgwick County website still dark. Not exactly dark, but the county didn’t renew its domain name registration, and it expired. Usually these things can be cleared up pretty quickly, but for me it’s still out of order after about 24 hours. It works on my iPhone, though, but the county’s website is not friendly to use on mobile devices.

Energy to be topic at Wichita Pachyderm. Today’s meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm club will feature John A. McKinsey speaking on the topic “Cap and Trade: What is the economic and regulatory impact of Congressional legislation?” The public is welcome at Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday October 11, 2010

Moran at Wichita Pachyderm: This Friday’s speaker at the Wichita Pachyderm Club is current United States Representative and Republican Party Senate nominee Jerry Moran. As a large audience is expected, please arrive by 11:45 to get your buffet lunch in time for the noon start (the larger meeting room will be used). Cost is $10, which includes lunch.

Wichita, get control of incentives: Rhonda Holman’s lead editorial in yesterday’s Wichita Eagle urged caution and restraint in Wichita’s use of tax incentives — a welcome message not expected from the Eagle. One conservative wrote to me: “I am stunned to find myself to be largely in agreement with today’s editorial by Rhonda Holman. Wow.” The editorial was critical of past city policy and practice, with Holman referring to special taxing districts as “tax tricks.” On the need for public investment in downtown, she wrote “the city must ensure its use of special taxing districts is strategic, fair, farsighted and defensible.” Whether our present political and bureaucratic leadership can accomplish this is, in my opinion, unlikely.

Rasmussen key polls from last week: California Senate moves from “leans Democrat” to “toss-up” … Most Americans feel Nobel prizes are politicalHarry Reid’s son trails in race for Nevada governor … Cyber bullying seen equally dangerous as physical bullying.

Kansas initiative and referendum: The Wichita Eagle takes a look at initiative and referendum. A focus of the article is Secretary of State candidates Chris Biggs and Kris Kobach, which is a little misplaced, as they don’t have a say in whether Kansas has I&R, although they would administer the process and Kobach has made it a campaign issue. Key takeaways: “States with initiatives spend and tax less than states without them.” Politicians of both stripes hate I&R, with Kansas Senate President Steve Morris — a big-spending, big-taxing, liberal Republican — hating the idea, according to the article. Same for Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neil, a conservative. Not reported in the article is one of the first things the people may do in states that have I&R: impose term limits on their elected officials, an idea most of the political class hates.

China Emerges as a Scapegoat in Campaign Ads: The New York Times reports: “With many Americans seized by anxiety about the country’s economic decline, candidates from both political parties have suddenly found a new villain to run against: China. … Democrats and Republicans are blaming one another for allowing the export of jobs to its economic rival.” Kansas fourth district Congressional hopeful Democrat Raj Goyle is mentioned as one of 29 candidates using China as a foil in campaign ads, just in case you thought Goyle’s attacks were novel. But the issue is murky, as the Times notes: “Never mind that there is hardly any consensus as to what exactly constitutes outsourcing and how many of the new overseas jobs would have stayed in American hands.”

Regulation — Baptists and Bootleggers: “Here is the essence of the theory: durable social regulation evolves when it is demanded by both of two distinctly different groups. ‘Baptists’ point to the moral high ground and give vital and vocal endorsement of laudable public benefits promised by a desired regulation. Baptists flourish when their moral message forms a visible foundation for political action. ‘Bootleggers’ are much less visible but no less vital. Bootleggers, who expect to profit from the very regulatory restrictions desired by Baptists, grease the political machinery with some of their expected proceeds. They are simply in it for the money. The theory’s name draws on colorful tales of states’ efforts to regulate alcoholic beverages by banning Sunday sales at legal outlets. Baptists fervently endorsed such actions on moral grounds. Bootleggers tolerated the actions gleefully because their effect was to limit competition.” From Bruce Yandle, Bootleggers and Baptists in Retrospect. A podcast on the topic is Bruce Yandle on Bootleggers and Baptists.

Obama fails education: From Three Reasons Obama’s Education Vision Fails at Reason: “While he brags constantly about his Race to the Top initiative, in which states competed for $4 billion to fund innovative programs, he’s spent more than $80 billion in no-strings-attached stimulus funds to maintain the educational status quo.” Obama also killed a school choice program in Washington, and has snuggled up to the teachers unions with a stimulus bill to preserve and add union teacher jobs “despite the fact that there are already more teachers per student than ever.” The status quo describes outgoing Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson and his education “vision.” Not that presumptive incoming governor Sam Brownback is a radical on school reform, however. His education plans are quite tepid and not likely to produce the results Kansas schoolchildren need.

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line: “If Kansans want lower taxes and less government, why are there so many homeowners’ associations here?” I guess the distinction between government and voluntary action escapes this person.

Political site FiveThirtyEight looks at polls, statistics

The political website FiveThirtyEight provides an innovative look at political forecasting and also supplies useful information about candidates and political districts.

The site FiveThirtyEight.com was active during the 2008 campaign season. Now it is a feature of the New York Times and can be accessed at fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com. The name comes from from the number of electors in the United States electoral college.

FiveThirtyEight uses a variety of methods to arrive at its results, including polls, where polls are weighted by several factors including recency, sample size, and the polling firm’s track record. Some polls are considered so unreliable that they are not included. The weighted polls results are adjusted by several factors, including a trendline adjustment and likely voter adjustment.

The data is further adjusted by factors such as the state’s Partisan Voting Index, individual monetary contributions received, and “a variable representing stature, based on the highest elected office that the candidate has held.”

There are additional steps in the analysis. Finally, the FiveThirtyEight procedures uses simulation, where various factors are considered randomly over a large number of trials.

When FiveThirtyEight reports its results, it also calculates the probability that a candidate will win the election. It might forecast, for example, that a candidate will finish with 55 percent of the vote, with the probability of winning at 85 percent. Winning, of course, means that the candidate gets at least one more vote than the closest opponent — no margin of victory is implied in the probability.

The site is also a useful repository of information such as voting record in selected issues, campaign finance, district demographics, and previous election results.

The FiveThirtyEight site doesn’t say this, but we can easily surmise that the lead that some candidates currently enjoy is the result of not only the policy positions of the candidate and the political landscape of the district, but importantly the product of the campaign the candidates have waged so far. Candidates with leads need to realize this and keep up their efforts.

FiveThirtyEight forecasts for Kansas

In Kansas, here are the results FiveThirtyEight forecasts:

For United States Senate: Democrat Lisa Johnston 31.2 percent; Republican Jerry Moran 66.2 percent. The probability of a Moran win is 100 percent. This forecast has held steady over time.

For Kansas Governor: Republican Sam Brownback 60.5 percent; Democrat Tom Holland 37.6 percent. Probability of a Brownback victory is 99.9 percent. The vote difference has been narrowing very slightly, but the probability of a Brownback win is still overwhelming.

For U.S. Congress, District 1: Republican Tim Huelskamp 72.7 percent; Democrat Alan Jilka 24.5 percent. Probability of a Huelskamp win is 100 percent.

For U.S. Congress, District 2: Democrat Cheryl Hudspeth 35.6 percent; Incumbent Republican Lynn Jenkins 62.8 percent. Probability of a Jenkins win is 100 percent.

For U.S. Congress, District 3: Democrat Stephene Moore 42.5 percent; Republican Kevin Yoder 55.0 percent. Probability of a Yoder victory is 92.7 percent. This is the only Kansas Congressional district that is remotely competitive, described as “leaning Republican.” Yoder’s margin has been increasing very slightly.

For U.S. Congress, District 4: Democrat Raj Goyle 36.5 percent; Republican Mike Pompeo 61.0 percent. Probability of a Pompeo victory is 99.9 percent. Pompeo’s lead over Goyle has been growing since the September 17th version of the model for this contest. These results don’t include the SurveyUSA poll of just a few days ago, which showed Pompeo’s lead over Goyle widening.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Sunday October 10, 2010

Countryman back on air: Gene Countryman, host of a long-running radio show that went off the air earlier this year, returns to the airwaves tonight with the Gene Countryman Show. The new show airs Sunday evenings from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm on KNSS Radio 1330 AM.

Koch article criticism: Andrew Ferguson, media critic for Commentary, provides a critical look at the left-wing hysteria over Jane Mayer’s New Yorker Magazine “exposé” of Charles Koch, David Koch, and Koch Industries. Best quote: “The only support in Mayer’s article for this extravagant charge comes from second-hand assertions, usually in quotes from the brothers’ critics. Many are anonymous. Others are incompletely identified. Conservative think tanks and activists are carefully pinned with the ideological tag; liberal think tanks and left-wing activists are, well, just think tanks and activists.”

Who wins here? Letter from Pat Risley in Wichita Eagle: “Westar is requesting approval to recover direct costs and lost revenues associated with the implementation of the SimpleSavings program. Basically, it means that as homes become more energy-efficient, the lost revenues to Westar would be passed on to all Westar customers.” I thought we were all supposed to win with conservation measures. At its core, I imagine this has something to do with Westar being a regulated utility, rather than operating in a free market for energy.

‘Down-ballot’ races also are important this year: Writing in the Wichita Eagle, Kansas University political science professor Burdett Loomis discusses the “minor” statewide races in Kansas this year. Minor perhaps in terms of the public policy impact of some of these offices, but not for some of the candidates. Writes Loomis: “Beyond the races themselves, these statewide offices offer the real pathways for advancing to the governorship or Congress.”

Informed choice: The Lawrence Journal-World notes the lack of debates in this election season, both statewide and local: “The near lack of joint debate or forum appearances by the two major party candidates for Kansas governor has drawn considerable attention across the state, but the gubernatorial candidates aren’t the only ones opting out of such events. The unwillingness of candidates to participate in voter education events is reaching all the way to the local level.” An exception might be the Kansas fourth district. Raj Goyle’s events page lists several past and upcoming forums and debates.

Equity in education? Ken Stephens of the Hutchinson News contributes a story looking at the Kansas school finance formula and the issues involved in its reform. It contains a rare piece of wisdom from school lobbyist Mark Tallman, who advocates for more school spending at any expense to the state. Stephens reports: “Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, once suggested that he would like to lock a group of the smartest superintendents in the state in a room to rewrite the formula. The kicker, though, would be that when they were done, all their names would be placed in a hat and their names would be randomly drawn to determine which district they would serve in the future. ‘So don’t write the formula for the district you’re in now,’ Tallman said. ‘Write a formula you think will work for whatever district.'” This reminds me of the wisdom of Walter E. Williams, who wrote “The kind of rules we should have are the kind that we’d make if our worst enemy were in charge.”

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line: “Thanks to the Sedgwick County commissioners for saving us from another tax-increment financing district. Wish the city had some backbone to do what is right for taxpayers.” … “Did anyone else notice that the Republicans’ Pledge to America didn’t include one word about earmarks and pork-barrel spending? I guess that’s just too much to ask.”