Tag Archives: Kansas legislature

Articles about the Kansas legislature, both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Where is Duane Goossen, former Kansas budget director?

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Duane Goossen hides from honest scrutiny … again

By Dave Trabert

Former state budget director Duane Goossen published a scathing review of the KPI 5-Year State Budget Plan a few days ago on his blog, so I wrote and asked if he would join Steve Anderson and me for a public discussion of the facts and issues. He ignored our invitation for civil discussion, just as he did when we explained how he distorted the truth about education finance.

Duane Goossen
Goossen claims we made an $802 million math error and tries to fool unsuspecting readers by saying we didn’t account for all of what is purported to be a $1.3 billion shortfall.  We didn’t account for it because there is no $1.3 billion shortfall!

As we explained in How Budget Deficits are Fabricated in Kansas, Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) counts budget changes multiple times in arriving at what they call a $1.3 billion shortfall.  Once money is cut from the base budget … it’s gone. It doesn’t have to be cut again every year into the future.

According to KLRD, the spending adjustments needed to maintain a zero ending balance total $482.3 million over five years.

In order to get to $1.3 billion, one must count the FY 2016 change FOUR times … the FY 2017 change is counted THREE times … the FY 2018 change is counted TWICE … and only the FY 2019 change is counted once.

Goossen also mischaracterizes several proposed uses of excess cash reserves as “cuts” to transportation and education. As clearly explained in our Budget Plan, we are proposing that a KDOT surplus of $150 million be returned to the General Fund and that sales tax transfers to KDOT be reduced so that future surpluses are not created. We suggest that school districts and universities be required to use a portion of excess cash reserves, allowing education funding to reduced one time while excess funds are spent down.

He also falsely claims we are recommending a $100 million cut to the Kansas Bioscience Authority, when our plan merely suggests funding KBA at the same amount it received in 2014. The budget savings comes about by removing a statutory set-aside of $25 million per year that isn’t planned to be spent.

These are just some of the outlandish claims made by Goossen, which probably explains why he ignores invitations to have a civil public discussion of the facts.  He has nothing to gain and everything to lose.

Our budget plan shows multiple options to balance the budget without service reductions or tax increases…healthy ending balances…increased funding for education and Medicaid…and record-setting spending overall.  But media won’t even look at the plan and others are spreading false claims about it.

Kansans are being inundated with the false choice of tax increases or service reductions … all for political gain.

Legal publications in the Wichita Eagle, occupying nearly the entire page.

A simple step towards government transparency in Wichita

Kansas law requires publication of certain notices in newspapers, but cities like Wichita could also make them available in other ways that are easier to use.

Legal publications in the Wichita Eagle, occupying nearly the entire page.
Legal publications in the Wichita Eagle, occupying nearly the entire page.
Do you read the legal publications in your local newspaper? Often they are lengthy. Many pertain to just one person or company. All are supplied using ink expressed as fine print on the chemically processed flesh of dead trees.

But some legal publications are important and of interest to the general public.

Kansas law requires that many legal notices must be printed on a newspaper. That law needs to be changed. As you might imagine, newspapers resist this reform, as it might mean a loss of revenue for them. (That’s right. Newspapers don’t print these notices as a public service.)

Although the law requires publishing notices in a newspaper, it doesn’t prohibit publishing them in electronic form. If governmental agencies would make their legal publications available in ways other than the newspaper, citizens would be better served.

This would be easy to do. It would be quite inexpensive. The material is already in electronic form. The notices would become searchable through Google and other methods. Government transparency would increase. Interested parties could capture and store notices this material for their own use. Once people get used to this method of publication, it will make it easier to get state law changed.

So why doesn’t the City of Wichita (and Sedgwick County and the District Court) post their legal notices on their websites?

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For Kansas budget, balance is attainable

A policy brief from a Kansas think tank illustrates that balancing the Kansas budget while maintaining services and lower tax rates is not only possible, but realistic.

The State of Kansas has implemented tax reform that reduces the tax burden for Kansans. A remaining challenge that has not yet been tackled is spending reform, that is, aligning Kansas state government spending with a smaller stream of tax revenue. Critics of tax reform say the Kansas budget is a mess or a train wreck, pointing to projections of large deficits before long. Tax increases or service cuts will be required to balance the budget, contend critics.

In a policy brief released today, Kansas Policy Institute presented a plan for bringing the budget in balance while retaining low tax rates (and future reductions) and accommodating projected future spending needs for Medicare and schools.

KPI’s analysis and proposed budgets are based on revenue and expenditure data from Kansas Legislative Research Department as of August. Because of some uncertainty of future revenue estimates, KPI used three different levels of starting revenue going to create three different scenarios. KPI then applied the same growth rate that KLRD uses.

Even with the changes proposed by KPI, spending will still increase in most cases. Baked into KPI’s tables are projections by KLRD of increases of $299 million for Medicaid caseloads and $215 million for additional K-12 school spending.

The changes that KPI recommends are primarily structural in nature. For example, one recommendation is to reform KPERS, the state employee retirement system, so that newly hired employees are covered by a defined contribution program. Another is reducing sales tax transfers to Kansas Department of Transportation to the level used in fiscal year 2013.

Another change is to improve accounting systems. The report illustrates one instance where inadequate payroll systems mean that the state can’t claim some payments that it is due:

States are entitled to be reimbursed by the federal government for the pension costs of school employees engaged in the delivery of federally-funded services, such as Special Education and Food Service. Kansas, however, foregoes federal reimbursement because many school districts’ payroll systems lack the ability to properly capture the necessary information. (Estimates are not permitted; the information must flow through payroll systems.)

KPI president Dave Trabert said: “We do have to have some structural changes that should have occurred in 2012 when tax reform was first implemented. We can do that now by making more effective use of existing resources.” Except in a few instances, the budget plan advanced by KPI doesn’t depend on government eliminating waste or becoming more efficient. While these goals are important, Trabert said, they take time to accomplish.

The policy brief is just ten pages in length. It may be downloaded from KPI here 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 Refom.

Hanging file folders

Claims of future transparency of Wichita tax money spending

Claims by boosters of a proposed Wichita sales tax that the city will be transparent in how money is spent must be examined in light of the city’s attitude towards citizens’ right to know.

When a city council member apologizes to bureaucrats because they have to defend why their agencies won’t disclose how taxpayer money is spent, we have a problem. When the mayor and most other council members agree, the problem is compounded. Carl Brewer won’t be mayor past April, but the city council member that apologized to bureaucrats — Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) — may continue serving in city government beyond next year’s elections. Wichita City Manager Robert Layton will likely continue serving for the foreseeable future.

Why is this important? Supporters of the proposed Wichita sales tax promise transparency in operations and spending. But requests for spending records by the city’s quasi-governmental agencies are routinely rebuffed. The city supports their refusal to comply with the Kansas Open Records Act. Many of the people presently in charge at city hall and at agencies like Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition will still be in charge if the proposed sales tax passes. What assurances do we have that they will change their attitude towards citizens’ right to know how taxpayer funds are spent?

Following, from December 2012, an illustration of the city’s attitude towards citizens’ right to know.

Wichita, again, fails at open government

The Wichita City Council, when presented with an opportunity to increase the ability of citizens to observe the workings of the government they pay for, decided against the cause of open government, preferring to keep the spending of taxpayer money a secret.

The occasion was consideration of renewing its contract with Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau. I asked, as I have in the past for this agency and also for Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, that they consider themselves to be what they are: public agencies as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act.

In the past I’ve argued that Go Wichita is a public agency as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. But the city disagreed. And astonishingly, the Sedgwick County District Attorney agrees with the city’s interpretation of the law.

So I asked that we put aside the law for now, and instead talk about good public policy. Let’s recognize that even if the law does not require Go Wichita, WDDC, and GWEDC to disclose records, the law does not prohibit them from fulfilling records requests.

Once we understand this, we’re left with these questions:

Why does Go Wichita, an agency funded almost totally by tax revenue, want to keep secret how it spends that money, over $2 million per year?

Why is this city council satisfied with this lack of disclosure of how taxpayer funds are spent?

Why isn’t Go Wichita’s check register readily available online, as it is for Sedgwick County?

For that matter, why isn’t Wichita’s check register online?

It would be a simple matter for the council to declare that the city and its taxpayer-funded partner agencies believe in open government. All the city has to have is the will to do this. It takes nothing more.

Only Wichita City Council Member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) gets it, and yesterday was his last meeting as a member of the council. No other council members would speak up in favor of citizens’ right to open government.

But it’s much worse than a simple failure to recognize the importance of open government. Now we have additional confirmation of what we already suspected: Many members of the Wichita City Council are openly hostile towards citizens’ right to know.

In his remarks, Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) apologized to the Go Wichita President that she had become “a pawn in the policy game.” He said it was “incredibly unfair that you get drawn into something like this.”

He added that this is a matter for the Attorney General and the District Attorney, and that not being a lawyer, she shouldn’t be expected to understand these issues. He repeated the pawn theme, saying “Unfortunately there are occasions where some people want to use great people like yourself and [Wichita Downtown Development Corporation President] Jeff Fluhr as pawns in a very tumultuous environment. Please don’t be deterred by that.”

Mayor Brewer added “I would have to say Pete pretty much said it all.”

We’ve learned that city council members rely on — as Randy Brown told the council last year — facile legal reasoning to avoid oversight: “It may not be the obligation of the City of Wichita to enforce the Kansas Open Records Act legally, but certainly morally you guys have that obligation. To keep something cloudy when it should be transparent I think is foolishness on the part of any public body, and a slap in the face of the citizens of Kansas. By every definition that we’ve discovered, organizations such as Go Wichita are subject to the Kansas Open Records Act.”

But by framing open government as a legal issue — one that only lawyers can understand and decide — Wichita city government attempts to avoid criticism for their attitude towards citizens.

It’s especially absurd for this reason: Even if we accept the city’s legal position that the city and its quasi-governmental taxpayer-funded are not required to fulfill records request, there’s nothing preventing from doing that — if they wanted to.

In some ways, I understand the mayor, council members, and bureaucrats. Who wants to operate under increased oversight?

What I don’t understand is the Wichita news media’s lack of interest in this matter. Representatives of all major outlets were present at the meeting.

I also don’t understand what Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) suggested I do: “schmooze” with staff before asking for records. (That’s not my word, but a characterization of Williams’ suggestion made by another observer.)

I and others who have made records requests of these quasi-governmental taxpayer-funded organizations have alleged no wrongdoing by them. But at some point, citizens will be justified in wondering whether there is something that needs to be kept secret.

The actions of this city have been noticed by the Kansas Legislature. The city’s refusal to ask its tax-funded partners to recognize they are public agencies as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act is the impetus for corrective legislation that may be considered this year.

Don’t let this new law be known as the “Wichita law.” Let’s not make Wichita an example for government secrecy over citizens’ right to know.

Unfortunately, that bad example has already been set, led by the city’s mayor and city council.

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What is truth on education finance in Kansas?

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Duane Goossen distorts the truth on education finance

By Dave Trabert

Former state budget director Duane Goossen’s recent blog post entitled “Woe to Education Finance” is yet another example of data being deliberately distorted or falsified for political gain. Mr. Goossen served as budget director under governors Graves, Sebelius and Parkinson and has been a vocal critic of anything even hinting at efficient government…let alone lower tax burdens. Indeed, his post concludes, “The fallout from the governor’s tax plan has made investment in Kansas public schools impossible.” That false claim is completely debunked on page 60 of the Division of Budget’s FY 2015 Comparison Report, showing that state funding of schools will increase by $176 million this year (not counting property taxes that will finally be recorded properly as state aid).

And that’s just the beginning of the false claims and distortions.

Goossen: “Costs for supplies, electricity, transportation, and teachers’ salaries are all increasing. But for the coming academic year, schools must cover those growing expenses with $548 less for each student than they had 6 years ago.”

Table 1 shows the most recent estimate of per-pupil spending for the year just ended. Even if the portion recorded as Federal and Local is unchanged this year, the addition of $176 million will take per-pupil expenditures to roughly $13,411. That would be $751 more per-pupil than six years ago … not $548 less.  Mr. Goossen is only telling a partial story, as shown in the next section.

What’s more, to the extent that costs are increasing for schools, they are also increasing for individual families and businesses. Mr. Goossen is essentially demanding that taxpayers give government a raise when they have no such power with their own paychecks and are facing rising costs as well. His demand for more money also presumes that districts are organized and operating efficiently, which we know is not true according to multiple Legislative Post Audit studies.

Note: The KSDE estimate for 2013-14 was provided before the addition of funding during the recent legislative session, so it is possible the actual spending will be higher than the estimate. It should also be noted that KPI’s estimate of 2014-15 utilizes data from Budget and KSDE and that there could be reporting differences between those entities that would affect the Total. This note also applies to Table 5.

Goossen: “In the 2008/2009 school year, school budgets were based on a per pupil amount of $4,400 — the high point for school finance in Kansas. For the upcoming 2014/2015 school year, lawmakers budgeted $3,852.”

Mr. Goossen writes this as though the amounts listed are all that is provided to schools. In reality, he is talking only about Base State Aid Per Pupil, which is just the beginning point for a portion of school funding. As shown above, total aid per-pupil is about three times greater than Base and that total state aid that is more than double the Base. He deliberately ignores funding that doesn’t suit his preferred narrative.

Goossen: “At its root, a school district’s budget is determined by an amount per pupil multiplied by the number of students. School districts can then add on a “local option budget” of up to 33 percent of the basic budget. Schools must run their classrooms and education programs within that total.”

“Deceptive” would be a generous interpretation of Mr. Goossen’s representation in this regard.  As shown in Table 2, he is grossly understating total aid to school districts. Multiplying Base State Aid Per Pupil times Weighted Enrollment produces an amount roughly equal to Base State Aid plus extra money provided through many weightings (At-Risk, Bilingual, Transportation, etc.); adding Local Option Budget money would lead on to believe that school funding for 2013 was about $3.2 billion.  The actual total, according to the Kansas Department of Education, was $5.8 billion.

 

Saying “schools must run their classrooms and education programs within that total” is the caveat that saves his representation from being an outright false claim. There is no official definition of “education programs” but he later provides a few examples of what he may exclude from “education programs,” saying “… school districts also receive funds for to pay for other things: the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS), special education, school building construction, capital outlay, food service, etc. However, that funding must be used for its intended purpose.”

It is true that money for the listed spending categories must generally be used for those purposes, but his “etc.” contains a lot of unrestricted funding, the most notable of which, Supplemental General State Aid, was $339 million for 2013 and is budgeted to be $448.5 million this year.

Mr. Goossen and other “just spend more” proponents loudly proclaimed over the last few years that the Legislature should raise Base State Aid in accordance with the Supreme Court settlement over Montoy. But now that the Supreme Court has effectively reversed that ruling and says that all funding, including State, Federal, Local and even KPERS must be counted toward adequacy, they have a decidedly different — and quite hypocritical — position. They still cling to Base State Aid as their touchstone and refuse to acknowledge that, as the Supreme Court says, “… a stable retirement system is a factor in attracting and retaining quality educators — a key to providing an adequate education.”

It is also worth noting that school districts say nicer facilities lead to better student outcomes when they want more money for that purpose, but facilities suddenly don’t count when they want other money. Spending more money on facilities also makes less available for other functions, as does having district employees perform functions that could be privatized, which forces more money to be spent on KPERS.

Goossen:  “Costs for supplies, electricity, transportation, and teachers’ salaries are all increasing. But for the coming academic year, schools must cover those growing expenses with $548 less for each student than they had 6 years ago.”

The false claim about per-pupil spending being down was already debunked but Goossen also implies here that Base State Aid Per Pupil is all that schools receive to pay for supplies, electricity, transportation and teachers’ salaries, which of course is not true. Table 3 highlights other major unrestricted funding sources that Mr. Goossen and others routinely ignore in their pursuit of more money.

At-Risk funding does carry some restrictions but that funding is not required to be used for the exclusive benefit of students who generate the funding. For example, the KSDE At-Risk Guidelines say “At-Risk funds can be used to support classroom teacher salaries to the proportional percent identified at-risk students.” The guidelines merely require that at-risk students be present in the classroom.

Table 4 shows spending from the K-12 At-Risk Fund in 2013 (another $19.8 million was spent from the At-Risk 4 year-old Fund, which can be used for K-12), including money spent on each category that Mr. Goossen implied could only be funded with Base State Aid dollars. Most of the salary expenditure was for regular classroom teachers but money was also used to pay for custodians, support staff and administration.

Goossen: “The per-pupil figure has dropped because state funding has dropped.”

Table 1 shows that per-pupil funding of schools has increased. Table 5 shows that state funding has also increased each year since 2011 and is budgeted to set a new record this year. Again, Mr. Goossen does not allow the facts to get in the way of his political narrative.

Goossen: “Is the state in a position to add money to push the per-pupil amount up?

Set aside the fact that that just happened. The real issue here is that Mr. Goossen is posing the wrong question. “Just spend more” is simply about institutional demand for more money and completely disregards the educational needs of individual students. Political demand for more money also ignores these realities:

  • Every Legislative Post Audit report says districts are not operating efficiently.
  • $430 million of education funding was used to increase district cash reserves since 2005.
  • Student achievement on independent national tests is relatively unchanged despite large funding increases over the last decade.

One must wonder how much of Kansas’ and the nation’s student achievement woes are attributable to political self-interest and putting a higher priority on institutions than on the needs of individual students.

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Kansas base state aid is only a part of spending

Using base state aid per pupil as the only measure of school funding leads to an incomplete understanding of school spending in Kansas.

Much of the discussion surrounding school funding in Kansas has centered around base state aid per pupil. It’s the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula, and therefore an important number.

Base state aid per pupil has fallen in recent years. Public school spending advocates want Kansans to be aware of only this fact. For them, only this number is important.

But Kansas schools have much more to spend than just base state aid.

Ratios of school spending to base state aid.
Ratios of school spending to base state aid.
In the last school year base state aid per pupil was $3,838. But in that year total spending funded by Kansas state sources was $6,984 per pupil, or 1.82 times base state aid. Adding local and federal sources, spending was $12,781 per student, or 3.33 times base state aid.

As shown in the nearby chart, there has been a steady increase in measures of school spending when compared to base state aid.

Considering Kansas state spending only, the ratio of state spending to base state aid was 1.10 in 1998. By 2013 that ratio had risen to 1.82, an increase of 65 percent for the ratio.

For total spending, the ratio rose from 1.86 to 3.33 over the same period, an increase of 79 percent.

What’s important to realize is that the nature of Kansas school funding has changed in a way that makes base state aid per pupil less important as a measure of school spending.

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

Kansas school finance formula explained

From Kansas Policy Institute.

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

By David Dorsey

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

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

Highlights include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McGinn, as committee chair, was not for performance measures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Women for Kansas voting guide should be read with caution

If voters are relying on a voter guide from Women for Kansas, they should consider the actual history of Kansas taxation and spending before voting.

A political advocacy group known as Women for Kansas has produced a voting guide, listing the candidates that it prefers for Kansas House of Representatives. But by reading its “Primer on the Issues,” we see that this group made its endorsements based on incorrect information.

One claim the group makes is this regarding taxes in Kansas: “Income taxes were reduced for many Kansans in 2012 and 2013, and eliminated entirely for some, with a corresponding increased reliance on sales taxes and local property taxes. This shifted the tax burden to the less affluent and from the state to counties, cities and school districts.”

This is a common theme heard in Kansas the past few years. But let’s unravel a few threads and look at what is actually happening. First, keep in mind that the lower tax rates took effect on January 1, 2013, just 1.5 years ago.

Then, Women for Kansas may be relying on information like this: A university professor who is a critic of Sam Brownback recently wrote in a newspaper column that “Property taxes are on track to increase by more than $400 million statewide during Gov. Sam Brownback’s term in office.”

Through correspondence with the author, Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute found that this claim is based on increases of $300 million plus an estimated $100 million increase yet to come. Trabert noted that this amounts to an increase of 11 percent over four years. To place that in context, property taxes increased $767 million and 29 percent during the first term of Kathleen Sebelius. Inflation was about the same during these two periods. A more accurate claim would be that Kathleen Sebelius shifted taxes to counties, cities, and school districts, and that Sam Brownback’s administration has slowed the rate of local property tax increases compared to previous governors.

Another claim made by Women for Kansas concerns school spending: “Reflecting decreased revenues due to tax cuts, per-pupil spending is down, and both K-12 and higher education are facing further reductions in the immediate future.”

The allegations that per-pupil spending is down due to tax cuts is false. The nearby chart of Kansas school spending (per pupil, adjusted for inflation) shows that spending did fall, but under budgets prepared by the administrations of Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. Since then, spending has been fairly level. (Remember, lower tax rates have been in effect for just 1.5 years.)

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.

If we look at other measures of school support, such as pupil teacher ratios, we find that after falling during the administrations of previous governors, these ratios have rebounded in recent years.

When spending figures for the just-completed school year become available, it’s likely that they will show higher spending than the previous year. That’s been the trend.

If you’ve received or read the voter guide from Women for Kansas, please consider the actual history of Kansas taxation and spending before voting.

For McGinn, a liberal voting record is a tradition

Based on votes made in the Kansas Senate, the advertising claims of Sedgwick County Commission candidate Carolyn McGinn don’t match her record.

Kansas CapitolIn a radio advertisement, Carolyn McGinn says she is conservative. In a mailer, she touts her “fiscal conservative leadership” in the Kansas Senate.

But voting records don’t match these claims.

Several voting scorecards in recent years show Senator McGinn ranking low in terms of voting for economic freedom issues. These issues generally concern taxation, wasteful spending, and unnecessary regulation. In recent years, a freedom index has been produced by Kansas Policy Institute. In 2012 the Kansas Economic Freedom Index was a joint product of Americans for Prosperity-Kansas, Kansas Policy Institute, and myself. In 2010 I produced an index by myself. All tabulations show McGinn rarely voting in favor of economic freedom.

In the 2014 formulation, McGinn scored 25.8 percent. Four senators (Kansas has 40 senators) had lower scores. Some Wichita-area legislators that had higher scores than McGinn include Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Representatives Ponka-We Victors, Gail Finney, Jim Ward, Tom Sawyer, and Brandon Whipple. All these are Democrats, by the way, and they voted more in favor of economic freedom than did Carolyn McGinn.

In 2013, McGinn scored 40 percent. Eight senators had lower scores.

In 2012 the scores were calculated in a different manner. McGinn scored -6, with 16 senators scoring lower.

There was no index for 2011.

In 2010, on an index that I produced, McGinn scored seven percent. Three other senators had the same score, and one had a lower score.

At a recent forum, McGinn criticized the concept of a vote index, telling the audience: “The economic freedom index, I just find that interesting. Because it’s based on amendments after we’re out of session, so you can pick and choose what you want for who.”

She’s right, in a way. I don’t know what she meant by “amendments,” but the organizations that construct voting scorecards choose votes that they believe distinguish candidates along some axis. Usually the votes are chosen after they’re made, although sometimes organizations “key vote” an issue. That means they alert legislators in advance of a vote that the vote will be included on their scorecard.

There are organizations that are in favor of more spending, less accountability, and fewer choices for Kansas parents and schoolchildren. They produce scorecards, too. In particular, Kansas Association of School Boards found that McGinn never voted against their position from 2009 to 2012. Kansas National Education Association, while not making a scorecard public, recommended that its members vote for McGinn.

Private sector employment growth in the states, year-over-year change, Kansas highlighted. Click for larger version.

Job growth in the states and Kansas

Let’s ask critics of current Kansas economic policy if they’re satisfied with the Kansas of recent decades.

Critics of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and his economic policies have pounced on slow job growth in Kansas as compared to other states.

Private sector employment growth in the states, Kansas highlighted. Click for larger version.
Private sector employment growth in the states, Kansas highlighted. Click for larger version.
The nearby illustration shows private sector job growth in the states during the period of the Graves/Sebelius/Parkinson regimes. This trio occupied the governor’s office from 1994 to 2011. Kansas is the dark line.

At the end of this period, Kansas is just about in the middle of the states. But notice that early in this period, the line for Kansas is noticeably nearer the top than the bottom. As time goes on, however, more states move above Kansas in private sector job creation.

Private sector employment growth in the states, year-over-year change, Kansas highlighted. Click for larger version.
Private sector employment growth in the states, year-over-year change, Kansas highlighted. Click for larger version.
The second illustration shows the one-year change in private sector job growth, Kansas again highlighted. Note there are some years during the first decade of this century where Kansas was very near the bottom of the states in this measure.

Some Kansas newspaper editorialists and candidates for office advocate for a return to the policies of Graves/Sebelius/Parkinson. Let’s ask them these questions: First, are you aware of the poor record of Kansas? Second, do you want to return to job growth like this?

How to use the visualization.
How to use the visualization.
I’ve gathered and prepared jobs data in an interactive visualization. You may click here to open the visualization in a new window and use it yourself. Data is from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. This data series is the Current Employment Statistics (CES), which is designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings with significant industrial and geographic detail. More information about his data series is at Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.

Kansas Farm Scenic Sky Clouds Wheat Farmland kansas-243079_1280

Third annual Kansas Freedom Index released

From Kansas Policy Institute.

3rd Annual Kansas Freedom Index Released

Support of Freedom About More Than Politics, IDs Role of Government and Freedom of Citizens

July 1, 2014 — Wichita — Kansas Policy Institute released a new scorecard tracking votes from the 2014 legislative session. The third annual Kansas Freedom Index takes a broad look at voting records and establishes how supportive state legislators are regarding economic freedom, student-focused education, limited government, and individual liberty. The Index is intended to provide educational information to the public about broad economic and education freedom issues that are important to the citizens of our State. It is the product of nonpartisan analysis, study, and research and is not intended to directly or indirectly endorse or oppose any candidate for public office.

“An informed citizenry is an essential element of maintaining a free society. Having a deeper understanding of how legislation impacts education freedom, economic freedom and the constitutional principles of individual liberty and limited government allows citizens to better understand the known and often unknown consequences of legislative issues,” said KPI president Dave Trabert.”

A Freedom Percentage is calculated for each legislator, representing the relative position of a legislator’s raw score on a number line of the minimum and maximum score, with the percentage indicating proximity to the maximum score.

A positive cumulative score (or a Freedom Percentage above 50%) indicates that a legislator generally supported economic and education freedom, while a negative cumulative score (or Freedom Percentage below 50%) indicates that a legislator was generally opposed. A score of zero or a Freedom Percentage of 50% indicates that a legislator was generally neutral. The cumulative score only pertains to the specific votes included in the Kansas Freedom Index and should not be interpreted otherwise. A different set of issues and/or a different set of circumstances could result in different cumulative scores.

Trabert continued, “Each year it has been clear that support of economic freedom isn’t an issue of political affiliation. Republicans represented at least 70 percent of all House members and all Senate members since 2012. Those counts would produce fairly strong results one way or the other if economic freedom was a partisan issue, but instead, the overall score of both chambers was very near neutral.”

Trabert concluded, “Too often votes come down to parochial or personal issues and the idea of freedom is left on the legislature’s cutting room floor. Hopefully, the Kansas Freedom Index can start to recalibrate citizens and legislators towards supporting the freedoms of everyday Kansans and not be driven by politics.”

2014 Freedom Index by the Numbers

Kansas political signs are okay, despite covenants

Kansas law overrides neighborhood covenants that prohibit political yard signs before elections.

Some neighborhoods have restrictive covenants that prohibit homeowners from placing any signs in their yard except signs advertising homes for sale. But a 2008 Kansas law overrides these restrictive covenants to allow for the placement of small political yard signs starting 45 days before an election. Still, residents of covenant neighborhoods may want to observe their neighborhood’s restrictions.

For the August 5, 2014 primary election, the 45 day period in which signs are allowed started on June 21. (Although I could be off by a day. Sometimes lawyers count days in strange ways.)

The bill was the product of then-Senator Phil Journey of Haysville. The bill passed unanimously in both the Kansas House and Senate.

According to the First Amendment Center, some 50 million people live in neighborhoods with homeowners associations. And laws like the 2008 Kansas law are not without controversy, despite the unanimous vote in the Kansas Legislature.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that governmental entities like cities can’t stop homeowners from displaying political yard signs, a homeowners association is not a government. Instead, it is a group that people voluntarily enter. Generally, when prospective homeowners purchase a home in a neighborhood with restrictive covenants, they are asked to sign a document pledging to comply with the provisions in the covenants. If those covenants prohibit political yard signs, but a Kansas law says these covenants do not apply, what should a homeowner do? Should state law trump private contracts in cases like this?

Practically: Should you display signs in your yard?

While Kansas law makes it legal for those living in communities with covenants that prohibit political yard signs, residents may want to observe these convents. Here’s why: If neighbors are not aware of this new Kansas law and therefore wrongfully believe that the yard signs are not allowed in your neighborhood, they may think residents with signs in their yards are violating the covenants. By extension, this could reflect poorly on the candidates that are being promoted.

Those who are not aware of the law allowing yard signs are uninformed. Or, they may be aware of the law but disagree with it and wish their neighbors would not display political yard signs. These people, of course, may vote and influence others how to vote. Whether to display yard signs in a covenant neighborhood is a judgment that each person will have to make for themselves.

The Kansas statute

K.S.A. 58-3820. Restrictive covenants; political yard signs; limitations. (a) On and after the effective date of this act, any provision of a restrictive covenant which prohibits the display of political yard signs, which are less than six square feet, during a period commencing 45 days before an election and ending two days after the election is hereby declared to be against public policy and such provision shall be void and unenforceable.

(b) The provisions of this section shall apply to any restrictive covenant in existence on the effective date of this act.

Or, as described in the 2008 Summary of Legislation: “The bill invalidates any provision of a restrictive covenant prohibiting the display of political yard signs, which are less than six square feet, 45 days before an election or two days after the election.”

Wichita city council agenda packet, as provided to the public.

Wichita, again, fails at government transparency

At a time when Wichita city hall needs to cultivate the trust of citizens, another incident illustrates the entrenched attitude of the city towards its citizens. Despite the proclamations of the mayor and manager, the city needs a change of attitude towards government transparency and citizens’ right to know.

At its May 20, 2014 meeting the Wichita City Council considered approval of a sublease by Shannon No. 2, LLC. The subject property had received subsidy from the city under an economic development program, which is why council approval of the sublease was required. I’ll cover the economics of the lease and its importance to public policy in another article. For now, the important issue is the attitude of the city towards government transparency and citizen participation.

Wichita city council agenda packet, as provided to the public.
Wichita city council agenda packet, as provided to the public.
In the agenda packet — that’s the detailed and often lengthy supplement to the council meeting agenda — some information regarding the Shannon lease was redacted, as you can see in the accompanying illustration. This piqued my interest, so I asked for the missing details.

Timing

The agenda packet is often made available Thursday afternoon, although sometimes it is delayed until Friday or even Monday. I sent an email message to the city’s chief information officer at 11:16 pm Thursday. After the message worked its way through several city departments, I received the information at 5:06 pm Monday. Since city council meetings are Tuesday morning, that left little time for research and contemplation.

This isn’t the first time citizens have been left with little information and even less time before council meetings. I was involved in an issue in 2008 where there was little time for citizens — council members, too — to absorb information before a council meeting. About this incident, former Wichita Eagle editorial board editor Randy Brown wrote this in a letter to the Eagle:

I’m fairly well acquainted with Bob Weeks, our extraconservative government watchdog. It’s fair to say that I agree with Weeks no more than one time in every 20 issues. But that one time is crucial to our democracy.

Weeks is dead-on target when he says that conducting the public’s business in secret causes citizens to lose respect for government officials and corrupts the process of democracy (“TIF public hearing was bait and switch,” Dec. 5 Opinion). And that’s what happened when significant 11th-hour changes to the already controversial and questionable tax-increment financing plan for the downtown arena neighborhood were sneaked onto the Wichita City Council’s Tuesday agenda, essentially under cover of Monday evening’s darkness.

This may not have been a technical violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, but it was an aggravated assault on its spirit. Among other transgressions, we had a mockery of the public hearing process rather than an open and transparent discussion of a contentious public issue. Randy Brown: Reopen Downtown Wichita Arena TIF Public Hearing

little-time-review-warren-loan-termsThe Wichita officials involved in this matter were council members Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita) and Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita). Longwell’s behavior and attitude is part of a pattern, because in another incident in the same year the Wichita Eagle reported “Wichita City Council members and the public got a first look at the contracts that could send a $6 million loan to the owners of the Old Town Warren Theatre just hours before today’s scheduled vote on the matter.” (Little time to review Warren terms, July 1, 2008)

That article quoted council member Longwell thusly: “It’s unlikely many residents would read the full contract even if it had been made public earlier.” This attitude is common among Wichita elected officials and bureaucrats, in my experience. The city formally lobbies the Kansas Legislature opposing any expansion of the Kansas Open Records Act, for example.

Consent agenda

The Shannon item was placed on the consent agenda. This is where items deemed to be non-controversial are voted on in bulk, perhaps two dozen or more at a time. Unless a council member asks to have an item “pulled” for discussion and a possible vote separate from the other consent items, there will be no discussion of any issues.

In 2012 there was an issue on the consent agenda that I felt deserved discussion. I researched and prepared an article at For Wichita’s Block 1 garage, public allocation is now zero parking spaces. At the council meeting, then-council member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) requested that I be able to present my findings to the council. But Mayor Carl Brewer and all five other city council members disagreed. They preferred to proceed as though the issue didn’t exist or was non-controversial. The message — the attitude — was that no time should be spent receiving information on the item. See For Wichita City Council, discussion is not wanted.

Wichita city officials, including Mayor Carl Brewer, say they are proud of the open and transparent city government they have created. But this episode, as well as others described in In Wichita, disdain for open records and government transparency, lets everyone know that transparency is dispensed, and accountability accepted, at the whim of the mayor, city council, and their bureaucratic enablers.

On his Facebook page, Clinton Coen wrote this about his city council representative James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) and this incident:

“I am once again ashamed of my City Councilman. Councilman Clendenin should have stood alongside his colleague, Councilman O’Donnel, and allowed a citizen to address his concerns on an agenda item. All Mr. Clendenin had to do was say “second” and Mr. Weeks could have addressed the council, provided that a majority of the council voted to allow it. Instead, Mr. Clendenin chose to censor someone that has a differing opinion. By bringing it to a vote, accountability would have been created, instead the remainder of the council chose to take the cowardly path.”

Why redacted in the first place?

As shown in the earlier illustration, the city redacted a large chunk of information from the agenda packet that it made available to the public. The city did — after some time — positively It's easy to say value transparencyrespond to my request for the complete document. Which begs these questions: Why did the city feel that some information needed to be kept secret? Did city council members have access to the redacted information? Did any members of the public besides myself ask for the information? How many citizens might have been discouraged from asking by fear of the the hassle of asking city hall for information like this?

There’s also the consideration that the citizens of Wichita are parties to this transaction. How well these incentive programs work and what effect they have on the Wichita economy is an important matter of public policy. Without relatively complete information, citizens are not in a position to make judgments.

Cost

Often council members and bureaucrats complain that providing information to citizens is a financial burden to the city. But in this case, I’m sure the city would have been dollars ahead if it had simply published the complete lease in the agenda packet. My request bounced around several city offices — three that I know of — and I imagine that each handling of my request added cost.

Attitude

The City of Wichita is proud to be an open and transparent governmental agency, its officials say. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer often speaks in favor of government transparency. wichita-wins-transparency-award-2013For example, in his State of the City address for 2011, he listed as an important goal for the city this: “And we must provide transparency in all that we do.” When the city received an award for transparency in 2013, a city news release quoted Wichita City Manager Robert Layton:

“The City Council has stressed the importance of transparency for this organization,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “We’re honored to receive a Sunny Award and we will continue to empower and engage citizens by providing information necessary to keep them informed on the actions their government is taking on their behalf.”

The incidents describe above, combined with others, demonstrate that it’s easy for officials to say they value transparency and accountability. The actual delivery, however, is difficult for our current leaders.

Despite the proclamations of the mayor and manager, the city needs a change of attitude towards government transparency. The incident described in this article is one more example of a divergence between the proclamations of city officials and their acts. It’s an attitude problem. All city hall has to do is get a new attitude.

For more on this topic, see A transparency agenda for Wichita.

Questions for the next Wichita city attorney: Number 2

Wichita’s city attorney is retiring, and the city will select a replacement. There are a few questions that we ought to ask of candidates. Will the next city attorney continue to obstruct government transparency or be an advocate for citizens’ right to know?

Hockaday sign explanationSince 2009 I have advocated for greater transparency regarding spending data for three quasi-governmental agencies. Others have since joined the quest. The agencies are Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. (See Open Government in Kansas for more information.)

Each agency contends it is not a “public agency” as defined in Kansas law, and therefore does not have to fulfill records requests. Mayor Carl Brewer and all council members except former Wichita City Council Member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) are comfortable with this tortured interpretation of the law. Inexplicably, the Sedgwick County District Attorney agreed with the city.

I, along with many others, believe the city’s interpretation of the law is incorrect. So do many in the Kansas Legislature, and legislative attempts have been taken there to eliminate the ability of Wichita to keep public records from the public. I call it Gary’s Law, after Wichita City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf, who provides the legal advice the city relies upon.

In some council meetings, Rebenstorf has cited the law regarding enforcement of the Kansas Open Records Act, stating that the Kansas Attorney General or the courts is the next step to seek enforcement of KORA. While Rebenstorf is correct on the law, the policy of the Kansas Attorney General is to refer all cases to the local district attorney. The Kansas AG will not intervene in this matter.

Will the next city attorneyThe legal stance of the City of Wichita certainly isn’t good public policy. It’s contrary to both the letter and spirit of the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA), which opens with: “It is declared to be the public policy of the state that public records shall be open for inspection by any person unless otherwise provided by this act, and this act shall be liberally construed and applied to promote such policy.

But the attitude of Rebenstorf and the city council towards open records and government transparency, as gauged accurately by Randy Brown, is to rely on facile legal arguments to avoid complying with the unmistakably clear meaning and intent of the law.

Citizens should be able to learn how taxpayer money is spent. Agencies like Go Wichita, WDDC, and GWEDC need to open their check registers as has Sedgwick County, for example. In the meantime, there is nothing to prevent the city from asking these agencies to act as though they are public agencies as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act and to fulfill records requests. This would let Wichitans know that the city is truly interested in open and transparent government.

In the meantime, there is nothing to prevent the city from asking these agencies from acting as though they are public agencies as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act and to fulfill records requests. This would let Wichitans know that the city is truly interested in open and transparent government.

Until the city asks that these quasi-governmental organizations subject themselves to the Kansas Open Records Act, the message from the City of Wichita is clear: Accountability and transparency is provided on the city’s terms, not on citizens’ terms and the law. Will the next Wichita city attorney agree with the closed stance of the current regime, or be an advocate for greater government transparency?

Myth: The Kansas tax cuts haven’t boosted its economy

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Debunking CBPP on tax reform and school funding — Part 3

By Dave Trabert

kansas-policy-institute-logoWe continue our debunking of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) latest report entitled “Lessons for Other States from Kansas’ Massive Tax Cuts.” Part 1 dealt with state revenues and Part 2 covered state spending in general and school funding in particular. Today we debunk their claims that tax reform hasn’t boosted the economy.

CBPP claim #3 – Kansas’ tax cuts haven’t boosted its economy.

While tax reform hasn’t produced the “shot of adrenaline” predicted by Governor Brownback, the problem is one of political enthusiasm rather than economics. Most elected officials are prone to effusive optimism for their ideas, just as opponents to their ideas can often be counted upon to distort and deliberately misstate information in pursuit of their own beliefs.

The data pretty clearly shows that states with lower tax burdens have much stronger economic growth and job creation over time; we’ll review the facts in Part 4. Today’s post covers some of the reasons why the benefits of Kansas’ tax reform will unfold over several years rather than overnight and explain a number of misleading claims by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

Many employers are also awareFirst of all, tax reform was implemented while coming out of a recession. It’s impossible to know the extent to which this impacts employers’ decision-making on adding jobs or relocating, but having run a few businesses, I can appreciate how the initial benefits of tax reform might be used to shore up the business while continuing to work through the recession.

Concurrent federal changes are also a factor. Pass-through income on LLCs, Subchapter S corps, partnerships and proprietorships was not subject to state income tax in 2013 but those employers were simultaneously hit with higher federal income taxes (marginal rates and on capital gains) and multiple changes related to Obamacare.

Predictability is an important element of tax policy, and some of the mixed signals coming out of Topeka over the last two years may also be prompting taxpayers to proceed cautiously. The 2012 tax reform legislation would have reduced income taxes by $4.5 billion over the first five years but changes implemented in 2013 took back about $700 million. While still a very positive net effect, the 2013 changes sent a number of mixed signals.

Many employers are also well aware that a majority of legislators and Governor Brownback have not yet made the necessary (and quite feasible) spending reductions that will be required to fully implement tax reform. Kansas’ General Fund budget in 2012 was 25 percent more per-resident than states with no income taxtotal budgeted spending was 39 percent higher on a per-resident basis. Every state provides the same basic services – public education, highways, social services programs, etc. — but some states provide those services at a much better price and keep taxes low.

The fiscal year 2015 General Fund budget of $6.273 billion is a new record for Kansas and is 2.9 percent higher than the 2012 budget. Until government is made to operate more efficiently, taxpayers must consider the possibility of further modifications to the tax plan — and that uncertainty will continue to impact economic growth.

Relocating a business is also not something that happens quickly. For starters, leases might have several years to run before a move is feasible.

CBPP uses a combination of unsubstantiated claims, fails to put a lot of information in context and exploits the unrealistic notion that tax reform would have an immediate, explosive impact on the state’s economy. “Data from” is not how intellectually honest people substantiate a position; they show you all their data or at least tell you exactly what data they used and where to find it. Claiming that a one-year change in jobs or earnings is proof that something as complex as major tax reform failed is just a political statement; it is certainly not an intellectually honest economic analysis.

Yes, private sector job grew a little slower in 2013 than in 2012, but that was not a Kansas phenomenon. In fact, private sector job growth nationwide in 2012 was 2.2% but dipped to 2.1% in 2013.[1] This is a good example of CBPP ignoring context.

It’s also important to examine the underlying factors that contribute to a state average. The adjacent table shows that Kansas did better than all but one adjacent state in 2013. Colorado did better, but then Colorado has historically had a better tax structure than Kansas and also did a better job of controlling spending. Less favorable tax and spending policy has been introduced in Colorado over the last few years but, just as it takes time for upward momentum to build, it does as well for the full measure of bad policy to be seen.

Digging deeper, we find that the Kansas City, Kansas metro area not only outperformed the national average but also grew at five times the rate of the Kansas City, Missouri metro area. The Wichita metro lost jobs in aerospace but that is a reflection of the global economy; the balance of the Wichita metro was almost at the national average.

CBPP dismisses the increase in new business filings but if history is any guide, these gains are quite significant. Research conducted by the Center for Applied Economics at the University of Kansas found that, if not for jobs created by new startups in their first year of existence, Kansas would have only had two years of net job growth between 1997 and 2010.

Dr. Arthur Hall, who conducted the research at KU, says “Economic development is a numbers game. The more that an economic environment motivates entrepreneurs to try new business ideas, the more likely a gazelle will be born.” Dr. Hall cites Garmin Industries as an example of what he calls a “gazelle” — a company founded by two people in Lenexa, Kansas in 1989 that is now a multi-billion dollar company.

Hall’s views are similar to those of Carl Schramm, former CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a leading entrepreneurial think tank in Kansas City. In 2010, Schramm told Forbes Magazine “The single most important contributor to a nation’s economic growth is the number of startups that grow to a billion dollars in revenue within 20 years.”[3]

The initial economic signs are encouraging but the true economic impact of tax reform won’t be known for several years. Snap judgments based on partial one-year data are the hallmark of politicians and special interest groups looking for justification to support their beliefs — whether in support of or opposition to tax reform.

[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics, average annual private sector employment not seasonally adjusted.

[2] The Kansas City, Kansas metro is comprised of Franklin, Johnson, Leavenworth, Linn, Miami and Wyandotte counties.  The Kansas City, Missouri metro is comprised of Bates, Caldwell, Cass, Clay, Clinton, Jackson, Lafayette, Platte and Ray counties.

[3] “What Grows an Economy,” Forbes Magazine.

Kansas wind turbines

Renewables portfolio standard bad for Kansas economy, people

Kansas wind turbinesA law that forces Kansans to buy expensive electricity is not good for the state and its people.

A report submitted to the Kansas House Standing Committee on Energy and Environment in 2013 claims the Kansas economy benefits from the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, but an economist presented testimony rebutting the key points in the report.

RPS is a law that requires the state’s electricity utilities to generate or purchase a certain portion of their electricity from renewable sources, which in Kansas is almost all wind. An argument in favor of wind energy requirementy from the Polsinelli Shugart law firm is at The Economic Benefits of Kansas Wind Energy.

Michael Head, a Research Economist at Beacon Hill Institute presented a paper that examined each of Polsinell’s key findings. The paper may be read at The Economic Impact of the Kansas Renewable Portfolio Standard and Review of “The Economic Benefits of Kansas Wind Energy” or at the end of this article. An audio recording of Head speaking on this topic is nearby.

Michael Head, Beacon Hill Institute

Here are the five key findings claimed to be economic benefits to the Kansas economy, and portions of Head’s responses.

Key Finding #1: “New Kansas wind generation is cost-effective when compared to other sources of new intermittent or peaking electricity generation.”

The first observation to make from this key finding is that if it were true the state RPS policy is not necessary. If wind power is truly cost-effective compared to other sources of energy, state mandates that wind power be used should be repealed, allowing wind power to compete with other technologies to provide low cost electricity in Kansas.

This point is obvious. The actions of the wind power industry — insisting on mandates and subsidies — lets us know that they don’t believe their own claim.

Key Finding #2: “Wind generation is an important part of a well-designed electricity generation portfolio, and provides a hedge against future cost volatility of fossil fuels.”

Hedging has been, and will continue to be, a useful tool for utilities, and benefits the consumer. But the Kansas state government should not engage in this level of industrial policy by regulating just how much utilities can hedge, all for the sake of requiring wind power production. This is not a benefit in itself. Utilities will attempt to maximize profits by consistently analyzing the energy market and making the best decisions, often through long term purchasing agreements. … In short, hedging is a valuable tool when left to the discretion of the utility, but by utilizing a heavy-handed mandate, state lawmakers are actually constraining the ability of the utilities to make sound business decisions.

Key Finding #3: “Wind generation has created a substantial number of jobs for Kansas citizens.”

This key finding fails to take into consideration opportunity costs, a concept that Bastiat explained in his 1850 essay, and is a prime example of the reviewed paper only considering benefits. If a shopkeeper has a window broken, this creates work for a glazer to replace the window. However, this classic “broken window” fallacy mistakes breaking windows as job creation policy. At this point “The Economic Benefits of Kansas Wind Energy” is correct, wind generation does create jobs, just as a broken window creates jobs. But the report stops at this point and fails to provide a complete analysis of the effect of wind generation on total employment in Kansas.

As Bastiat showed, a consideration must be made to the opportunity cost. How would the shopkeeper have spent his money if he did not need to replace his window? He could use the money on capital investment, further growing his business, hire another worker or make various other purchases. Regardless of what it was, they would have all brought him more benefit, than replacing his window. If not, he would have broken the window himself.

This is one of the most important points: By forcing Kansans to pay for more expensive electricity, we lose the opportunity to use money elsewhere.

Key Finding #4: “Wind generation has created significant positive impact for Kansas landowners and local economics.”

This key finding makes a common mistake by assuming transfer payments are a benefit, a fallacy. The transfers of money via lease payments or property tax payments are not benefits. This transfer of money is a cost to one party and a benefit on the other, and can be illustrated easily.

What if Kansas wind farms vastly overpaid for their land and lease payments were valued at $1 billion a year. This report would place the benefit of wind power leasing this land at $1 billion a year. But the project has not changed, where did these new benefits come from?

In fact, there would not be any change to the net benefit of the project. Landowners would amass benefits equal to $1 billion minus the land value and utilities would amass costs equal to $1 billion minus the land value. These costs would in turn be passed along to rate payers in the form of higher utility costs. This illustrates the point that this policy is industrial policy. By dispersing the costs of a project to all citizens in the state, small, but powerful, groups with strong lobbying efforts are able to gather the rewards.

Key Finding #5 “The Kansas Renewable Portfolio Standard is an important economic development tool for attracting new business to the state.”

This key finding is related closely with the analysis of the job benefits that wind power purportedly conveys. Of course, legally requiring that utilities use specific sources of electricity will attract new business in that sector to the state. But we need to see the whole picture. This policy has costs, which will be borne by state residents and businesses via higher utility prices.

In conclusion, Head asked the obvious question: “With all of these supposed benefits of wind power, why does it require a government mandate and taxpayer funding?”

Kansas school spending, contrary to Paul Davis

Claims about school spending made by a Kansas Democratic Party leader don’t quite align with facts.

It is commonplace for liberal Kansas politicians and newspaper editorial pages to complain about severely cut spending on schools in Kansas. A recent example is Paul Davis in the Wichita Eagle.

kansas-school-spending-per-student-2013-10-chart-01Nearby is a chart of Kansas school spending (click it for a larger version). It’s adjusted for inflation. Spending is not as high as it was at its peak, but Davis’ claim of students who “have experienced severe budget cuts” don’t match the facts.

Now, it’s possible that Davis may want readers to consider only a portion of school spending, that being base state aid per pupil. It’s the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula, and therefore an important number.

Ratios of school spending to base state aid.
Ratios of school spending to base state aid.
Base state aid per pupil has fallen in recent years. Because of this, public school spending advocates claim that spending has been cut. But that’s not the case. As shown in the nearby chart, there has been a steady increase in measures of school spending when compared to base state aid.

In the last school year base state aid per pupil was $3,838. That’s the figure often used as the level of school spending. But in that year total Kansas state spending per pupil $6,984, or 1.82 times base state aid. Adding local and federal sources, spending was $12,781 per student, or 3.33 times base state aid.

Considering Kansas state spending only, the ratio of state spending to base state aid was 1.10 in 1998. By 2013 that ratio had risen to 1.82, an increase of 65 percent for the ratio. For total spending, the ratio rose from 1.86 to 3.33 over the same period, an increase of 79 percent.

What’s important to realize is that the nature of Kansas school funding has changed in a way that makes base state aid per pupil less important as an indicator of school spending.

Kansas Judicial Center
Kansas Judicial Center
The Kansas Supreme Court had something to say about this in its recent Gannon opinion that sent part of the case back to the lower court with instructions: 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.”

I wonder: Those who call for a return to the level of base state aid of 20 years ago (adjusted for inflation, of course): Would they also accept returning to the same ratios of total spending to base state aid?

Seal of the State of Kansas

Two versions of the Kansas income tax cuts

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Two Versions of the Income Tax Cuts: The Media’s Story and Reality

By Steve Anderson

In January 2011, when I was first appointed State Budget Director, the state was on the verge of what appeared to be a financial meltdown. Under the previous administration, the first negative ending balance in state history had been allowed exist. Kansas was $27.6 million “in the hole” and this headline was on the front page of the Wichita Eagle “Shortfall for ’11 State Budget Tops $500 million.” Much of the first six months was spent trying to not bounce checks and finding areas to cut spending immediately. We also spent considerable time giving agencies more flexibility to spend down unencumbered funds as agencies had previously been allowed to overspend available funding, a typical policy of Gov. Mark Parkinson and his Budget Director Duane Goosen. However, even as I was using the power the Budget Director holds to operationally limit spending I realized the media’s claim of a $500 million shortfall was an exaggeration.

At the end of the first six months Kansas had $188 million in the bank and within eighteen months the state ended fiscal year 2012 with a $502.9 Million ending balance. This would have been lost to citizens who weren’t doing their own research. They never would have known that the “budget” crisis had passed because the media had moved onto their next “crisis” without revisiting the initial headlines and, in the process, calling into question their first reports.

The media’s next “crisis” was centered on the individual income tax cuts that were passed in 2012. The bill to reduce the tax burden on citizens “would slash income taxes and is expected to produce a $2 billion deficit within five years” according to theWichita Eagle’s articleThe Kansas City Star led with this quote of “state fiscal analysts projecting budget deficits reaching $2.5 billion in 2018.” Just to further emphasize the dire situation the Star added this scare from a representative of a special interest group with no known expertise on the economic impact of lower tax burdens by saying that the tax cuts, “have an enormous impact on everything from public education to public health coverage to infrastructure to other vital social safety-net services.”

Who are these “state fiscal analysts” that the media used to fan the flames and how did this version of a looming fiscal crisis occur? The state fiscal analysts are staff of the Kansas Legislative Research Division (KLRD) which presents their projection of the impact on the state’s finances of any change in tax regulations. Here are the numbers from KLRD’s analysis of Senate Bill Substitute for House Bill 2117 — the tax cut bill — and the impact on the state’s budget:***

The approach used by KLRD to generate these numbers is not consistent with the realities of state finances. There are three fundamental problems with KLRD’s analytic techniques which create these illusions of fiscal crises where none exists.

  1. It is impossible for the state to have a negative ending balance of this size because the state cannot print money (unlike Washington) which precludes the ability to carry such huge imbalances forward year after year.
  2. The projection of spending growth the KLRD staff uses ignores the reality of the first issue. Spending cannot continue at a rate that exceeds revenue once the first negative balance occurs. KLRD’s analysis ignores options to control spending that are available to the state’s elected officials and instead shows increasing negative balances. In reality shortfalls and surpluses are dealt with each year through a multitude of available options.
  3. KLRD uses a static view of what will happen to revenues when money is returned to the state’s citizens. For example, the assumption is that if a tax cut is $500 million there will be $500 million less in revenues that come into the state coffers the next year. To believe that one of two things would have to happen, 1) either the money would be buried in a jar in the back yard, or 2) every dollar would have to be spent out of state. In reality, that $500 million in tax cuts means that business owners will reinvest some part of that money and wage earners will spend some of it in the local economy.

A more realistic view of Senate Bill Substitute for House Bill 2117 puts things in perspective. The following chart shows what has transpired, to date, based on the effects of the tax cuts. It is very good example of why citizens should take media accounts based on KLRD’s numbers with a full shaker of salt.

Kansas-division-budget-kpi-2014-04

The net difference between KRLD’s ending balance and what the current actual receipts show is $913.4 million. The crisis of the “enormous impact on everything from public education to public health coverage to infrastructure to other vital social safety-net services” that the Kansas City Star’s “expert” on the tax cuts predicted hasn’t occurred. But, we have not yet heard the Eagle or the Star report these facts.

Kansans simply haven’t heard that, after returning $231.2 million to taxpayers in FY-2013 and ANOTHER $802.8 million in fiscal year 2014, ending balances were actually up nearly a billion dollars over the estimates! Estimates that directly led to some dire headlines upon their initial release. Returning nearly a billion dollars to Kansans’ pocket books while ending balances have been steady or increasing is an incredible story of success that media would want to share with readers.

Citizens of Kansas have a right to hear forecasts of disasters but they also deserve to be told by those same media outlets that those forecasts didn’t match what actually took place and that things are going well. Citizen should insist that their legislators request that KLRD begin a policy of only producing projections for a reasonable number of future years based on the realities of the Kansas Constitution. This would limit the use of statistically flawed data being used to fuel for the fire of those who are playing politics under the guise of “news reporting.”

I will follow up shortly with part two of this story on where the state’s finances are headed including commentary and possible adjustments to April 2014 Consensus Revenue Estimates.

*** Kansas Legislative Research Division Senate Tax Plan with Adjusted Severance Tax Receipts 2/15/2012 — full version on file. Expenditures and Revenues Totaled in order to fit the page

WichitaLiberty.TV set 2014-03-03 1200

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas school finance and reform, Charles Koch on why he fights for liberty

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The Kansas legislature passed a school finance bill that contains reform measures that the education establishment doesn’t want. In response, our state’s newspapers uniformly support the system rather than Kansas schoolchildren. Then, in the Wall Street Journal Charles Koch explains why liberty is important, and why he’s fighting for that. Episode 39, broadcast April 20, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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In Kansas City, private schools seen as ‘a perversion’

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between public schools and private schools, a top Kansas school administrator knows the difference:

David A. Smith, Chief of Staff, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools
David A. Smith, Chief of Staff, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

David Smith, chief of staff for Kansas City, Kan., public schools, said the bill was targeted at students specifically in low-income districts, including his district. Now, he is trying to figure out what this portion of the bill will mean for public schools.

“It is beyond my comprehension how encouraging students to go to a private school serves the public good,” Smith said. “It is such a perversion of what it means to serve the public that I don’t get it.” (Legislators offer tax credits for scholarships to private schools, KU Statehouse Wire Service via Hays Daily News)

Consider these circumstances:

(a) Parents feel that their children are not thriving in Smith’s public school, and
(b) parents find a private school that they feel will help their children, and
(c) taxpayer money for these students is diverted from Smith’s public school to private schools that are teaching the children.

Is the result of these activities a “perversion?” Isn’t the public also served when children are educated in private schools? And if the private schools do a better job than the public schools, hasn’t the public been delivered better service?

Smith may not realize that if private schools are not doing a good job, students are not forced to attend them. They can go to other schools, including the public schools. But students who are not doing well in Smith’s school don’t have many alternatives. Perhaps none.

The attitude expressed by Smith is a opportunity to recognize and understand the real issue in the debate over schools in Kansas: Which is more important — public schools (and unions, teachers, principals, administrators, superintendents, service employees, school architects, school construction companies) or Kansas schoolchildren?

David A. Smith knows the answer that best serves his interests.

Kansas school finance reporting and opinion

school-crayons-colored-pencils-168392There’s a range of opinion, that’s for sure.

Republicans concede bill would let teachers be fired without cause (Wichita Eagle)
“Statehouse Republicans are having to abandon a key talking point in their effort to defuse teacher anger over an anti-tenure bill the Legislature passed a week ago, conceding the bill would allow school districts to fire veteran teachers without having to give a reason why. If Gov. Sam Brownback signs the bill into law, teachers would essentially be at-will employees of their school districts and able to challenge termination only if they allege the firing violates their constitutional rights.” Click here to read.

Kansas bill renews debate about how easy it should be to fire teachers (Kansas City Star)
There is a diversity of opinion, much conflicting, it seems: “It’s not too damn hard to fire a teacher,” said Marcus Baltzell, the director of communications for the Kansas National Education Association. “It’s just that the teacher has a redress of due process, a hearing officer, (a chance to say) ‘Here’s my take. Here’s what we’ve done to address the area of concern, and I believe this is unfair.'” … “Lawmakers who backed the change — it becomes law if Gov. Sam Brownback signs it — argued that dumping dead weight from the faculty has become harder than it ought to be.” … “I don’t like tenure. I never have,” said Rep. Ward Cassidy, a Republican from northwest Kansas who worked as a high school principal for 20 years. “Good principals have a whole lot of other things to do besides going through all you need to fire a teacher.” Click here to read.

In Wichita, Brownback neither praises nor criticizes measure stripping K-12 teacher tenure rights (Wichita Eagle)
“… most questions he was asked after his short talk concerned a provision to strip veteran K-12 teachers of tenure rights in the recently passed public school financing bill, which he said he has not decided whether to sign. And while he didn’t criticize that provision, he didn’t endorse it either.” Click here to read.

In Kansas, education is all about money and politics for UMEEA (Kansas Policy Institute)
“Media reaction to the school finance legislation has been pretty predictable. It focuses almost exclusively on institutions and ignores the impact on students. As usual, it’s all about money and politics. Unions, media and their allies in the education establishment (UMEEA) oppose tax credit scholarships for low income students. They rail against taxpayer money going to private schools and how that might mean a little less money for public institutions but ignore the very real purpose and need for the program. (FYI, the scholarship program is capped at $10 million; schools are expected to spend almost $6 billion this year.) Achievement gaps for low income students are large and getting worse, despite the fact that At Risk funding intended to improve outcomes increased seven-fold over the last eight years. So predictably, a program to give an alternative to low income students in the 99 lowest-performing schools is attacked by UMEEA as being unfair to institutions. Media and their establishment friends don’t even make a token mention of the serious achievement problem. It’s all about money and politics.” Click here to read.

Far-Right Kansas Legislature Sells Out Kansas Schools (Kansas Democratic Party)
“But none of these stories could compete with what the Kansas Legislature did to Kansas public schools. Under the cover of night and with virtually no debate or hearings, the Kansas Legislature forced through an education “reform” bill that stripped teachers of due process rights, passed out even more tax breaks to corporations, and potentially widened the disparity between rich schools and poor schools. School districts say new school finance bill will widen disparities.” Click here to read.

Opinion: Public education under attack (Lawrence Journal-World)
“The inclusion of these so-called “policy” provisions in the school finance bill passed by the Legislature are a mistake and will actually harm the very schools that the Kansas Supreme Court sought to assist. This is just one more step in the Legislature’s assault on public K-12 education in Kansas.” Click here to read.

Teachers are sacrificial lambs in school finance (Iola Register via High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times)
A confused editorial. The writer says that teachers are held accountable to, among others, school administrators, but usually it is claimed that teachers need defense from this accountability. “The defense of tenure is at its best when you consider a teacher is accountable to hundreds of ‘bosses’ — parents and school boards as well as administrators.” Click here to read.

Selling education (Hutchinson News)
“Two elements of the bill are particularly troubling. One creates a $10 million-a-year corporate welfare program in support of private education. It allows large companies to enjoy a 70-percent credit against their state tax liability if they offer scholarships to at-risk students who move to private schools. This has nothing at all to do with public education equity; rather it creates a mechanism to damage the finance structure for public schools. The second concerning component redefines “teacher” as a way to eliminate due process protections. And the concept of teacher tenure is a myth. The current due process for teachers simply ensures a written termination notice and the right to challenge the decision through review by a hearing officer. In fact the Kansas Association of School Boards reported that the state sees about 10 due process claims each year – hardly a number that indicates a systemic problem that requires legislative action. The measure is little more than a way to break the teachers’ union and silence those teachers who honestly educate and advocate for their students.” Click here to read.

Richard Crowson: We Need Some Education (KMUW)
“And that guy who was smiling and joking with me in the checkout line at the grocery last Saturday? He lit a firebomb, taped a tax credit for private school supporters on it, and flung it through the window of a first grade classroom in the wee hours of Sunday morning.” Click here to read.

Rep. Rooker ‘heartsick’ over results of education finance bill (Prairie Village Post)
Small steps towards Kansas education reform are “immoral” and make this representative “heartsick.” Click here to read.

Shame, says Wichita Eagle editorial board (Voice for Liberty)
The Wichita Eagle editorial board, under the byline of Rhonda Holman, issued a stern rebuke to the Kansas Legislature for its passage of HB 2506 over the weekend. Click here to read.

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Schools and the nature of competition and cooperation, Wind power and taxes

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A Kansas newspaper editorial is terribly confused about schools and the nature of competition in markets. Then, we already knew that the wind power industry in Kansas enjoys tax credits and mandates. Now we learn that the industry largely escapes paying property taxes. Episode 38, broadcast April 6, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Shame on Legislature - Rhonda Holman

Shame, says Wichita Eagle editorial board

Shame on Legislature - Rhonda HolmanThe Wichita Eagle editorial board, under the byline of Rhonda Holman, issued a stern rebuke to the Kansas Legislature for its passage of HB 2506 over the weekend. (Eagle editorial: Shame on Legislature, April 8, 2014)

Here are some notes on a few of Holman’s points.

She wrote that the legislature should not “undermine teachers’ rights and meddle in education policymaking.” First: There’s controversy over what the bill actually means to the relationship between teachers and their employers. Courts will probably have to intervene. Second: Should the Legislature have a say in policy, or just pay?

Then, she criticized the bill as “passed with only Republican votes” on a “Sunday night.” This reminded me of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in the United States Senate. At the time, The Hill reported: “The Senate approved sweeping healthcare reform legislation by the narrowest of partisan margins early Christmas Eve morning” (Senate passes historic healthcare reform legislation in 60-39 vote) That’s right: Votes from only one party, and on Christmas Eve.

Later in her op-ed Holman complained: “With such handling of the various bills, GOP legislative leaders also failed to reflect Brownback’s State of the State assertion that the ‘wonderfully untidy’ business of appropriations is ‘open for all to see.’ They held a conference committee meeting at 3 a.m. Sunday — after media, most legislators and the teachers had left the Statehouse for the night, and with insufficient public notice.” Reading this, I was again reminded of the passage of Obamacare, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi made her famous explanation as reported by Politico:

“You’ve heard about the controversies, the process about the bill .. but I don’t know if you’ve heard that it is legislation for the future — not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America,” she told the National Association of Counties annual legislative conference, which has drawn about 2,000 local officials to Washington. “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it — away from the fog of the controversy.”

On the expansion of innovative districts, Holman wrote: “Nobody even knows whether the new ‘innovative districts’ program will work or is constitutional,” calling it an “accountability-free concept.” Well, we know that an important provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was ruled unconstitutional (the expansion of Medicaid), and Chief Justice John Roberts had to torture logic and the plain meaning of words in order to shoehorn the individual mandate into the Constitution.

I’m not saying that I approve of the way the Kansas Legislature approved this bill. But if it worked for Obamacare, and if Rhonda Holman and the Wichita Eagle editorial board like Obamacare (they do), well, you can draw your own conclusions.

Also, Holman complained of “unproven ideological reforms” contained in the Kansas school legislation. Two things: First, we know that the present system of public education in Kansas is not working for many children. For example, if we critically examine the National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores that Kansans are so proud of, we find that for some groups of students, the national public school average beats or ties Kansas.

Or, if we read the National Center for Education Statistics report Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales, we can learn that Kansas has relatively low standards for its schools, and when Kansas was spending more on schools due to the Montoy decision from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered the standards.

ideology-definitionI’m of the opinion that whenever someone criticizes their opponents as ideological — as the Wichita Eagle editorial board has — they don’t have a very good argument. They’re likely confusing ideology with partisanship. The Wikipedia entry for ideology says: “An ideology is a set of conscious and unconscious ideas that constitute one’s goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology is a comprehensive vision, a way of looking at things. … Ideologies are systems of abstract thought applied to public matters and thus make this concept central to politics. Implicitly every political or economic tendency entails an ideology whether or not it is propounded as an explicit system of thought.”

I wish the Eagle editorial board was more ideological. If it firmly believed in economic freedom, free markets, limited government, and individual liberty — that’s an ideology we could live with, and Kansas schoolchildren could thrive under.

Instead, we’re left with the Wichita Eagle editorial board’s ideology of less educational freedom and less accountability to those who pay the bills and parent the students.

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In Kansas, education is all about money and politics for UMEEA

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Education is all about money and politics for UMEEA

By Dave Trabert

Media reaction to the school finance legislation has been pretty predictable. It focuses almost exclusively on institutions and ignores the impact on students. As usual, it’s all about money and politics.

Unions, media and their allies in the education establishment (UMEEA) oppose tax credit scholarships for low income students. They rail against taxpayer money going to private schools and how that might mean a little less money for public institutions but ignore the very real purpose and need for the program. (FYI, the scholarship program is capped at $10 million; schools are expected to spend almost $6 billion this year.)

Achievement gaps for low income students are large and getting worse, despite the fact that At Risk funding intended to improve outcomes increased seven-fold over the last eight years. So predictably, a program to give an alternative to low income students in the 99 lowest-performing schools is attacked by UMEEA as being unfair to institutions. Media and their establishment friends don’t even make a token mention of the serious achievement problem. It’s all about money and politics.

An ugly, inconvenient truth about low income achievement gaps emerges when the data is honestly examined. We compiled and published the information in our2014 Public Education Fact Book, available on our web site. For example, only 45 percent of 4th grade low income students can read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension on the state assessment, versus 74 percent of those who are not low income. State assessment data also shows that 57 percent of low income students in private accredited Kansas schools can read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension. Tax credit scholarships offer a lifeline to low income students who want to try something else.

And before the attacks on the validity of the data begin, know that Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker and I participated in a discussion on the topic before the House and Senate Education committees recently; she could have objected or corrected me when I presented this KSDE achievement data. She did not. Instead, she said low income achievement gaps are large and getting worse. Even the education establishment agrees that having effective teachers in classrooms is probably the most important element of improving outcomes, but of course money and politics take priority over students, so UMEEA attacks efforts to make it easier and faster to remove ineffective teachers. After all, the adults in the system are a higher priority than students.

And don’t forget to throw in some clichés … efforts to help students are “ideological” but prioritizing institutional demands is “progressive” and “pragmatic.” UMEEA likes to pretend that “just spend more” and promoting institutional demands are not ideological positions.

Media is also spreading institutional notions that increasing the Local Option Budget (LOB) ceiling from 31 percent to 33 percent will create inequities among school districts, even though legislators just agreed to fully equalize the LOB. If school districts really believed that higher ceilings create inequity, they would be calling for the ceiling to be reduced. One must wonder if the real issue is that districts don’t want to, or can’t, justify the need for higher property taxes to local voters.

UMEEA will continue to attack legislators for combining policy reforms with the commitment to increase spending for equalization, but the simple reality is that that may have been the only real chance to get these student-focused initiatives passed. In that regard, spending more money finally made a difference for students.

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.

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Kansas not good on spending visibility

For more about this issue, see Open Records in Kansas.

The results are in, and the news isn’t good: Kansas continues to plummet in state spending transparency rankings, and it barely squeaked by with a grade of D-minus, according to a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Kansas Capitol

Kansas Policy Institute at work

Kansas CapitolA letter in the Wichita Eagle accused Kansas Policy Institute of the “destruction of K-12 education.” Following is part of the comment KPI president Dave Trabert wrote in response to the letter. It’s a good recap of what KPI has done the past few years. I’m left to wonder how anyone who cares about Kansas schoolchildren could be opposed to the work KPI has done.

We are showing citizens and legislators the facts about student achievement. Contrary to claims of nation-leading achievement, Kansas students scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and ACT are just about average. Overall averages are distorted by demographic differences but scores for each student cohort (White, Low Income, etc.) are actually about average across the nation.

We are showing citizens and legislators that the achievement gaps for low income students in Kansas are large and growing. Even [Kansas Education Commissioner] Diane DeBacker had to agree with that statement in front of the House and Senate Education Committees.

We proved that Kansas State Department of Education and the State Board of Education reduced performance standards to some of the lowest in the nation (according to the US Dept. of Ed.).

We are giving people the truth about school spending and showing that very large spending increases did very little to improve achievement.

We are showing people that school spending continues to set records, even though districts are not even spending all of the money they are given to run schools.

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In Kansas, base state aid is only a small part of spending

chalkboard-portion-800Considering only base state aid per pupil leads to an incomplete understanding of school spending in Kansas. The Gannon school finance decision reinforces this.

Much of the discussion surrounding school funding in Kansas has centered around base state aid per pupil. It’s the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula, and therefore an important number.

Ratios of school spending to base state aid.
Ratios of school spending to base state aid.
Base state aid per pupil has fallen in recent years. Because of this, public school spending advocates claim that spending has been cut. But that’s not the case. As shown in the nearby chart, there has been a steady increase in measures of school spending when compared to base state aid.

Considering Kansas state spending only, the ratio of state spending to base state aid was 1.10 in 1998. By 2013 that ratio had risen to 1.82, an increase of 65 percent for the ratio.

For total spending, the ratio rose from 1.86 to 3.33 over the same period, an increase of 79 percent.

What’s important to realize is that the nature of Kansas school funding has changed in a way that makes base state aid per pupil less important as a measure of school spending. Research from Kansas Policy Institute has shown that while base state aid per pupil has not grown, total state spending on schools has grown. Two reasons are rising spending on KPERS pension contributions and aid to schools for bond construction projects. The largest factor is rapid growth in the spending produced by the school finance formula’s various weightings.

A chart is available from KPI at Simple Comparisons of Base State Aid are Deceptive.

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas school finance lawsuit, problems solved?

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The Kansas Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Gannon v. Kansas, the school finance lawsuit. What did the court say, and did it address the real and important issues with Kansas schools? Episode 37, broadcast March 30, 2014. View below, or click here to view on YouTube.

Kansas wind turbines

Rural Kansans’ billion-dollar subsidy of wind farms

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Rural Kansans’ Billion-Dollar Subsidy of Wind Farms

By Dave Trabert

Kansas wind turbinesNo, I’m not talking about any federal tax subsidies or mandates to buy high-cost wind energy that have forced higher taxes and electricity prices on every citizen. This billion-dollar gift comes in the form of local property tax exemptions. In some ways, this handout is even more insidious because the cost is borne by a relatively small number of Kansas homeowners and employers in the rural counties where wind farms exist.

Under current law, renewable energy producers enjoy a lifetime exemption from property taxes in Kansas. I testified last week in support of SB 435 to limit their property tax exemption to ten years.  As shown on an attachment to my testimony, the Kansas Legislative Research Department says there is a $108.4 million annual difference between the small fees paid in lieu of taxes and the taxes that would be due if taxed at the regular rates within each county. So technically, the legislation would only “limit” the property tax gift to $1.1 billion over ten years on existing wind farms; more tax gifts would still be done on new wind farms and other renewable energy facilities.

And while renewable energy producers were basically getting a free ride, property taxes on everyone else where going through the roof!

Giving property tax exemptions to private companies, regardless of the rationale, only increases everyone else’s property tax. Local government spending is not curtailed to absorb the exemption; cities and counties just raise taxes on everyone else. We encouraged the Legislature to also require that local mill rates be reduced proportionately if these property tax gifts are limited to ten years so that the new revenue from renewable energy producers’ property tax is used to reduce the burden on everyone else. (You should have seen the stink-eye this produced from the tax-and-spend crowd.)

Predictably, wind farm lobbyists lined up to protest that this legislation would increase their property taxes and send a bad message to the wind industry. Even local governments are opposed to taking away the exemption — after all, they can get their money from everyone else and take credit for bringing jobs and investment to their communities. They refuse to acknowledge that any economic benefit enjoyed by the green energy industry (and their own political benefit) comes out of the pockets of everyone else.

P.S. Remember this billion-dollar gift the next time you’re angered by cronyism in Washington, DC. Bad players in Washington often learn their craft at the state level; fending off bad policy at the state level has many long term benefits.

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In Kansas, the Blob is worked up

apple-chalkboard-books“Education reformers have a name for the resistance: the education ‘Blob.’ The Blob includes the teachers unions, but also janitors and principals unions, school boards, PTA bureaucrats, local politicians and so on.” (John Stossel, The Blob That Ate Children.)

In Kansas, we’re seeing the Blob at full activation, vigorously protecting its interests. The source of the Blob’s consternation is a bill in the Kansas Legislature that would add charter schools and tax credit scholarships to the educational landscape in Kansas. (Kansas does have charter schools at present, but the law is so stacked in favor of the Blob’s interests that there are very few charter schools.)

An example of a prominent spokesperson for the Blob is the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman. She recently wrote regarding Kansas school funding: “In the Kansas Speaks survey released last fall by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, two-thirds said they wanted to see more K-12 state funding.”

I don’t doubt that these results are accurate. The desire for good schools is nearly universal. But when we look at the beliefs of people, we find that they are, largely, uninformed and misinformed about the level of school spending. Kansas Policy Institute commissioned a survey that asked the public a series of questions on schools and spending. (See Citizens generally misinformed on Kansas school spending.) A key finding is that most people think that schools spend much less than actual spending, and by a large margin. Further, most people think spending has declined, when in fact it has risen. These finding are similar to other research commissioned by KPI, and additional surveys by other organizations at the national level.

Not surprisingly, when citizens and taxpayers learn the true level of school spending, their attitude towards school spending changes. That’s dangerous to school spending advocates — the Blob. It diminishes their most compelling arguments for more school spending — “it’s for the kids.”

The Eagle editorial board, along with the Kansas City Star, has been instrumental in misinforming Kansans about school spending. These newspapers continually use base state aid per pupil as the measure of schools spending, when in fact this is just a fraction of total spending on schools. (See Here’s why Kansans are misinformed about schools.)

The survey that Holman relies upon as evidence of the desire for more school spending didn’t ask — as far as I know — questions to see if respondents were informed on the issue. Even worse: Instead of seeking to educate readers on the facts, Holman resorts to demagoguery and demonizing, referring to “education reforms coveted by some conservatives and the American Legislative Exchange Council.” There, the two evils: Conservatives and ALEC, the substance of her argument.

Reform in Kansas

There are two reforms being talked about in Kansas that are popular in other states. Popular except with the Blob, that is.

One is a tax credit scholarship program. This lets corporations make contributions to organizations that would provide scholarships for students to attend private schools. The corporations would then receive credits against their income tax. The Blob opposes programs like this. The Blob says that these programs simply let students that are already in private or church schools have the state pay their tuition.

But the proposed law in Kansas this year, as in years past, contains these provision: For the scholarship program, students must qualify as “at-risk” students and be attending a school that qualifies as “title I,” a program that applies to schools with many students from low-income families.

Further, the student must have been enrolled in a public school before seeking a scholarship, unless the student is less than six years old.

Together these requirements rebut the argument of the Blob: That the scholarships are just a way for children already in private or church schools to get tax funds to pay for their schools. Instead, the law targets these scholarships at students from low-income households.

Another possible reform is charter schools. These are schools that are public schools and receive public funding, but operate outside the present education establishment and local school boards. The Blob objects to this because they say that without government oversight, charter schools aren’t held accountable. The Blob must forget that charter schools are accountable to parents of children, which is a higher standard than the accountability of government bureaucrats. Also, unlike the regular public schools, the government can’t force children to attend a charter school.

The Blob criticizes charter schools because they say they “cherry-pick” the best students, leaving public schools with the worst. Here’s what the proposed Kansas law says: “A public charter school shall enroll all students who wish to attend the school.” If more students apply than the school has space, students will be selected via lottery. In most areas that have charter schools, there are many more aspirants than available spaces, and students are chosen by lottery. That would undoubtedly be the case in Kansas.

The Blob says that charter schools pick only the students they want, and therefore lead to segregation. Here’s the proposed law: “A public charter school shall be subject to all federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, gender, national origin, religion, ancestry or need for special education services.”

Here’s what the Blob really hates: “A public charter school shall be exempt from all laws and rules and regulations that are otherwise applicable to public schools in this state.” And also this: “Teachers in public charter schools shall be exempt from the teacher certification requirements established by the state board.”

The Blob values its rules and regulations that make work for its fleets of bureaucrats. Never mind that these regulations probably don’t increase student learning. That’s not the point.

And the political muscle of the Blob, the teachers unions? Well, charter school teachers usually aren’t unionized. The union is in favor of public schools only if the the teachers are in unions.

What the Blob won’t tell you

The Kansas Blob is proud of Kansas schools, partly because of scores 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.

Visualization of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.
Visualization of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.
Data for the 2013 administration of the test was just released. I’ve gathered scores and made them available in a visualization that you can use at wichitaliberty.org. The most widely available NAEP data is for two subjects: reading and math, and for two grades, fourth and eighth. The video presents data for Kansas, Texas, and the average for national public schools. I choose to compare Kansas with Texas because for several reasons, Kansas has been comparing itself with Texas. So let’s look at these test scores and see if the reality matches what Kansas school leaders have said.

Looking at the data for all students, you can see why Kansas school leaders are proud: The line representing Kansas is almost always the highest.

NAEP makes data available by ethnic subtypes. If we present a chart showing black students only, something different appears. Now Texas is higher than Kansas in all cases in one, where there is a tie.

If we consider Hispanic students only: Texas is higher in some cases, and Kansas and Texas are virtually tied in two others. National public schools is higher than Kansas in some cases.

Considering white students only, Texas is higher than Kansas in three of four cases. In some cases the National public school average beats or ties Kansas.

So 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.

When you hear the Blob trumpet high Kansas test scores, does it also explain the nuances? No, of course not, But you can examine these test scores in an interactive visualization.

Kansas school standards

Another problem you won’t hear about from the Blob: Kansas has low standards for its schools. Even worse, at a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its already low standards for schools.

Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states.
Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states.
This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. As explained in Kansas school standards and other states, Kansas standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains. (View below, or click here to view in HD at YouTube.)

For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

Could lower open records fees threaten Kansans’ safety?

business-records-file-foldersTravis Perry of Kansas Watchdog reports that governmental agencies fear that fulfilling records requests will cost too much and eliminate a necessary revenue stream. But there are solutions that may not be under consideration. For example, instead of supplying accident reports singly as they are requested, law enforcement agencies could simply make all such reports available. I can hear the objections, such as it will cost too much for each agency to maintain a website for the purposes of making reports available. But each agency doesn’t have to establish and maintain a website. The state (or someone else) could easily and inexpensively establish a website for the purpose of distributing such documents. Or, this sounds like a good project for the trade associations that officials join, and for which taxpayers pay membership dues and fees.

Lobbyist says lower open records fees could threaten Kansans’ safety

By , March 19, 2014

COST CONSCIOUS: Opponents of a bill targeted at reducing the cost of acquiring public documents say it will eliminate a necessary revenue stream for many Kansas government entities.

By Travis Perry | Kansas Watchdog

TOPEKA, Kan. — According to Kansas law enforcement lobbyist Ed Klumpp, too much government transparency could be a bad thing.

Firing a verbal warning shot Wednesday morning against legislation sponsored by Pittsburg Republican Sen. Jacob La Turner, Klumpp said Senate Bill 10, which would lower the cost of accessing government documents in the Sunflower State, has the potential to dramatically affect public safety.

In contention is a provision within La Turner’s bill that would require public entities to provide free of charge either the first hour of staff time or 25 copies, whichever comes first, to individuals requesting public documents.

Klumpp suggested that preventing law enforcement agencies from charging for the most commonly requested documents, such as accident reports, would eliminate a key source of revenue to avoid diverting resources from elsewhere.

“It’ll be fewer dollars to buy police equipment, fewer dollars to put into investigations,” Klumpp told members of the House Federal and State Affairs committee.

LaTurner called the assumption utterly ridiculous, and stated that document retrieval fees have been a veritable cash cow for public entities for years.

“They’ll say anything to hold onto their funding sources, no matter how unfair,” LaTurner said.

The 90 minutes of testimony offered to House lawmakers in the Old Supreme Court Room took on an adversarial flair, with media and private citizens facing off against county and local government officials.

Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said he has seen time and again how public entities have used excessive fees to effectively close off public documents.

“If a private citizen cannot afford the record, it’s a closed record,” Anstaett said.

In that same vein, Albert Rukwaro, a journalist and Topeka resident formerly of Kenya, cautioned state lawmakers by pointing to widespread issues in his country of origin.

“One of the leading causes of runaway corruption in government and lack of accountability is when citizens don’t have access to information in the government sector,” Rukwaro said. “America’s democracy and transparency are a beacon of light to the world. Please don’t dim it.”

Elected officials from cash-strapped Kansas counties argue it’s a matter of fiscal feasibility.

Anna Morgan-Stanley, register of deeds for Jewell County, said the vast majority of requests she receives would fall under reduced fee requirements laid out in LaTurner’s bill. Last year, Stanley said she collected just over $2,000 in document retrieval fees, and that for Jewell County it’s about survival.

“When we are unable to recoup the costs of the copies and the staff time we’re providing them, that puts a burden on our already financially burdened general fund,” Stanley told lawmakers.

Republic County register of deeds Peggy Frint echoed similar sentiments. While proponents suggested the reduced cost measures would encourage governments to make more information available online, Frint said she simply doesn’t have the funds to accomplish such a feat.

“I realize that $1,200 in copy fees for a county is not much, but it’s better than nothing, and we need all the help we can get to put into our general fund,” Frint said.

Opponents stated that capping costs for individuals would simply impose the fees on the broader public.

“Somebody is going to pay. These costs don’t just go away,” Klumpp said. “Either it’s the people requesting the copy or the taxpayers across the community.”

Committee chair Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, closed the meeting by musing how it’s not too different from distributing the cost of public infrastructure.

“I understand there are certain roads in my city that I will never drive on, but my tax dollars will go to repair those roads,” Brunk said.

Senate Bill 10 was approved by the Kansas Senate 33-7 on Feb. 27. In addition to providing some open records free of charge, LaTurner’s bill would also limit the hourly fee a government could charge for various services, such as legal review by an attorney at no more than $60 per hour. See more details here.

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!

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1960

During Sunshine Week, here are a few things Wichita could do

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1960The City of Wichita says it values open and transparent government, but the city could improve several areas of providing information and records to citizens.

The City of Wichita is proud to be an open and transparent governmental agency, its officials say. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer often speaks in favor of government transparency. For example, in his State of the City address for 2011, he listed as an important goal for the city this: “And we must provide transparency in all that we do.” When the city received an award for transparency in 2013, a city news release quoted Wichita City Manager Robert Layton:

“The City Council has stressed the importance of transparency for this organization,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “We’re honored to receive a Sunny Award and we will continue to empower and engage citizens by providing information necessary to keep them informed on the actions their government is taking on their behalf.”

Attitude

Despite the proclamations of the mayor and manager, the city needs a change of attitude towards government transparency. Here’s perhaps the most glaring example of how the city goes out of its way to conduct public business in secret.

Citizen watchdogs need access to records and data. The City of Wichita, however, has created several not-for-profit organizations that are controlled by the city and largely funded by tax money. The three I am concerned with are the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. Each of these agencies refuses to comply with the Kansas Open Records Act, using the reasoning that they are not “public agencies” as defined in the Kansas law that’s designed to provide citizen access to records.

The city backs this interpretation. When legislation was introduced to bring these agencies under the umbrella of the Kansas Open Records Act, cities — including Wichita — protested vigorously, and the legislation went nowhere. Now, just this week the City of Wichita added a new tax to hotel bills that may generate $3 million per year for the convention and visitors bureau to spend. Unless the city changes its attitude towards citizens’ right to know, this money will be spent in secret.

Another example of the City of Wichita’s attitude towards citizens and open government took place at a Kansas Legislature committee hearing last year. I had asked for email to or from a certain official for a certain period of time. The response from the city was that my request would encompass some 19,000 email messages, and the city denied the request as too burdensome. Fair enough.

But the city’s lobbyist told legislators that my request for 19,000 emails was an example of abuse of the Kansas Open Records Act, and cited it as evidence as to why reform was not needed. But I did not request 19,000 email messages. I made a request for messages meeting a certain criteria, and I had no way of knowing in advance how many email messages this would entail. The City of Wichita denied this request as burdensome, so there was either no cost or very little cost for the city. No harm, no foul.

But the City of Wichita used this incident and a similar incident involving the Kansas Policy Institute as reasons that the Kansas Open Records Act needs no reform. This illustrates a problem with the attitude of Wichita city government towards citizens’ right to know.

This attitude may be noticed by the citizenry at large. Survey respondents were asked to rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement.” The results are shown in the nearby chart created from data in the most recent version of the Wichita Performance Measure Report. The numbers are the percent of respondents giving “excellent” or “good” as their response to the question.

Citizens rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement."
Citizens rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement.”

The report says this performance is “much below” a benchmark set by the National Research Center National Citizen Survey.

Website

An important way governments can communicate with their subjects is through their websites. Wichita moved to a new website early in 2013. With the launching of the new City of Wichita website, the city has actually taken a step backwards in providing information to citizens.

From the former version of the City of Wichita website, showing budgets available for many years.
From the former version of the City of Wichita website, showing budgets available for many years.

Here’s an example. The old city website had budgets going back a long way, back to the budget for 1960 — 1961. The oldest budget I can find on the present website is for 2006.

Looking for minutes of important boards such as the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, we find similar results. On the old website, minutes of MAPC were available back to 1999. The new version of the website seems to have minutes back to only 2012.

Also, something that had been very useful is missing, and hasn’t been replaced: MyWichita.

mywichita_logo

As described here, MyWichita was a useful service. By using it, you could receive by email notices of new press releases, city council agendas and minutes, district advisory board agenda and minutes, agendas and minutes of other boards, and other items. Using MyWichita was much easier than having to check multiple sections of the city’s website looking for newly-released agendas, minutes, etc.

This email reminder service was very valuable. It’s a basic customer service feature of many commercial and governmental websites. But MyWichita didn’t survive the conversion to the new website, and there’s nothing that replaces its function. When I asked about this missing functionality, the city said it was working on a replacement that should be available in a month or two. It’s been almost a year since I asked.

Spending data

Many governmental agencies post their checkbooks on their websites. Sedgwick County does, and also the Wichita school district. Not so the City of Wichita.

Wichita spending data.
Wichita spending data.

Even after asking for checkbook spending data, Wichita can supply data of only limited utility. What was supplied to me was data in pdf form, and as images, not text. It would be difficult and beyond the capability of most citizens to translate the data to useful format. Even if someone translated the reports to computer-readable format, I don’t think it would be very useful. This is a serious defect in the city’s transparency efforts.

Legal notices

Kansas law requires that local government agencies publish legal notices for a variety of topics. Presently these are published in the Wichita Eagle at great cost to taxpayers. These notices could also be published on the city’s website, where they could be searched and archived. This would increase the usability of these documents at very little cost to the city.

Publish requests

When governmental agencies like the City of Wichita fulfill records requests, they could also publish the records on their websites. Most of the time the records are supplied electronically, so this is an additional simple (and low cost) step that would leverage the value of the city’s effort.

Leveraging our lobbyists

What do lobbyists, including taxpayer-funded lobbyists, do in Topeka? One thing they do is testify before committees, in both verbal and written form. Another thing they do is to prepare reports for the clients, advising them on upcoming legislation, analyzing how it affects them, and what the prospects for the bill might be. They also meet with legislators and their clients, which are your elected officials.

Here’s a proposal that will help citizens make best use of their taxpayer-funded lobbyists:

I see nothing in the Kansas Open Records Act that allows local governmental units in Kansas to refuse to disclose these documents: testimony, reports by lobbyists to their government clients, and the lobbyists’ calendars (or billing records for contract lobbyists). Instead of making citizens ask for these records, possibly paying fees to obtain what they’re already paying for, why don’t local governments post these documents immediately on their websites?

Citizens could then benefit from the activities of the lobbyists they’re paying for. They could learn more about legislation as it works its way through the process. Citizens could judge whether the positions taken by the government lobbyists they’re paying for are aligned with their policy preferences.

If the actions taken by taxpayer-funded lobbyists are truly in the public interest, you’d think that cities, counties, and school boards would already be making this information easily available. In any case, there should be no resistance to starting this program.

Kansas Open Records Act reform possible

This week a committee of the Kansas House of Representatives will hear testimony on SB 10, a bill which would make small but welcome reforms to the Kansas Open Records Act. Following is the testimony I plan to deliver. Citizens should be aware that cities, counties, and school districts will probably oppose these reforms.

Testimony to House Standing Committee on Federal and State Affairs as proponent of SB 10: Open meetings; minutes required; open records; charges limited.
Bob Weeks, March 19, 2014

Representative Brunk and members of the Committee:

Thank you for this opportunity to present testimony on problems with the Kansas Open Records Act regarding high fees for the production of records. In 2008 I personally encountered this problem, as reported in the Wichita Eagle:

Open Records Requests Can Spell High Fees

(Wichita Eagle, March 9, 2008)

Want information from the governor’s office? Get ready to pay up. That’s what Wichita blogger Bob Weeks says he discovered when he requested four days’ worth of e-mails sent and received by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and her staff.

To get the records , he was told he’d have to pay a lawyer in the governor’s office $27 an hour, for 50 hours, to read the e-mails to make sure they aren’t exempt from disclosure. That and 25 cents a page for copies or an unspecified extra charge to get the e-mails in electronic form. “Please make your check for the amount of $1,350 payable to the state of Kansas and reference your open records request,” said a letter Weeks received from JaLynn Copp, assistant general counsel to the governor.

State Sen. Timothy Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said he was aware of Weeks’ case. He said he thinks the fees are excessive. “It doesn’t mean much for it to be an open record if you can’t afford it,” he said. In addition, he said a sluggish response to the request from the governor’s office appears to have violated the state Open Records Act. Huelskamp said the law requires state agencies to fulfill records requests within three business days or provide a detailed reason why that can’t be done. Weeks mailed his request on Feb. 7 and got an initial response Feb. 13. His cost estimate didn’t come until Feb. 26, and neither letter explained the delay, Huelskamp said. “It’s really in violation of the letter and the spirit of the law and I’ve seen that happen more than once,” he said.

Based on this and other experience, I have found it is difficult to obtain email records at reasonable cost. If one makes a very narrowly-defined request that is affordable, there is a chance that the request will not produce the desired documents. If the request is broad enough to catch the records one needs, it is likely to be very expensive.

Kansas could use as a model the federal Freedom of Information Act (5 USC § 552), which provides for a limit on fees in certain cases: “Fees shall be limited to reasonable standard charges for document duplication when records are not sought for commercial use and the request is made by an educational or noncommercial scientific institution, whose purpose is scholarly or scientific research; or a representative of the news media.” (emphasis added)

Please do not be alarmed by government representatives making claims of abuses. Last year the Senate Committee that heard testimony on this bill was told that I made a request for 19,000 emails. My actual request was for emails to or from a certain official for a certain period of time. I had no way of knowing how many email messages this would entail. The City of Wichita denied this request as burdensome, so there was either no cost or very little cost for the city.

Finally, I would ask that the committee note that government records belong to the people, not the government, and that the people paid for their creation. I have additional information about the Kansas Open Records Act and its problems at wichitaliberty.org.

Respectfully submitted,
Bob Weeks
bob.weeks@gmail.com
wichitaliberty.org

city-council-chambers-sign-800

Wichita City Council to consider entrenching power of special interest groups

city-council-chambers-sign-800On Tuesday the Wichita City Council will consider a resolution in support of the status quo for city elections. Which is to say, the council will likely express its support for special interest groups whose goals are in conflict with the wellbeing of the public.

The proposed resolution expresses support for retaining the present system in which city council and school board members are elected in non-partisan elections held in the spring. Candidates for all other offices (county commissioner, district court judge, district attorney, county clerk, county treasurer, register of deeds, sheriff, state representative, state senator, governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, insurance commissioner, state board of education member, president, U.S. senator, U.S. representative, etc.) compete in partisan elections held in August and November.

Yes, the proposed resolution is full of language supporting lofty ideals. It mentions local control, concern over low voter turnout, the complexity of making changes, partisan politics, and even the Hatch Act, whatever that is.

(The Hatch Act restricts the ability of federal executive branch employees and certain state and local government employees to participate in some political activities, such as running for office in partisan elections. Non-partisan elections — that’s okay. The city is concerned that this could “disqualify many local candidates and office holders.” As if anyone already working for government also should also be an officeholder, non-partisan election or not.)

Why should we be concerned? Why would the city council support the current system of spring elections? Doesn’t the city council always act in the best interests of the body politic?

Here’s the answer, quite simply: In the spring elections, voter turnout is low. This makes it easier for special interest groups to influence the election outcomes. These special interest groups are not your friends (unless you are a member of one of the special groups).

Voter turnout is low in spring elections. Really low. I’ve gathered statistics for elections in Sedgwick County, and these numbers show that voter turnout in spring elections is much lower than in fall elections. (For these statistics I count the August primary as part of the fall election cycle.) Since 2000, turnout for fall elections, both primary and general, has been 44 percent. Over the same period, spring elections turnout has been 18 percent.

Remarkably, a special Wichita citywide election in February 2012 with just one question on the ballot had voter turnout of 13.7 percent. One year earlier, in April 2011, the spring general election had four of six city council districts contested and a citywide mayoral election. Turnout was 12.8 percent. That’s less than the turnout for a single-question election on year later.

The problem of low voter participation in off-cycle elections is not limited to Sedgwick County or Kansas. In her paper “Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups,” Sarah F. Anzia writes “A well developed literature has shown that the timing of elections matters a great deal for voter turnout. … When cities and school districts hold elections at times other than state and national elections, voter turnout is far lower than when those elections are held at the same time as presidential or gubernatorial elections.”

In the same paper, Anzia explains that when voter participation is low, it opens the door for special interest groups to dominate the election: “When an election is separated from other elections that attract higher turnout, many eligible voters abstain, but interest group members that have a large stake in the election outcome turn out at high rates regardless of the increase in the cost of voting. Moreover, interest groups’ efforts to strategically mobilize supportive voters have a greater impact on election outcomes when overall turnout is low. Consequently, the electoral influence of interest groups is greater in off-cycle elections than in on-cycle elections. As a result, the policy made by officials elected in off-cycle elections should be more favorable to dominant interest groups than policy made by officials elected in on-cycle elections.” (Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups, Sarah F. Anzia, Stanford University, Journal of Politics, April 2011, Vol. 73 Issue 2, p 412-427, version online here.)

Moving the spring elections so they are held in conjunction with the fall state and national elections will help reduce the electoral power and influence of special interest groups.

An example of special interests influencing elections

In January 2013 candidates for Wichita City Council filed campaign finance reports covering calendar year 2012. That year was the ramp-up period for elections that were held in February and March 2013. Two filings in particular illustrate the need for campaign finance and election reform in Wichita and Kansas.

Two incumbents, both who had indicated their intent to run in the spring 2013 elections, received campaign contributions in 2012 from only two sources: A group of principals and executives of Key Construction, and another group associated with theater owner Bill Warren.

The incumbent candidates receiving these contributions are Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) and Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita).

Except for $1.57 in unitemized contributions to Clendenin, these two groups accounted for all contributions received by these two incumbents during an entire year. Those associated with Key Construction gave a total of $7,000. Williams received $4,000, and $3,000 went to Clendenin. Those associated with Warren gave $5,000, all to Clendenin.

You may be wondering: Do these two groups have an extraordinarily keen interest in Wichita city government that’s not shared by anyone else?

Yes they do, and it’s not benevolent. Both have benefited from the cronyism of the Wichita City Council, in particular members Williams and Clendenin. Both groups are symptomatic of the problem of special interests influencing low-turnout elections. See Campaign contributions show need for reform in Wichita for details.

Download (PDF, 76KB)

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita’s city tourism fee, Special taxes for special people

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The Wichita City Council will hold a meeting regarding an industry that wants to tax itself, but really is taxing its customers. Also, the city may be skirting the law in holding the meeting. Then: The Kansas Legislature is considering special tax treatment for a certain class of business firms. What is the harm in doing this? Episode 35, broadcast March 16, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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Kansas school finance lawsuit reaction

apple-chalkboard-booksFollowing is news coverage and reaction to the Kansas school finance lawsuit Luke Gannon, et al v. State of Kansas.

Press release from Kansas Supreme Court
The court declared certain school funding laws fail to provide equity in public education as required by the Kansas Constitution and returned the case to Shawnee County District Court to enforce the court’s holdings. The court further ordered the three-judge panel that presided over the trial of the case to reconsider whether school funding laws provide adequacy in public education — as also required by the constitution. … The court set a July 1, 2014, deadline to give the Legislature an opportunity to provide for equitable funding for public education. If by then the Legislature fully funds capital outlay state aid and supplemental general state aid as contemplated by present statutes, i.e., without withholding or prorating payments, the panel will not be required to take additional action on those issues. But if the Legislature takes no action by July 1, 2014, or otherwise fails to eliminate the inequity, the panel must take appropriate action to ensure the inequities are cured.

The full opinion

Court Orders Kansas Legislature to Spend More on Schools New York Times
Kansas’s highest court ruled on Friday that funding disparities between school districts violated the state’s Constitution and ordered the Legislature to bridge the gap, setting the stage for a messy budget battle in the capital this year. … Most of the attention in the case, Gannon v. Kansas, had been focused on the trial court’s order to raise base aid per student to $4,492, a 17 percent increase over the current level, to provide an adequate education for all Kansas students. On Friday, the Supreme Court held that the district court had not applied the proper standard to determine what constituted an adequate funding level and asked the lower court to re-examine that issue. “Regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy in education” under the State Constitution, the decision read.

Kansas must heed court’s call for fairer school funding Kansas City Star.
The Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance ruling Friday cast a bright light on the Legislature’s willful failure to meet its funding obligations to poorer school districts and their students. The state’s duty to promote equity in public education is well established. A previous court ruling ordered legislators to provide payments to districts with low tax bases to help lessen the gap between them and districts that can more easily raise money through property taxes. But in 2010 the Legislature cut off equalization money meant to help poorer districts with capital needs. A year later, lawmakers even amended a statute to excuse themselves from providing money for that purpose through 2017. They also reduced and prorated supplemental payments to help less wealthy districts meet day-to-day needs.

Court declares Kansas’ school funding levels unconstitutional Los Angeles Times
The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s current levels of school funding are unconstitutional, and ordered the Legislature to provide for “equitable funding for education” by July 1. The long-anticipated ruling was a victory for education advocates in the state, but it may be a short-lived one as the Legislature has vowed to defy court orders on the subject. … According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kansas is spending 16.5% less per student, or $950 per pupil, on education in 2014 than it did in 2008.

Kansas Supreme Court finds inequities in school funding, sends case back to trial court Wichita Eagle
The Kansas Supreme Court found some unfairness — but not necessarily too few dollars — in the state’s funding of schools and sent a mammoth school-finance case back to a lower court for further action. The court found disparities between districts to be unconstitutional and set a July 1 deadline for lawmakers to address that. But it stopped short of saying the state is putting too few dollars in the pot, leaving that issue for another day. … Both school advocates and Republican lawmakers declared partial victory in the wake of the ruling in the lawsuit brought by the Wichita school district and others against the state. But they offered strikingly different interpretations of the decision.

Kansas Supreme Court on school finance: A summary of the ruling Lawrence Journal-World

Court decision gives little clarity on adequacy of K-12 funding Topeka Capital-Journal
Plaintiffs and interested third parties articulated different interpretations of Friday’s school finance ruling, with some saying it is a call for more K-12 funds and conservative groups saying there is no rush.

KS Supreme Court: Legislators made ‘unconstitutional’ school funding choices Kansas Watchdog
In a long-awaited decision, the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday ruled that state lawmakers created “unconstitutional” and “unreasonable wealth-based disparities” by withholding certain state aid payments to public schools. … While the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court decision regarding the state’s failure to equitably disburse capital outlay and supplemental general payments to Sunflower State schools, it stopped short of issuing a decree for specific funding to meet the Legislature’s constitutional requirement to provide an “adequate” education.

Governor Sam Brownback and legislative leadership outline opportunity for progress following Kansas Supreme Court Ruling on Education Funding (full press release)
Today Governor Sam Brownback, joined by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ray Merrick and other legislators responded to the Kansas Supreme Court ruling on the Gannon vs Kansas case. “We have an opportunity for progress,” Governor Brownback said. “My commitment is to work with legislative leadership to address the allocation issue identified by the court. We will fix this.” The court has set out steps for the legislature to end the lawsuit by July 1, 2014. It affirms the Constitutional requirement for education to be “adequate” and “equitable.” “Our task is to come to resolution on capital outlay funding and local option budgets before July 1,” said Senate President Wagle. “We now have some clarity as we work toward resolution of issues that began years ago under prior administrations.”

Davis comments on Gannon ruling
The court today made it clear that the state has not met its obligation to fund Kansas schools in equitable way. It is time to set it right and fund our classrooms.

Kansas Policy Institute
Statement from Dave Trabert, the president of Kansas Policy Institute, in response to Gannon v. State of Kansas:
“We’re encouraged that the Court ruled that total spending cannot be used to measure adequacy. This is especially important because spending is currently based on deliberately-inflated numbers in the old Augenblick & Myers report. To this day, no one knows what it costs for schools to achieve required outcomes while also making efficient use of taxpayer money. “The next step in helping each student succeed while acting responsibly with taxpayer money is to model a K-12 Finance Commission on the KPERS Study Commission. The Legislature and Governor Brownback should determine what schools need to achieve required outcomes while organized and operating in a cost-effective manner, including appropriate equity measures, and fund schools accordingly.”

Americans for Prosperity-Kansas
The Kansas chapter of the grassroots group Americans for Prosperity released the following statement in response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance decision handed down today:
“For years, those demanding more education spending have ignored anything other than the base state aid per pupil which is only part of overall education funding,” said AFP-Kansas State Director Jeff Glendening. “We are pleased that the Supreme Court has specifically directed that ‘funds from all available resources, including grants and federal assistance, should be considered,’ and that ‘total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy.’
“In light of the Court’s ruling that ‘adequacy’ of education is determined by student outcomes rather than spending, and adopted standards similar to those adopted by the legislature in 2005, now is the time to consider how we are spending education dollars.
“Kansans are spending more than an average of $12,700 per student, and K-12 education currently makes up more than half of our state budget. Despite that, less than 60 percent of education dollars actually make it into the classroom. To meet the educational standards set out by the Legislature and Supreme Court, and give every Kansas child the opportunity they deserve, we must do better.
“We know that the discussion of school finance is not over, and will continue to play out in the courts as the Supreme Court sent the issue of ‘adequacy’ back to the District Court. It’s our hope that the lower court will carefully look at student outcomes and local spending decisions, rather than automatically demanding more state spending, and recognize its role in the constitutionally-defined separation of powers.”

Kansas National Education Association
We are disappointed that today’s announcement by the Kansas State Supreme Court prolongs a resolution of the school finance issue. It didn’t deal directly with the current critical need in Kansas public schools. Together, the citizens of Kansas made sacrifices at a time when the state and national economy were in crisis. During that time Kansans came together and dealt with staggering cuts to education, believing the promise of full restoration to public school funding once the state economy had rebounded.

Kansas Supreme Court rules in school finance case Kansas Health Institute
Kansas’ top court today released its long-awaited decision in the school finance case and while the ruling settled little for now, both sides in the litigation said they found things to like about it.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, whose office defended the state in Gannon v. State of Kansas, said he didn’t believe the mixed decision would necessarily require the Legislature to spend more on K-12 schools, though that would be one option for making the state’s school finance formula constitutional again. … But representatives of the school districts that took to court claiming state aid dollars have been unequal and inadequate said they felt confident they would win the remainder of their points at retrial and that the Legislature would need to authorize an added $129 million in K-12 spending by July 1 to meet the standards spelled out in the unanimous decision. “We are not concerned about this. All of our proof at trial was presented using the correct standard that the court now directs to be used,” at retrial, said John Robb an attorney for the four public school districts that sued the state.

Kansas Supreme Court issues ruling on school finance Wichita Public Schools
The Kansas Supreme Court issued its ruling on the school finance lawsuit on March 7. It upholds the concept that the legislature must adequately fund schools in Kansas and that the funding must be distributed equitably. It requires the Kansas Legislature to fund capital outlay and Local Option Budget equalization by July 1, 2014. That means immediate increases in some state funding for education. … “Overall, we think this is a great ruling for Wichita and Kansas kids,” said Lynn Rogers, BOE member. “It upholds the concept that the State of Kansas is responsible for adequately and equitably funding our students’ education.” Rogers said that the lawsuit is for all Kansas students and that they deserve a quality education regardless of where they live in the state. “The education we provide is the foundation for our workforce and the future of Kansas,” said Superintendent John Allison. “If we don’t give our students a quality education now, we will pay for it in the future.”