Tag Archives: Mark Parkinson

Kansas Capitol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what this means to public policy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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.

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

Shortchanging Kansas schoolchildren, indeed

School blackboardThis month the New York Times published an editorial that advocates for more spending on Kansas public schools. While getting some facts wrong, the piece also overlooks the ways that Kansas schoolchildren are truly being shortchanged.

Here’s evidence supplied by the Times (Shortchanging Kansas Schoolchildren, October 13, 2013): “State spending on education has fallen an estimated 16.5 percent since 2008, including $500 million in cuts under the Brownback administration, resulting in teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.” (Governor Brownback has responded to the editorial; see Kansas Governor responds to the Times.)

The Times editorial board doesn’t say how it calculated the 16.5 percent decline in spending, but it’s likely that it used only base state aid per pupil, which is the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula. Much more spending is added to that. A nearby table holds spending figures for recent years, and a similar chart with inflation-adjusted figures may be found in Kansas school spending rises.

kansas-school-spending-2013-10-table-02

Perhaps the Times didn’t notice that at the time base state aid was falling, total state spending on schools rose. Base state aid per pupil, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was during the previous decade. Total Kansas state spending on schools, however, has recovered to the same level as 2006, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Total state aid per pupil this past school year was $6,984. Base state aid per pupil was $3,838. Total state spending, therefore, was 1.82 times base state aid. It’s important to consider the totality of spending and not just base state aid. It’s important because total spending is so much greater than base state aid. Also, total spending accounts for some of the difficulties and expenses that schools cite when asking for higher spending.

For example, advocates for higher school spending often point to non-English speaking students and at-risk students as being expensive to educate. In recognition of this, the Kansas school finance formula makes allowances for this. According to the Kansas Legislator Briefing Book for 2013, the weighting for “full-time equivalent enrollment in bilingual education programs” is 0.395. This means that for each such student a school district has, an additional 39.5 percent over base state aid is given to the district.

For at-risk pupils, the weighting is 0.456. At risk students, according to the briefing book, “are determined on the basis of at-risk factors determined by the school district board of education and not by virtue of eligibility for free meals.”

Taken together, bilingual students considered to be at-risk generate an additional 85.1 percent of base state aid to be sent to the district, per student.

Teachers and class sizes

The Times wrote that under Brownback, Kansas experienced “teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.” Figures from the Kansas State Department of Education tell a different story. 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

The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen. Pupil-teacher ratio is not the same as class size, but it’s the data we have.

Here’s the question we need to answer: If school districts have been able to hire more teachers and other certified employees, and if the student to teacher ratio is improving at the same time, but there are still high class sizes, what are school districts doing with these teachers and employees?

Kansas school employment ratios

By the way, the Times editorial writers might be interested in learning that the declines in school employment occurred during the administrations of Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, Democrats both.

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).

If the Times really wanted to help Kansas schoolchildren from being shortchanged, it might have noticed that at a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state weakened its already low standards for schools. 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. More about that can be found in Why are Kansas school standards so low?

Another thing the Times could have done to increase the public’s awareness of the performance of Kansas schools is to investigate why Kansas schools perform relatively well on national tests. I and others have done this; see Kansas school test scores, a hidden story and Kansas and Texas schools and low-income students.

Kansas school employment trends are not what you’d expect

Listening to Kansas school officials and legislators, you’d think that Kansas schools had very few teachers left, and that students were struggling in huge classes. But statistics from the state show that school employment has rebounded, both in terms of absolute numbers of teachers and certified employees, and the ratios of pupils to these employees.

Kansas school employment

The story is not the same in every district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

Kansas school employment ratios

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

By the way, the declines in school employment occurred during the administrations of Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, Democrats both.

Facts like these may not have yet reached those like Kansas House of Representatives Democratic Leader Paul Davis. On Facebook, he continually complains about the lack of funding for Kansas schools.

paul-davis-facebook-2013-04-14

It’s little wonder that Davis and others focus exclusively on Kansas school funding. If they were to talk about Kansas school performance, they’d have to confront two unpleasant realities. First, Kansas has set low standards for its schools, compared to other states. Then, when the Kansas Supreme Court ordered more spending in 2005, the state responded by lowering school standards further. Kansas school superintendents defend these standards.

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.

Kansas Democrats mailing again, and wrong again

It’s campaign season, and mail pieces are flying fast, replete with more Kansas Democratic errors.

Examples come from two mailers from the Kansas Democratic Party targeting Joseph Scapa, a one-term Republican incumbent seeking to return to the House or Representatives.

Here’s one: “SCAPA voted for the largest cut to school funding in Kansas history — schools are closing, class sizes are increasing and fees are going up on parents. Sub HB 2014 (HJ 5/12/11, p. 1570)”

This is a repeat of a mistaken claim made on other anti-Scapa mailings, for which Kansas Democrats have apologized.

Here’s something from another ant-Scapa mail piece from the Kansas Democratic Party: “The Brownback Agenda included the largest cut to public education funding in Kansas history in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations.”

This claim is incorrect, too. As explained in Kansas Democrats wrong on school spending, the claims of education cuts generally consider only Kansas state spending on schools, neglecting federal and local sources of funds. In the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 schools years, federal aid soared as a result of the Obama stimulus program. These funds almost made up for the decline in state spending, meaning that total spending on Kansas schools declined only slightly.

(You’d think that Kansas Democrats would want to remind us of the supposedly wonderful things the Obama stimulus accomplished, but evidently not when the facts are inconvenient.)

Then, who was Kansas governor during the years that Kansas state spending on schools actually declined? Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. They’re Democrats, I believe.

Here’s something else from a mailer from the Kansas Democrats:

JOE SCAPA is just another rubber stamp for Sam Brownback.
JOE SCAPA VOTES WITH SAM
BROWNBACK 92.33% OF THE TIME.*
Instead of working to create jobs and improve education, Scapa has been nothing more than a rubber stamp for Governor Brownback’s irresponsible agenda.
*www.KanFocus.com, Republican Support Rankings

Most people don’t have access to KanFocus, a useful but expensive subscription information service. The rankings that the mailer refers to, according to KanFocus, “… show the percentage of votes on which each Representative voted with and against the majority of Republicans.”

So it’s not a measure of how closely Representatives’ votes align with Governor Brownback, but with the majority of Republicans. Oops.

Aside from that, Scapa ranked 56 out of 93 Republicans that cast votes in 2012. Then, consider that most of the Republicans who ranked “higher” than Scapa (meaning they voted less often with the Republican majority) are legislators who in most states would be Democrats.

An accurate assessment, then, of Scapa’s voting record is that he is relatively independent from the Republican majority in his voting. Which is not the same as the Brownback agenda, as the Democratic Party mailer erroneously claims.

Kansas Democrats wrong on school spending

While the Kansas Democratic Party apologized last week for misstating candidates’ voting record on two mail pieces, the party and its candidates continue a campaign of misinformation regarding spending on Kansas public schools.

Many of the allegations are made against Kansas Governor Sam Brownback for purportedly cutting school spending. An example is on the Kansas Democratic Party Facebook page, which can be seen nearby.

As part of the party’s website, on a page titled Restore Education Funding, Kansas Democrats make this claim:

An Education Fact

Between FY2008-2009 and FY2011-2012, general state aid to education was cut by nearly $400 million. In just thee [sic] years, that’s a reduction of $620 for every schoolchild in the state.

This claim is repeated on candidates’ web sites, such as this example from senatorial candidate Tim Snow, which reads: “In the last three years, conservatives in Topeka have slashed education spending by $620 per student.”

The problem is that these claims aren’t factual. Consider the numbers from the Kansas Democrat website. In 2008-2009 Kansas state spending on schools was $3,287,165,278, according to the Kansas State Department of Education. In 2011-2012, that figure was $3,184,163,559. That’s a difference of $103,001,719, which is a long way from $400 million, the number claimed by Democrats.

Looking at spending per pupil figures, the change was from $7,344 to $6,983. That’s $361, not $620 as Democrats claim.

The Democrats are also considering only Kansas state spending on schools, neglecting federal and local sources of funds. In the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 schools years, federal aid soared as a result of the Obama stimulus program. These funds almost made up for the decline in state spending, meaning that total spending on Kansas schools declined only slightly.

(You’d think that Kansas Democrats would want to remind us of the supposedly wonderful things the Obama stimulus accomplished, but evidently not when the facts are inconvenient.)

Then, who was Kansas governor during the years that Kansas state spending on schools declined? Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. They’re Democrats, I believe.

There are more examples of Democrats misleading Kansans. Here’s Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley: “But Gov. Brownback is acting on the assumption that schools aren’t stretching every dollar to the last cent, even after he made the largest cut to public education in Kansas history.” (Dems seek input from parents, educators on impact of school funding cuts.) (emphasis added)

Paul Davis, the Kansas House of Representatives Minority Leader, was quoted in the Lawrence Journal-World as saying “Instead of hosting an online forum to complain about public schools, why not discuss all the innovative ways our teachers and administrators have done more with less since Gov. Brownback implemented the largest cut to education funding in Kansas history?” (emphasis added)

Hensley and Davis are two of the top Democrats in Kansas, absolutely so in the Kansas Legislature.

It’s easy to understand why Democrats focus on school spending. It’s easy to persuade parents — and anyone, for that matter — that if we want the best for Kansas schoolchildren, we need to spend more.

More spending in schools means more spending in largely Democratic hands, and more public sector union members, a key Democratic constituency.

The school spending advocates have done a good job promoting their issue, too. On a survey, not only did Kansans underestimate school spending levels, they did so for the state portion of school funding, and again for the total of all funding sources — state, federal, and local. Kansans also thought spending had declined, when it had increased. See Kansans uninformed on school spending. Similar findings have been reported across the country.

Spending more on schools is seen as an easy way to solve a problem. But the problems facing Kansas schools will require different approaches, and the Kansas school establishment won’t consider them. For a list of reforms that are needed, but resisted, see Kansas school reform issues.

Kansas Democrats should consider themselves fortunate that our governor isn’t pressing for the reform that Democrats really hate: school choice.

Dangers of texting while driving: Are laws the solution?

There’s no doubt that texting while driving is dangerous, as illustrated in this KAKE Television news story. But the government solution — passing laws against texting while driving — haven’t worked, and some states have experienced an increase in crashes after implementing texting bans.

A news release from the Highway Loss Data Institute summarizes the finding of a study: “It’s illegal to text while driving in most US states. Yet a new study by researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) finds no reductions in crashes after laws take effect that ban texting by all drivers. In fact, such bans are associated with a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes. This finding is based on comparisons of claims in 4 states before and after texting ban, compared with patterns of claims in nearby states.”

The study does not claim that texting while driving is not dangerous. Rather, the realization by drivers that texting is illegal may be altering their behavior in a way that becomes even more dangerous than legal texting. Explains Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: “If drivers were disregarding the bans, then the crash patterns should have remained steady. So clearly drivers did respond to the bans somehow, and what they might have been doing was moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal. This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers’ eyes further from the road and for a longer time.”

When Kansas passed its texting ban in 2010, newspapers editors praised the legislature and Governor Mark Parkinson for passing the law. In an editorial, the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman wrote “But it’s nice to know the state finally has a law against this brainless and dangerous practice.” In his written statement, Parkinson said “I am pleased to sign this legislation that will encourage more aware drivers and save Kansas lives.”

While Kansas was not included in the HLDI study, there’s no reason to think that Kansas will experience anything different from the states that were studied: Kansas drivers may be under greater risk of being in a crash after the passage of this law.

Paradoxically, higher fines and stricter enforcement of this law will encourage the dangerous law-evading texting behavior.

Texting while driving will be a subject on the KAKE Television public affairs program This Week in Kansas to be aired Sunday at 9:00 am. Dr. Alex Chaparro of Wichita State University will appear to present his findings on the dangers of texting while driving and what can be done to improve safety.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Saturday January 8, 2011

This Week in Kansas. This Sunday on This Week in Kansas, host Tim Brown produces a double-length show. The first 30 minutes will be an interview with outgoing Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson, and then a second show immediately following will feature incoming Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. This Week in Kansas airs on KAKE TV channel 10, Sunday morning at 9:00 am.

Tax cuts are not a cost to government. In an article in the Lawrence Journal-World discussing the possibility of repealing the Kansas statewide sales tax increase, reporter Scott Rothschild makes the same error that most media outlets do: he says that cutting taxes is a cost to government: “Repeal of the levy would cost state government another $300 million per year.” The only way tax cuts constitute a cost to government is if you believe that our property — all of it — belongs first to government. Instead, taxes are a cost that people and business pay, and reducing them is a savings for the parties that really matter. How about writing this instead: “Repeal of the levy would reduce revenues to the state by an estimated $300 million.” And if the Journal-World wanted to be accurate, it could add “This action would leave those funds in the productive private sector rather than transferring them to the wasteful and inefficient public sector.”

Sedgwick County officeholders to be sworn in. On Sunday January 9, three Sedgwick County Commissioners and a new county treasurer will be sworn in. New commissioners Jim Skelton and Richard Ranzau and returning commissioner Dave Unruh will participate. New treasurer Linda Kizzire will also be sworn in. The time is 2:00 pm, in the jury room of the courthouse. Enter on the north side.

Kansas: business-friendly or capitalism-friendly?

Plans for the Kansas Republican Party to make Kansas government more friendly to business run the risk of creating false, or crony capitalism instead of an environment of genuine growth opportunity for all business.

An example is the almost universally-praised deal to keep Hawker Beechcraft in Kansas. This deal follows the template of several other deals Kansas struck over the past few years, and outgoing Governor Mark Parkinson is proud of them. Incoming Governor Sam Brownback approved of the Hawker deal, and probably would have approved of the others.

Locally, the City of Wichita uses heavy-handed intervention in the economy as its primary economic development tool, with several leaders complaining that we don’t have enough “tools in the toolbox” to intervene in even stronger ways.

The problem is that these deals, along with many of the economic development initiatives at the state and local level in Kansas, create an environment where the benefits of free market capitalism, as well as the discipline of a market-based profit-and-loss system, no longer apply as strongly as they have. John Stossel explains:

The word “capitalism” is used in two contradictory ways. Sometimes it’s used to mean the free market, or laissez faire. Other times it’s used to mean today’s government-guided economy. Logically, “capitalism” can’t be both things. Either markets are free or government controls them. We can’t have it both ways.

The truth is that we don’t have a free market — government regulation and management are pervasive — so it’s misleading to say that “capitalism” caused today’s problems. The free market is innocent.

But it’s fair to say that crony capitalism created the economic mess.

But wait, you may say: Isn’t business and free-market capitalism the same thing? Here’s what Milton Friedman had to say: “There’s a widespread belief and common conception that somehow or other business and economics are the same, that those people who are in favor of a free market are also in favor of everything that big business does. And those of us who have defended a free market have, over a long period of time, become accustomed to being called apologists for big business. But nothing could be farther from the truth. There’s a real distinction between being in favor of free markets and being in favor of whatever business does.” (emphasis added.)

Friedman also knew very well of the discipline of free markets and how business will try to avoid it: “The great virtue of free enterprise is that it forces existing businesses to meet the test of the market continuously, to produce products that meet consumer demands at lowest cost, or else be driven from the market. It is a profit-and-loss system. Naturally, existing businesses generally prefer to keep out competitors in other ways. That is why the business community, despite its rhetoric, has so often been a major enemy of truly free enterprise.”

The danger of Kansas government having a friendly relationship with Kansas business leaders is that these relationships will be used to circumvent free markets and promote crony, or false, capitalism in Kansas. It’s something that we need to be on the watch for, as the relationship between business and government is often not healthy. Appearing on an episode of Stossel Denis Calabrese, who served as Chief of Staff for Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives Congressman Richard Armey, spoke about crony capitalism and its dangers:

“The American public, I guess, thinks that Congress goes and deliberates serious issues all day and works on major philosophical problems. Really a typical day in Congress is people from the private sector coming and pleading their cases for help. It may be help for a specific company like the [window manufacturing company] example, it may be help for an entire industry, it may be help for United States companies vs. overseas companies.”

He went on to explain that it is wrong — corrupt, he said — for Congress to pick winners and losers in the free enterprise system. Congress wants us to believe that free enterprise will be more successful when government gets involved, but the reverse is true. Then, the failures are used as a basis for criticism of capitalism. “This is an unholy alliance,” he said, and the losers are taxpayers, voters, and stockholders of companies.

Later in the show Tim Carney said that “A good connection to government is the best asset a company can have, increasingly as government plays a larger role in the economy.”

Host John Stossel challenged Calabrese, wondering if he was part of the problem — the revolving door between government, lobbyists, and business. Calabrese said that “Every time you see a victim of crony capitalism you’re looking at a potential client of mine, because there’s somebody on the other side of all these abuses. When Congress tries to pick a winner, there are losers, and losers need representation to go tell their story.” He added that he lobbies the American people by telling them the truth, hoping that they apply pressure on Congress to do the right thing.

He also added that it is nearly impossible to find a single area of the free enterprise system that Congress is not involved in picking winners and losers.

While the speakers were referring to the U.S. federal government, the same thing happens in statehouses, county courthouses, and city halls across the country — wherever there are politicians and bureaucrats chasing economic development with government as the tool.

It is difficult to blame businessmen for seeking subsidy and other forms of government largesse. They see their competitors do it. They have a responsibility to shareholders. As Stossel noted in the show, many companies have to hire lobbyists to protect them from harm by the government — defensive lobbying. But as Carney noted, once started, they see how lobbying can be used to their advantage by gaining favors from government.

The danger that Kansas faces is that under the cover of a conservative governor and legislature, crony capitalism will continue to thrive — even expand — and the people will not notice. The benefits of a dynamic Kansas economy as shown by Dr. Art Hall in his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy may never be achieved unless Kansas government — at all levels — commits to the principles of free market capitalism.

In Kansas, prosperity is achievable — if we’re willing to change

The health of the Kansas economy — past and future — is the subject of some debate, with supporters of big government like the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman thanking outgoing Governor Mark Parkinson for his promotion of the increase in the statewide sales tax and other forms of economic interventionism. These policies, with the exception of the approval of the expansion of a coal-fired electrical plant, largely carried forward the programs of his predecessor Kathleen Sebelius. As a result, Kansas is in the situation that Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute describes below.

Prosperity Is Achievable — If We’re Willing To Change

By Dave Trabert, President, Kansas Policy Institute

“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.” — Thomas Sowell, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Sowell’s point about the scarcity of resources is essential to understanding economics, which may be as much about human behavior as supply, demand and other commonly-associated factors. Taxpayers have finite resources, so the more they must pay in taxes, the less they have to spend on goods and services. Accordingly, raising taxes always has a negative impact and especially so when taxes rise faster than the ability to pay.

Unfortunately, the last ten years were defined by Sowell’s first law of politics. State and local governments in Kansas ignored the implications of finite resources and significantly increased the tax burden. From 2000 to 2009, state and local taxes increased 59 percent but personal income available to pay taxes only rose 44 percent. (The 2010 figures aren’t yet published but last year’s increase in sales, unemployment and property taxes certainly didn’t ease the burden.)

Predictably, we suffered the consequences.

Kansas had 18,800 fewer private sector jobs in 2009 than in 2000, a reduction of 1.7 percent. There was job growth prior to the recession but it was well below the national average. From 1998 to 2008 (Kansas employment peaked in April, 2008) private sector jobs increased 7.9 percent nationwide but only 5.2 percent in Kansas. And comparing the performance of low-burden and high-burden states (as ranked by the non-partisan Tax Foundation) makes the implications of defying Sowell’s first law of economics even more clear. The ten states with the highest combined state and local tax burden averaged 6.1 percent private sector job growth, whereas the ten states with the lowest burdens averaged a remarkable 16.5 percent gain.

Domestic migration (U.S. residents moving in and out of states) is another good measure. Between 2000 and 2009, the ten states with the lowest tax burdens averaged a 3.8 percent population increase from domestic migration; the ten states with the highest burdens lost an average of 3.3 percent. Kansas lost 2.5 percent population from domestic migration.

Jobs and people naturally gravitate toward low-burden states where they get to keep more of their hard-earned, finite resources. The next ten years must therefore be defined by Sowell’s first law of economics or Kansas will continue to suffer the consequences. In order to compete for jobs and attract new residents, the state and local tax burden must be reduced — and that means government must spend less.

Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce spending and still provide essential services. Ineffective and unnecessary programs have to go and government must operate much more efficiently.

Change won’t be easy but the choice is simple — reduce the tax burden and create an environment that attracts jobs and new taxpayers or preserve big government and continue to suffer the consequences.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday December 30, 2010

Kansas Meadowlark blog recast. Earl Glynn of Overland Park has reformed his Kansas Meadowlark site from a blog to a news site along the lines of the Drudge Report. Glynn’s full-time job is working for Kansas Watchdog.

Longwell site noted. A website supporting the candidacy of Wichita Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell for re-election to his current position has been spotted. Title: Vote for Jeff Longwell.

Kansas legislative issues to watch. Fort Hays State University political science professor Chapman Rackaway lists the things to watch for in the upcoming session of the Kansas Legislature, which opens on January 10. Here’s his list: The budget, K-12 education funding, economic growth, higher education, entitlements, a balancing act between the “interests of the center-right and polar-alliance wings of the party,” and redistricting. The full article is in the Wichita Eagle at Seven legislative issues to watch in 2011.

Local governments are a model. H. Edward Flentje, public affairs professor at Wichita State University, explains the difference between the finances of local governments — cities and counties — as compared to states and the federal government: “So, why aren’t our cities and counties wallowing in red ink? For the most part, they do the basics right. They keep revenues and spending in balance. When times are tough, they tighten the belt. In good times, they pay off debt or pay for projects that might otherwise require debt. They maintain reasonable fund balances that buffer economic downturns and avoid unnecessary tax increases or draconian cuts in services. They use debt sparingly but never for ongoing obligations.” He also mentions the role of professional managers in local government, something that Kansas has a long tradition of using. Flentje plays a role in educating and training these managers, and served a stint as interim city manager for Wichita a few years ago. The full article is at State of the State KS at Insight Kansas Editorial: Local Clues for Stemming the Flow of Red Ink.

Truce in culture wars? Michael Barone in the Washington Examiner: “The fact is that there is an ongoing truce on the social issues, because for most Americans they have been overshadowed by concerns raised by the weak economy and the Obama Democrats’ vast increase in the size and scope of government.” Somehow I don’t think this message has made it to Kansas. As reported by Fred Mann in today’s Wichita Eagle: “Before Kansas lawmakers consider such a bill, Kinzer said, they will take up a host of previous abortion measures that were vetoed by former Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, and that are more likely to be approved by incoming Gov. Sam Brownback.” Lance Kinzer is a member of the Kansas House of Representatives from Olathe and a member of Governor-Elect Sam Brownback’s transition team. Barone, in the article mentioned above, writes “Abortion remains controversial. But we are not going to see abortion criminalized, not in a country where the Supreme Court has been ruling for 37 years that it’s a right. At the same time, we are seeing abortion disfavored and restricted by state laws that are widely popular and have at least in some cases been upheld by the courts.” In Kansas, though, anti-abortion forces are preparing a number of laws that concern, according to Mann, “tightened reporting requirements for late-term abortions, remedies against doctors who violate the laws, and provisions allowing a woman, her husband or parents to sue a doctor if they thought a late-term abortion was performed illegally.” The biggest danger is the culture war in Kansas will take our focus off the state’s economy and the need to get it on track. Chapman Rackaway, in his piece mentioned above, wrote: “If Brownback can successfully balance pragmatism and the interests of the center-right and polar-alliance wings of the party, he can be a rousing success as governor. If open warfare breaks out between wings of the party, all could be lost.”

Wind power: the transmission subsidy. From The Wall Street Journal column The Midwest Wind Surtax: The latest scheme to socialize the costs of renewable energy: “You’d think poor Michigan has enough economic troubles without the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission placing a $300 million to $500 million annual surtax on the state’s electric utility bills. But on December 16 FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff announced new rules that would essentially socialize the cost of transmission lines across 13 states in the Midwest. … This is another discriminatory subsidy for wind energy that will raise electricity prices on everyone, notably on those who don’t rely on wind for electric power. … Let’s be very clear on what’s happening here: Mr. Wellinghoff and FERC are trying to establish by regulatory fiat a national energy policy that Congress has refused to endorse. Last summer Congress rejected the Obama Administration’s renewable energy standard law because it would have inflated power costs.” In Kansas, outgoing Governor Mark Parkinson is proud of his accomplishments in forcing more wind power mandates on Kansans.

Wind power again reaps subsidy

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas Governor Parkinson says “thank you”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hawker Beechcraft deal not proud moment for Kansas

This week the State of Kansas, City of Wichita, and Sedgwick County struck a deal with Hawker Beechcraft that allows Hawker to stay in Wichita rather than moving to another state.

While outgoing Governor Mark Parkinson and other leaders praise the deal, it was not a good day for Kansas.

It’s difficult to blame Hawker. That company saw similar Wichita-based companies receive corporate welfare, most recently Bombardier Learjet. Who can blame Hawker for wanting the same? In fact, when the state and local governments are willing to readily hand out corporate welfare, you can make a case that Hawker has a fiduciary duty to its shareholders to seek the same.

Therein lies the problem: Kansas’ approach to economic development is piecemeal. We respond to problems, as in the case of Hawker. But the state’s response gives more companies the incentive to come up with their own “problems” that require state intervention.

When recruiting or retaining companies, the state and its local governments presume they have the ability to select which companies are deserving of public subsidy.

What we have is a situation where a relatively small number of companies receive help from the state and its taxpayers, which only serves to increase the cost of business for everyone else.

Nonetheless, politicians and bureaucrats call this making an investment in, say, Hawker Beechcraft or whatever company is asking for handouts or tax breaks. The problem is that we don’t know if investing in these companies is the right investment, if government should be making these investments at all. (In the case of Hawker Beechcraft, there is some evidence that this company may need to shrink substantially in order to survive, handouts notwithstanding. See Report: Hawker should divest all but King Air.)

We need economic development policies that nurture all companies. Somewhere in Wichita or Kansas there is a small unknown company that has half a dozen or so employees — maybe more, maybe less — that is working on some innovation. If we’re lucky, we have many such companies. These companies could be working on a new technology, manufacturing process, computer software, video game, internet site, food processing technology, retail concept, chemical process, restaurant idea, engineering methodology, agricultural process, airplane wing — we just don’t know. Many will fail. But some will succeed, and few will, hopefully, succeed in a big way.

But these small startup companies may not fit in to the economic development programs the city and state have. Any of these now-small companies could become the next Cessna, LearJet, Beechcraft, or Pizza Hut. We just don’t know — we can’t know — which small companies will succeed. But these companies, when in small startup stage, struggle to pay the taxes that large companies are able to escape. Being small, they may also be disproportionally impacted by regulation. It’s not necessarily the case that a small startup aviation company is competing directly with Hawker Beechcraft and is handicapped by the larger company’s tax advantages and handouts. But these two companies could be competing for the same employees, for example, and that puts the smaller company at a disadvantage.

How can we identify which companies are deserving of government subsidy? Which companies should have their tax burden softened at the expense of others? Allocating resources — deciding what to do — in the face of uncertainty is the crux of entrepreneurship. It’s something that government is not equipped to do, as its incentives and motivations are all wrong.

In order to succeed, Kansas needs to embrace dynamism in its approach to economic development. For more on this see Kansas economic growth policy should embrace dynamism and Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy.

Unfortunately, the Hawker Beechcraft deal, along with most of the policies of the state and the City of Wichita move in the opposite direction: towards more state-controlled economic development.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday November 26, 2010

Bill Gates on school reform. Microsoft Chairman and founder Bill Gates, in an effort to help the states save money on schools, recently gave a speech, as reported by the New York Times: “He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master’s degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers’ ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools.” This is a refreshing take on the issue of class size. For more background on these issues from Voice for Liberty, click on Focus on class size in Wichita leads to misspent resources, Wichita public school district’s path: not fruitful, In public schools, incentives matter, and Wichita school district policy is misguided. For what it’s worth, incoming Kansas governor Sam Brownback doesn’t seem to have these issues on his agenda for education reform.

Now the schools look for savings. The Lawrence Journal-World reports on an initiative to save on utility costs in the Lawrence public school system. “Teachers are unloading their refrigerators, flipping off computer monitors and unplugging their coffee pots — all to help the Lawrence school district save a few bucks over the Thanksgiving break. It’s all part of an ongoing program to trim utility costs, thus far saving the district at least $3.6 million.” I wonder: why hasn’t the school district been doing this already? This is more evidence that spending can be cut in ways that won’t harm children, despite the shrill claims of school spending advocates when they, like Wichita Representative Jim Ward or outgoing governor Mark Parkinson, claim that spending has already been “cut to the bone.” Lawrence, USD 497, contributed to the 2005 Kansas schools lawsuit, but is not a member of this year’s group suing taxpayers for more money. Give a small measure of credit to this district, that they’re trying to cut costs first instead of suing taxpayers.

Business climate under Brownback. A poll by the Wichita Business Journal indicates that Kansans think the state’s business climate will improve under incoming governor Sam Brownback — barely. 53 percent of respondents clicked on “Yes, it will get better.” The rest thought the business climate will remain the same or get worse. This is not a scientific poll, but represents the sentiment of those readers who chose to participate.

The parent trigger. A law in California allows parents whose children are in failing public schools to petition the school to become a charter school, close down, other undergo other reform. Called the “parent trigger,” the law was promoted from the political left, unlike most reform proposals which come from the political right. The Center for School Reform at the Heartland Institute explains in the policy brief The Parent Trigger: A Model for Transforming Education. As the full report states: “America’s $400 billion public education system exists primarily to serve grown-ups — bureaucrats, unions, and other special interests — not kids.” The primary opposition to this measure comes from — naturally — the teachers union: “Because many parents will likely choose to have their schools convert to charters and most charter schools are not unionized, powerful unions like the California Teachers Association view parental empowerment as a threat.” Anyone who has read much about school reform knows that the teachers unions and schools spending advocacy groups are the greatest threat to any meaningful reform. In Kansas, the two groups that consistently oppose meaningful reform are Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB).

Public or private parks? John Stossel asks whether parks should be public or privately owned. A video clip shows several interviewees insisting that parks must be public. Unknowing to these people, they were all interviewed in a privately-owned park. In this video clip, Stossel explains the tragedy of the commons and the benefits of private property. His written article concludes: “What private property does — as the Pilgrims discovered — is connect effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. Then, if there’s a free market, people will trade their surpluses to others for the things they lack. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit makes the community richer.”

Kansas Rep. Jim Morrison. Kansas Representative Jim Morrison of Colby has died. Services are pending.

Kansas City Mayor not happy with job poaching. The flow of jobs from Kansas City Missouri across the border to Kansas needs to stop, says Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser. The Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) program is to blame, he says. This program allows companies to use nearly all the payroll withholding taxes its employees pay for its own benefit instead of supporting the Kansas budget. In urging Missouri to step up its ability to offer incentives, Funhouser used the term “nuclear deterrence.” He seems to indicate that the ability of one state to counter another state’s incentives might stop companies from moving just to get incentives. See Kansas City Star article Loss of jobs to Kansas irks Kansas City’s mayor. It’s a little ironic to hear Missouri complain about generous Kansas incentives, as Kansas politicians like Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer often complain about the incentives other states offer that Kansas can’t match, and how they wish they had other “tools in the toolbox.” Also, Star columnist Mary Sanchez is wrong when she writes “Present-day market realities call for upfront capital incentives for companies to relocate.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday November 17, 2010

Kansas Senator Lee to tax court. State of the State KS reports that Kansas Senator Janis Lee has been appointed by Governor Mark Parkinson to the Kansas State Court of Tax Appeals. Lee is a Democrat from Kensington in northwest Kansas. This action opens another position in the senate — another three pending vacancies need to be filled due to senators who won election to other offices — and others are likely to follow as incoming governor Sam Brownback fills his cabinet. Lee scored 13 percent on the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for this year, which is a voting record more in favor of economic freedom than some other Senate Democrats — and some Republicans such as Senate President Steve Morris, for that matter. Lee’s replacement will be selected by the Democratic Party precinct committeemen and committeewomen in that senate district.

Saving is good. A letter in today’s Wichita Eagle holds this observation: “Rich people don’t spend money in hard times. Give them a tax break, and they will stash it away. That’s why they are rich.” This letter contains a misconception that news media mistakenly repeats over and over: that consumer spending is good and saving is bad. What happens to savings — the “stash it away” the letter writer refers to? Few people stuff cash in the mattress or in a safe. Instead, they do several things with they money they decide not to spend on immediate consumption, which is the definition of savings. If put it in a bank, the bank lends it to others who will spend it. If used to pay down debt, that frees up funds for others to spend. If used to buy stocks and bonds, that provides funds for business to invest. Importantly, these funds usually go into increasing the nation’s stock of capital. This capital spending is especially desirable, as it supports current economic activity — that is, the people and companies that work today to produce capital goods — but it sets up the country to produce even more wealth in the future.

Voters express pessimism. Consistent with other recent Rasmussen polls, voters are not optimistic that Congress will be able to accomplish very much in the next two years. See Voters Hold Little Hope for What New Congress Is Likely To Achieve.

KDOT seeks public comment on public involvement policy. This seems almost like circular reasoning, but the Kansas Department of Transportation seeks public comment on a document titled “Sharing the Future — Public Involvement in the Kansas Transportation System.” The document — all 113 pages — may be found on this page. Comments should be directed to Kansas Department of Transportation, Bureau of Public Involvement, 700 S.W. Harrison, Topeka, 66603-3754, (785) 296-3526, fax (785) 368-6664, or maggiet@ksdot.org.

Texas stimulus spending — not. Texas Watchdog takes a look at federal stimulus spending in Texas and finds some disturbing results. An example: “A closer look at spending by each agency shows wild differences in the amount of money spent and the number of jobs created. At least eight agencies have reported spending $500,000 or more for every job claimed. In the case of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, its $883,993 per job is an estimate because more than a year after it was awarded nearly $8 million for a statewide library broadband upgrade project, nothing has been spent and none of its projected nine employees have been hired.”

Who stole Election Day? A candidate for Maine governor wonders whether the rise of advance voting — “convenience voting,” he calls it — is good for the country. Besides meeting a voter who expressed regret in having already voted for his opponent, Eliot Cutler writes this of convenience voting: “At a time when sea changes are roiling our democracy, political parties are in decline, and public confidence in the political system is plummeting, convenience voting is having all the wrong effects. In Maine, at least, it appears to be discouraging voter engagement, providing life support to withering political parties, and undermining one of our most enduring and important institutions.” More in the Wall Street Journal at Who Stole Election Day? Too many voters are making decisions when horse-race coverage dominates the news, attention to issues is limited, and key debates haven’t taken place.

Adapt, don’t overreact to climate change. Bjorn Lomborg — The Skeptical Environmentalist — of the Copenhagen Consensus Center argues in the pages of the Washington Post that mankind has shown that it can adapt to climate change. This record, he argues, means we should not panic about climate change. We can afford a long-term perspective: “… when it comes to dealing with the impact of climate change, we’ve compiled a pretty impressive track record. While this doesn’t mean we can afford to ignore climate change, it provides a powerful reason not to panic about it either.” He cites the example of the Netherlands: “Keeping Holland protected from any future sea-level rises for the next century will cost only about one-tenth of 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.” Concluding, he writes: “[adaption] will enable us to get by while we figure out the best way to address the root causes of man-made climate change. This may not seem like much, but at a time when fears of a supposedly imminent apocalypse threaten to swamp rational debate about climate policy, it’s worth noting that coping with climate change is something we know how to do. ”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday November 9, 2010

Wichita city inspection staffing. Sunday’s Wichita Eagle carries a story detailing problems some southeast Wichita homeowners have with their homes. I’m not sure whether the story is being critical of the city inspection process, so I’ll quote the article: “[Central inspection superintendent Kurt] Schroeder said he can’t say for sure that the city did everything possible to prevent these problems. City inspectors granted building permits and conducted inspections at the houses at various stages of building. But he said the city has no records of final approvals for two houses in the neighborhood. It could be that the inspector signed off but didn’t enter it into the computer system, Schroeder said, but he can’t be sure.” … It’s not as though city inspectors are in short supply. In July, Wichita real estate developer Colby Sandlian spoke to the Wichita Pachyderm Club. As part of his talk, Sandlian said that during the 1950’s, when he started in the real estate business, Wichita was building about 2,600 to 3,000 houses per year, in what he described as some of the nicest neighborhoods in the city. At that time, there were three people in the city’s zoning department, and seven in the building inspection department. Today, Sandlian said Wichita added 1,568 houses in 2007, 1,032 in 2008, and 752 in 2009. Despite the small number of homes being built, staff has swelled: Sandlian said today there are seven in planning (up from three), and 61 in building inspection (up from seven). “Those people, in order to justify their existence, have to find problems with what you’re doing,” he said. But it appears that even with greatly increased numbers, inspectors may not have been looking hard enough, at least in the cases of these southeast Wichita homes.

Kansas Prosperity Summit. This Friday (November 12) FairTaxKS is holding an event designed “to create a collaborative environment to create awareness, express support, offer solution, and launch the passing of the Kansas Jobs Plan 2011.” The main event is from noon to 4:00 pm at the Topeka Performing Arts Center (TPAC), 214 SE 8th Ave., and will feature speakers Kris Kobach (Kansas Secretary of State-Elect), Jonathan Williams (co author of “Rich States, Poor States“, Arlen Siegfreid (Speaker Pro Tem of the Kansas House of Representatives), and Dave Trabert (President, Kansas Policy Institute). An optional morning session will observe a meeting of the Special Committee on Assessment and Taxation. See Kansas Prosperity Summit 2011 for complete details.

Government cheese. “When sales of Domino’s Pizza were lagging, a government agency stepped in with advice: more cheese. This is the same government that, for health reasons, is advising less cheese.” The New York Times continues in While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales: “Domino’s Pizza was hurting early last year. … Then help arrived from an organization called Dairy Management. It teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign. … Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.” I’m starting to lose track of the contradictions here: Government promoting the very food it blames for health problems it often ends up paying for, and an agency partly funded by tax funds developing marketing programs for a private firm. When the New York Times complains that something is amiss with a government program, you know it’s really bad.

Kansas budget profiled. John Hanna of Associated Press takes a look at the Kansas budget and issues surrounding. Key facts: For the next budget (fiscal year 2012, which starts July 1, 2011, and is the budget the legislature will work on during the upcoming session), there is no more federal stimulus money. That money was a key part in balancing the last two budgets. The deficit for FY 2012 is projected at $492 million. Tax collections are projected to grow by 4.3 percent in FY 2012. By transferring highway funds and gambling revenues to the general fund, the state could balance the budget without cutting services by much, but there will likely have to be some cuts.

Kansas judicial selection. Foundation Watch, a publication of the Capital Research Center, features an article titled George Soros’s Plan to Seize State High Courts. Kansas is mentioned several times in this article. As readers may remember, Kansas judicial selection gives extreme power to members of the bar, more so than does any other state. The state’s elites — outgoing Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson, newspaper editorial writers, and of course the lawyers — are fine with this undemocratic system. But we should be cautious. The article’s summary is: “In some states supreme court judges are elected by the people. In others the governor appoints judges from a list of recommendations compiled by a commission composed mainly of lawyers. Arguments can be made for either process. But George Soros knows what he wants: appointed supreme court judges recommended by lawyer-driven commissions. Call us knee-jerk, but that may be one good reason why this is not a good idea.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday November 5, 2010

Political attacks on tap at Pachyderm. Wichita State University political science professor Mel Kahn will be the presenter at today’s (November 5) meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. The always-interesting professor will speak on the topic “Do Political Attacks Help or Harm our Republic?” This seems like a timely topic given the recent general and primary elections. The public is welcome at Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Hold the celebration “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds, in fact, that 59% of Likely U.S. Voters think it is at least somewhat likely that most voters will be disappointed with Republicans in Congress before the next national elections. That includes 38% who say it is Very Likely.” More at Most Voters Think House GOP Likely To Disappoint By 2012. Is this evidence of a deeply-ingrained cynicism by American voters? I hope not — but I can’t blame people for thinking so.

We understand, that’s why we resist. The incredibly insightful George Will discusses in the Washington Post what he calls the “nationwide recoil against Barack Obama’s idea of unlimited government” and explains why progressives (the people who used to be called liberals) are so confused and unable to accept the political reality of the day: “The progressive agenda is actually legitimated by the incomprehension and anger it elicits: If the people do not resent and resist what is being done on their behalf, what is being done is not properly ambitious. If it is comprehensible to its intended beneficiaries, it is the work of insufficiently advanced thinkers.” I added the emphasis to make sure we grasp the essence of Will’s description of the progressive mindset: that we regular people are just not capable of understanding what is in our own best interests. That is the working belief of Obama and the progressives. As an aside, it’s amazing the the Post can have a columnist as good as Will and as corrupt as Dana Milbank at the same time.

Obama really doesn’t get it. In a preview of a 60 Minutes interview to be broadcast on Sunday, CBS News reports: “After a [sic] suffering a ‘shellacking’ in the midterm elections, President Obama acknowledges what many have seen as his chief weakness — failing to sell the importance of several legislative milestones to the American people. … ‘Making an argument that people can understand,’ Mr. Obama continued, ‘I think that we haven’t always been successful at that.'” In other words, it’s a marketing problem for Obama. Others have said the same. Recently Jonathan Alter wrote “It’s a sign of how poorly liberals market themselves and their ideas that the word ‘liberal’ is still in disrepute despite the election of the most genuinely liberal president that the political culture of this country will probably allow.” But I think that people understand perfectly well the liberal or progressive agenda — if not at a deeply intellectual level than by instinct — and I agree with George Will: “Is political power — are government commands and controls — superseding and suffocating the creativity of a market society’s spontaneous order? On Tuesday, a rational and alarmed American majority said ‘yes.'”

Kansas Republicans a spry bunch. After January, ten of the 12 Kansas statewide or federal offices will be held by people under the age of 55. Exceptions are Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger and Senator Pat Roberts. Roberts has indicated he’ll run again in 2014.

Kansas Senate after the election. The Kansas Senate, unlike the House, was not up for election this year, although there were two special elections. In one, the appointed incumbent was elected, and in another, a replacement for Jim Barnett was selected. While the composition of the Senate remains 31 Republicans and nine Democrats, not all the Republicans are conservatives. Quite a few — including the Senate leadership and two Wichita-area members — have voting records indistinguishable from many Democrats. A good guess at the number of conservative-voting senators is 17, short of a majority. Upcoming: There will be at least three new senators selected. In two cases — to replace Tim Huelskamp and Jeff Colyer — the likely replacements will be conservative, as are the two resigning members. In the third case, to replace majority leader Derek Schmidt, it is likely that the replacement will be more fiscally conservative, although Schmidt did vote against the big-spending budget and sales tax increase this year. With a conservative governor taking office and the House controlled by conservatives, might a few senators decide to adopt a more conservative view? Those left-leaning members who are looking to run for reelection in 2012 have a decision to make.

Kansas City Star on Parkinson’s pollution. The Kansas City Star laments outgoing Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson‘s decision to fire Kansas Department of Health and Environment chief Rod Bremby. The issue is Parkinson’s desire to get a coal-fired electricity plant in Kansas permitted before new rules come into effect. There are several problems with the Star’s editorial. First, cabinet secretaries like Bremby serve at the pleasure of the executive. If they don’t do what the boss wants, they’re gone. Second, the Star refers to the “tons of new pollution” that will “drift eastward across Kansas.” The editorialist should remember that Bremby denied the permit for the plant based on its carbon dioxide emissions, not for emissions of actual pollutants like sulfur dioxide. To the extent that carbon dioxide is harmful, it is because of its (alleged) impact on global warming, and that impact is disputed. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant in the sense that it is poisonous or harmful to those who breath it, as it is naturally abundant in the atmosphere. By the way, Bremby’s decision to deny the permit was entirely political, as he was apparently willing to approve a permit for an oil refinery that would emit 17 million tons of carbon a year, when he denied the power plant solely because of its emissions of 11 million tons. See Rod Bremby’s action drove away the refinery.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday October 14, 2010

Wichita mayor to lead LKM. City press release: “Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer was elected as the 81st president of the League of Kansas Municipalities (LKM) during the organization’s annual conference Tuesday morning in Overland Park. … He also urged his fellow local leaders to restore the public’s confidence in government. ‘We need to have our citizens recognize the value of competent government, and why our freedoms and security depend on it,’ he said.” As noted a few days ago on these pages, the League of Kansas Municipalities is a special interest group working in favor not of the citizens who live in Kansas towns and cities, but the politicians and bureaucrats that run them — and their cronies — who benefit from the LKM’s advocacy of things like TIF districts, STAR bonds, tax abatements, and eminent domain for economic development. So I don’t know if we should be proud that our mayor is the president of this group.

Goody Clancy in Topeka, too. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Goody Clancy, the planning firm working for Wichita is also working in Topeka.

FactFinder 12: Pompeo campaign ad. Analysis of an advertisement by Kansas fourth Congressional district candidate Republican Mike Pompeo by Michael Schwanke of KWCH 12 Eyewitness News concludes that Pompeo used some of the techniques that he and Republicans strongly criticized Democrat Raj Goyle for using. Schwanke concludes: “Goyle made those statements, but the ad doesn’t provide complete context.” This is the same issue that got Republicans riled up a few weeks ago.

Pompeo poll released. The Pompeo campaign has released a poll that was commissioned and paid for by the campaign. The results are Pompeo with 58 percent of the vote, and Goyle with 31 percent. Two minor party candidates get three percent each, and undecided voters are at 16 percent. In its analysis the polling firm notes “the confrontational attacks by Goyle have backfired and have resulted in Goyle’s negative rating increasing substantially.” Candidate-produced polls need to be considered carefully. Goyle’s campaign has released their own polls in August and September which showed a smaller Pompeo lead than public polls. FiveThirtyEight indicates it flags polls which meet its definition of a partisan poll, which it defines as a poll conducted [on behalf of] any current candidate for office. It also says “Nevertheless, they are included in the ratings. If a pollster releases a poll into the public domain, we assume that they are interested in doing their best and most accurate work, regardless of whom the poll is conducted for.” The firm that conducted this poll for Pompeo conducted a poll for the same campaign July 6th through 8th, about a month before the August primary election, with results of Pompeo leading Wink Hartman 27 percent to 21 percent. The actual results were Pompeo 39 percent, Jean Schodorf 24 percent, and Hartman 23 percent. Public polls underestimated Pompeo’s actual vote total, too.

Kansas legislator Merrick honored. American Legislative Exchange Council, described as a “nonpartisan individual membership organization of state legislators which favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions” has recognized Kansas Representative and Majority Leader Ray Merrick with its highest award. “The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is pleased to announce that Representative Ray Merrick of the Kansas House of Representatives recently received the highest honor that a setting legislator can receive from the organization — Legislator of the Year. Rep. Merrick received the award at ALEC’s 37th Annual Meeting, held in San Diego, Cal., August 5 — 8, 2010. Nearly 1,500 state legislators, policy experts, and private-sector leaders from across the United States attended three days of intensive discussions on the critical issues facing the states and our nation. This award is given to state legislators who are ALEC members in good standing and have distinguished themselves by advancing, introducing, and/or enacting policies based on the fundamental Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.”

Education reform setback. Wall Street Journal Review & Outlook: “Michelle Rhee described her decision yesterday to step down as Washington, D.C., schools chancellor after 3½ years as ‘heartbreaking.’ We share the sentiment. That one of the nation’s most talented school reformers was forced out does not bode well for students … Ms. Rhee’s resignation ‘won immediate support from the Washington Teachers’ Union,’ a strong signal that her departure is a victory for the adults who run public education, not the kids in failing schools. … One reason education reform is so difficult is because unions believe their political influence and money will outlast even the bravest reformers in the end — which is why they’re cheering today in the District of Columbia.”

Wichita Eagle voter guide available. Click here. You can get a list of the candidates, along with their responses to questions, customized for your address. The first advance voter ballots were mailed yesterday.

Kansas Jackass blogger guilty. Kansas Watchdog reports: “Former blogger Jason Croucher entered a plea of guilty to 3 counts of child pornography on Wednesday morning at the U.S. Court House. Croucher’s progressive ‘Kansas Jackass’ blog was widely read by members of the Kansas Legislature and others in Kansas in 2009. The blog is no longer online.” Croucher operated anonymously until “outed” by Earl Glynn and myself, although he planned to become known on his own at some time. His style was to poke fun at his opponents, using anything negative about them as material for his attacks. Rarely was public policy discussed in a meaningful and serious way.

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line. “Gov. Mark Parkinson: I have six employees. I need to expand my business or quit. Please loan me $1 million to be paid back with my employees’ income tax. Thank you.” A fine example of government intervention crowding out private investment and initiative.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday October 12, 2010

Wichita Visioneers in Louisville. The Wichita Business Journal’s Emily Behlmann reports on a trip by Wichitans to Louisville to get ideas on transforming Wichita’s downtown. Hopefully they won’t get this idea, as reported yesterday by the Louisville Courier-Journal: “The heavily subsidized 4th Street Live entertainment district has come under criticism from locally owned businesses for receiving millions of dollars in tax breaks and government subsidies — including a controversial, $950,000 city loan that won’t necessarily have to be repaid.” According to Wichita planner Goody Clancy, heavy subsidy isn’t supposed to be necessary in Wichita. And, I hope all the planners read Jack Cashill’s take on Louisville’s planning: Good intentions, and planners, can sap a city’s soul.

Lynn Jenkins: Don’t try to make Koch Industries a scapegoat. From today’s Wichita Eagle: “Koch management is dedicated to keeping the company growing. It reinvests 90 percent of company profits back into the businesses, allowing them to expand product lines and hire more employees. That is good for consumers and for workers. However, the company has come under fire because its owners support free-market principles inconsistent with the current Democrat leadership.”

Should candidates bother to debate? Rasmussen finds that nearly half of likely voters have watched at least one debate, and about half find them informative.

Costly approach to Kansas economic development — or defense. “Insiders were still not talking Wednesday about the potential cost of saving 6,000 aircraft workers’ jobs in Wichita. Outsiders say that some circumstances at their employer, Hawker Beechcraft, are so different from other companies Kansas has fought to keep that it may be impossible to gauge what it might cost to help prevent the 80-year-old Wichita firm from moving lock, stock and avionics to Baton Rouge, La., and cashing in on Louisiana incentive packages rumored to be worth as much as $400 million.” From Kansas Reporter.

FiveThirtyEight. More about the political site FiveThirtyEight, which I took a look at on Sunday, especially its coverage of Kansas races. Here, James Taranto discusses FiveThirtyEight, concluding: “The recent acquisition of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com makes for a striking contrast with the paper’s uneven news reporting and dreadful op-ed columnists.”

No Wichita city council today. It’s the League of Kansas Municipalities conference in Overland Park this week. LKM is a special interest group working in favor not of the citizens who live in Kansas towns and cities, but the politicians and bureaucrats that run them — and their cronies — who benefit from the LKM’s advocacy of things like TIF districts, STAR bonds, tax abatements, and eminent domain for economic development.

County commissioner forum tonight. Tonight at 7:00 pm at Gloria dei Lutheran Church, 1101 N. River Blvd. Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Richard Ranzau will appear.

Parkinson is moderate — he says again. Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson — yet again — engages in self-congratulation over “how Kansas has weathered the economic recession by setting politics aside and working together to find moderate, common-sense solutions.” He’s done this several times since the legislative session was over — so many times that I’ve lost count. Evidence of a guilty conscience, perhaps? Parkinson’s abandonment of the Kansas Democratic Party by not choosing to run for reelection has put that party at a tremendous disadvantage in this year’s elections.

Bureaucracy vs. Bureaucracy? “Andrew Gray, Libertarian Candidate for Kansas Governor, says that simplifying or repealing unnecessary statutes and regulations is a key part of his administration’s plan to empower the private sector to create jobs and prosperity in Kansas. He also says he’s pleased that Senator Brownback is at least talking about similar actions. However, Gray finds it ridiculous that Senator Brownback is actually planning to create more bureaucracy in order to cut bureaucracy.” I think he’s got a point. But anything that is necessary to reduce the size of government is what we need to do.

The impossibility of an informed electorate. D.W. MacKenzie writing for Mises Daily, reacting to a John Stossel suggestion that uninformed people have a duty not to vote: “The problem with voting in modern America is that we have a politicized society, and modern society is extraordinarily complex. Stossel suggests that only people who follow politics should vote. However, even those who follow politics very closely do not understand the implications of changes in public policy. The lesson here is that efforts to incrementally reform government policies and programs through the democratic process are futile. To the extent that we vote at all, rational people should vote to depoliticize the economy. … What this means is that we need to reintroduce the price system as the primary method of economic communication, and the profit-and-loss sorting mechanism as the primary method of social reform.”

Gallup: Americans negative towards federal government. “More than 7 in 10 Americans use a word or phrase that is clearly negative when providing a top-of-mind reaction to the federal government.” Details here: Americans’ Image of “Federal Government” Mostly Negative.

A minority opinion, or a delusion? Paul Krugman in the New York Times: “Here’s the narrative you hear everywhere: President Obama has presided over a huge expansion of government, but unemployment has remained high. And this proves that government spending can’t create jobs. Here’s what you need to know: The whole story is a myth. There never was a big expansion of government spending. In fact, that has been the key problem with economic policy in the Obama years: we never had the kind of fiscal expansion that might have created the millions of jobs we need.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday October 11, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texting bans haven’t worked

In an attempt to increase highway safety, many states have passed bans on texting while driving. But the bans haven’t worked, and some states have experienced an increase in crashes.

A news release from the Highway Loss Data Institute summarizes the finding of a new study: “It’s illegal to text while driving in most US states. Yet a new study by researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) finds no reductions in crashes after laws take effect that ban texting by all drivers. In fact, such bans are associated with a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes. This finding is based on comparisons of claims in 4 states before and after texting ban, compared with patterns of claims in nearby states.”

The study does not claim that texting while driving is not dangerous. Rather, the realization by drivers that texting is illegal may be altering their behavior in a way that becomes even more dangerous than legal texting. Explains Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: “If drivers were disregarding the bans, then the crash patterns should have remained steady. So clearly drivers did respond to the bans somehow, and what they might have been doing was moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal. This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers’ eyes further from the road and for a longer time.”

When Kansas passed its texting ban this year, newspapers editors praised the legislature and Governor Mark Parkinson for passing the law. In an editorial, the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman wrote “But it’s nice to know the state finally has a law against this brainless and dangerous practice.” In his written statement, Parkinson said “I am pleased to sign this legislation that will encourage more aware drivers and save Kansas lives.”

While Kansas was not included in the HLDI study, there’s no reason to think that Kansas will experience anything different from the states that were studied: Kansas drivers may be under greater risk of being in a crash after the passage of this law. Stricter enforcement of this law and higher fines will simply encourage the dangerous law-evading texting behavior.

The texting ban was included in my Kansas Economic Freedom Index for 2010 for the Kansas Senate. Senators who voted against the ban increased their scores in favor of freedom.

While I did not know the results of this study at that time, this is another example where instinctive distrust of government regulation was the correct diagnosis.

Brownback paves plan for Kansas education reform

Last week near Emporia Sam Brownback, surrounded by Kansas educators and legislators, laid out the start of his plan for improving Kansas education if he is elected governor.

His opponents in the race for Kansas Governor are Reform Party candidate Ken Cannon, Libertarian Andrew Gray, and Democrat Tom Holland. Mark Parkinson, the incumbent, decided not to run.

In his remarks, Brownback said that education is “primary function of the state.” While Kansas has excellent schools, he said that more innovation is needed.

In the area of teachers, Brownback wants more mentoring opportunities available to young teachers. He supports a master teacher plan that offers higher salaries to teachers who “provide models of excellence within their schools.” He also called for alternative teacher certification programs that allow those who did not follow the traditional teacher education and certification path to become teachers.

On funding, Brownback said that Kansas school funding formula needs revision. He called for an end to school finance litigation, saying that school finance is the responsibility of the legislature, local school boards, and voters, but not the courts. A focus of a new funding formula will be on getting dollars into the classroom, he added.

One of the five key benchmarks in Brownback’s administration will be fourth grade reading achievement. He cited National Assessment of Educational Progress scores that indicate 28 percent of fourth-graders fail to achieve a “basic” score. “If you can’t read, your world starts closing in around you. But if you can read your world starts opening up,” he said. Fourth grade is a key time to measure reading, he added.

He also called for a refocused emphasis on career and technical education, citing a wind turbine program at Cloud County Community College. With innovative programs like this, he said it is unacceptable that any child would drop out of school.

Brownback said that it is crucial that we find ways to support our higher education system. He said he would highlight and support the work of community and technical colleges, stabilize funding for public universities, support the national cancer institute designation at KU, building the national bio and agri-defense facility at KSU, the Kansas Polymer Research Center at Pittsburg State University, and the National Center for Aviation Research at Wichita State University.

In response to a question, Brownback said he is not looking to redefine the state’s responsibility for funding education as mandated by the Kansas Constitution. He said he wants to get more money into the classroom. The disputes we’ve had should not be resolved by the courts, he added. The percentage has not been as high as he thinks it could be.

He added that if local taxpayers vote to spend more on local schools, he would support that and allow them to do that. Currently the local option budget formula places a limit on how much local districts can add to what the state allocates.

Continuing, Brownback said the problem with school funding is the Kansas formula. The money is not getting in the classroom, as there are too many “nooks and crannies” in the formula. He would focus on renovating the formula, he added.

Another question mentioned two reforms that some states are using and the Obama administration supports — charter schools and teacher merit pay — and noted that these reforms are absent from the plan presented today. Brownback replied that the master teacher program is a form of increased pay for highly qualified and gifted teachers. On charter schools, Brownback said that additional proposals may be rolled out, and that he didn’t want to lay out everything in one day.

The complete press release announcing the plan may be read at the Brownback campaign website.

Commentary

If we wonder why conservatives are not fully gung-ho for Sam Brownback, the education plan provides a few reasons why. The two missing reforms asked about (the questioner was me) — charter schools and teacher merit pay — are popular with conservatives, but vigorously opposed by the existing Kansas education establishment, especially the teachers union.

The master teacher pay plan proposed by Brownback is a long away from merit pay. Under a master teacher plan, it seems like a relatively small number of teachers would be rewarded. Merit pay usually means that all teachers are paid according to their effectiveness, as is the case with most workers, especially professionals.

I didn’t get a chance to ask another question about another reform battle that is being waged: teacher tenure reform. But it seems like the relatively meek reforms proposed by Brownback indicate a candidate who would not be willing to take on the teachers unions over the issue of tenure.

Brownback’s reliance on the NAEP scores as a measure of student achievement is refreshing, as the Kansas school establishment would like to ignore this test. The NAEP is a more rigorous test than the Kansas-administered tests. According to figures at the Kansas State Department of Education, in 2009 87.2 percent of Kansas fourth graders were reading at a level the department considers “at or above standard.” This number has been increasing at the same time the NAEP score are mostly flat. Brownback didn’t talk about this discrepancy, but if he is willing to advocate for an honest measurement of Kansas schoolchildren, that would be a big step.

Brownback’s advocacy for allowing local school districts to vote for more school spending is sure to be vigorously opposed unless the money is “equalized.” In the Kansas House this year, there was a proposal to let counties charge an additional sales tax to be given to the school districts in the county. A Johnson County — a large, wealthy county — legislator proposed the measure, which was vigorously opposed by counties without Johnson county’s wealth. If some of the money raised by a Johnson county sales tax was shipped to poorer counties through the equalization formula, the opposition would disappear, almost certainly.

An interesting commentary on the coverage of Brownback and Holland and their education proposals is at the Kansas Republican Assembly blog: Analyze this: Opinion masquerading as news.

More about Brownbacks plan from the Kansas Education: Public Policy in Kansas and Beyond blog is at Sen. Brownback offers weak tea of reforms.

Kansas tax burdens getting heavier, studies show

While Kansas ranks in the middle of the states in total tax burden, the state’s take is getting larger, compared to other states.

This finding is important as Kansas and its largest city are increasingly using favorable tax treatment to centrally plan and manage economic development. When the state allows a company’s employee withholding taxes to be used for its own exclusive benefit — as outgoing Governor Mark Parkinson recently granted to Wichita’s Bombardier Learjet — it increases the cost of government for everyone else.

The Kansas PEAK bill that the legislature passed this year allows this practice to be extended to more and smaller companies.

In cities like Wichita, the city council routinely grants tax abatements and other favorable tax treatment to companies that it believes are deserving.

The result of all this intervention is that the tax base is narrowed, and the high cost of government is born by a smaller group of taxpayers.

To top it off, the result of this centralized planning and management of economic development is: pretty much zero.

In 2008 the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit looked at the use of economic development incentives in Kansas, examining some $1.3 billion in spending over five years. In examining the literature, the auditors found: “Most studies of traditional economic development incentives suggest these incentives don’t have a significant impact on economic growth.”

It also found: “The majority of research concludes there is a lack of demonstrated impact from the typical types of economic development assistance, and that incentives aren’t cost-effective.” The audit can be read at Economic Development: Determining the Amounts the State Has Spent on Economic Development Programs and the Economic Impacts on Kansas Counties. The document has an executive summary.

The concentrating of the cost of government on a shrinking tax base spells trouble. One solution that I proposed to the Wichita city council is that when tax incentives are given, the city reduce its spending by the cost of the incentive: “The harmful effect of this tax abatement is this: When someone escapes paying taxes, someone else has to make up the difference. … As long as this body is willing to grant tax abatements and other special tax favors, I propose this simple pledge: that when the City of Wichita allows a company to escape paying taxes, that it reduce city spending by the same amount. By following this simple rule, the City can be reminded of the cost of granting special tax favors, and the rest of us won’t have to pay for them.”

Kansas tax burdens getting heavier, studies show

By Gene Meyer, Kansas Reporter

(KansasReporter) TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansans’ state and local sales taxes are now 12th highest in the nation, though their total tax burden is nearer the middle of the pack in 24th place, say two new reports released Thursday.

But, as investment companies always remind us when pitching their new products, your actual results may vary.

“Even within a state, it can be difficult to know what the average tax rate is when there can be hundreds of different jurisdictions charging different rates,” said Kail Padgitt, an economist at the Washington, D.C. based Tax Foundation, which calculates Kansas’ 7.95 percent average state and local sales taxes are 12th highest in the nation.

Within that average, though, actual local rates in some 790 different county, local and special tax districts across Kansas vary from 6.3 percent where only the basic state rate is charged to more than 10.5 percent in a few special taxing districts.

The ranking, one of the first nationally to include Kansas’ recently raised 6.3 percent statewide sales tax that became effective July 1, puts the 12th ranked Sunflower state higher than its neighbors in 15th ranked Missouri, 25th ranked Colorado and 29th ranked Nebraska. Only Oklahoma, where an average 8.33 percent sales tax burden clocks in at seventh highest in the nation, comes in higher.

Continue reading at Kansas Reporter

How does Kansas rank in economic freedom?

In measures of economic and personal freedom, Kansas ranks relatively well among the states, but lags behind some neighboring states. Recent actions by the Kansas legislature might drive its ranking down.

Last year the Mercatus Center at George Mason University published a paper that ranks the states in several areas regarding freedom. According to the authors, “This paper presents the first-ever comprehensive ranking of the American states on their public policies affecting individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres.”

What is the philosophical basis for measuring or determining freedom? Here’s an explanation from the introduction:

We explicitly ground our conception of freedom on an individual rights framework. In our view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and property as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. This understanding of freedom follows from the natural-rights liberal thought of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Robert Nozick, but it is also consistent with the rights-generating rule-utilitarianism of Herbert Spencer and others.

According to the authors, “No current studies exist that measure both economic and personal freedom in the fifty states.” So this is a ground-breaking work.

How does Kansas do? Surprisingly, not too badly. Not outstanding, but not as bad as I might have thought.

For the four areas measured, here’s how we did: In fiscal policy, Kansas is 28. In regulatory policy, 4. In economic freedom, 18. In personal freedom, 15. (In all cases, a ranking of 1 means the most freedom.)

Our overall ranking is 12.

Some of the remarks the authors made about Kansas include noting our large public employee payroll, even though state employees are not paid as well as private sector workers. Also: “The area of spending that could most stand to be cut is education, while the taxes that should have priority for cutting are individual income and property taxes.”

Some of our neighbors do pretty well in the overall ranking. Colorado is 2, Texas is 5, Missouri is 6, and Oklahoma is 18. Nebraska is not as good at 28.

Colorado undoubtedly benefited from its taxpayer bill of rights (TABOR) law, which places limits on the rate of growth of government spending, although it had been suspended for several years. Those in Kansas who favor government spending over private sector spending use Colorado as an example of a state that TABOR has destroyed, but in terms of economic freedom, it does very well.

In case you’re wondering, for overall ranking, New Hampshire is best. The worst? It’s no surprise that it’s New York by a wide margin, with New Jersey, Rhode Island, California, and Maryland rounding out the bottom five.

If this index were to be recomputed this year, Kansas might fall in rankings due to outgoing Governor Mark Parkinson‘s two landmark achievements — the increase in the statewide sales tax and the statewide smoking ban. Some of the other enacted laws detailed in the article In Kansas Legislature, a bad year for freedom and liberty would push Kansas’ ranking down, too.

But since rankings are relative and consider what happened in other states, Kansas might not have changed much, as many states have passed tax increases and other freedom-killing legislation and regulations.

The full study contains discussion of the politics surrounding these rankings, and a narrative discussion of the factors present in each state.

You may read the entire study by clicking on Freedom in the 50 States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom.

Kansas coal plant public hearings

This week the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will hold public hearings on the expansion of the coal-fired steam electricity generating unit at Holcomb. This plant became controversial when KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby denied a permit on the basis of the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions. That was the first time a permit had been denied for that reason.

While former Governor Kathleen Sebelius opposed the plant, one of the first things new Governor Mark Parkinson did last year was to negotiate a permit for a smaller plant than had been originally requested.

According to a KDHE news release, here is the schedule for hearings:

Overland Park: Monday, August 2 at 2 pm and 6:30 pm at Blue Valley Northwest High School, 135th and Switzer, Overland Park

Salina: Wednesday, August 4 at 2 pm and 6:30 pm at Highway Patrol Training Center Auditorium, 2025 East Iron, Salina.

Garden City: Thursday, August 5 at 2 pm and 6:30 pm at 801 Campus Drive, Garden City

Written comments may be submitted before August 15 by email to sunflowercomments@kdheks.gov, or in writing to: KDHE Bureau of Air, Attn.: Sunflower Comments, 1000 S.W. Jackson, Suite 310, Topeka, KS 66612-1366 or presented at the hearing.

In Kansas Legislature, a bad year for freedom and liberty

It was a bad year for economic freedom in the Kansas Legislature. There were the big votes that most people know of — the big-spending budget, the increase in the sales tax, and the statewide smoking ban — but the legislature passed — and the governor signed — many other laws that chip away at personal liberty and economic freedom. The following list contains many of these bills.

This list was produced by Bob Corkins of Kansas Votes, a project of the Kansas Policy Institute. It contains only bills that were enacted into law. There were, of course, some bad bills that didn’t make it all the way through the lawmaking process.

Corkins said that 2010 was the worst session for personal liberty that he could think of in more than two decades of working in the Kansas Statehouse. In many cases these bills had broad support among conservatives.

Some of these bills are concerned with what people might consider to be minor, unimportant matters. But the legislature thought they were important enough to be the subject of legislation. And while some might seem to chip away at personal liberty and economic freedom in small, insignificant ways, taken together over years, it all adds up.

Further, when lawmakers pass laws like this and no one complains, and when they get re-elected year after year, it emboldens them to take on bigger challenges to personal liberty and economic freedom, like increasing sales or other taxes. It hardens their resolve to block expansions of economic freedom like school choice programs.

An example of a bill contrary to personal liberty and economic freedom is House Bill 2130, which requires every occupant of a car to wear a safety belt. Now I happen to think seat belts are a great idea. I always wear mine and ask everyone in my car to wear theirs. But it’s a different matter when the state requires their use. It’s an example of lawmakers trying to protect us from ourselves. Once they start down this road, it’s very difficult for them to stop.

I’m aware of the argument that says because automobile accidents produce serious and costly injuries that drive up the cost of health care for everyone, and seat belt use reduces the severity of these injuries, we ought to regulate the behavior of people by requiring use of seat belts. We can expect to see arguments made like this more often as our nation moves towards greater collectivization of health care and its costs. What we ought to do, however, is reverse this trend in health care.

An example of a move away from a uniform tax system is House Bill 2554, authorizing the PEAK (Promoting Employment Across Kansas) program. This program allows certain employers to keep most of the withholding tax their employees pay. Programs like this are contrary to economic freedom because, in this case, we have the state deciding how to direct resources. An alternative that is in harmony with economic freedom is to rely on free markets for this guidance. Besides being contrary to economic freedom, there is scant evidence that economic development programs like this work, in terms of increasing overall prosperity.

Don’t think for a moment, however, that conservative Kansas legislators rose in opposition to this bill and its intervention into free markets. In the Senate, the bill passed 40 to zero. In the House, the bill passed 109 to 12. Of the 12 votes in opposition, eleven were from Democrats who mostly have far-left voting records. Brenda Landwehr was the only Republican to vote against this bill.

Another example of government intervention in markets is Senate Bill 430, which restored and boosted a historic preservation tax credit program. In my testimony to a House committee on this bill, I said “We must recognize that a tax credit is an appropriation of Kansans’ money made through the tax system. If the legislature is not comfortable with writing a developer a check for over $1,000,000 — as in the case with one Wichita developer — it should not make a roundabout contribution through the tax system that has the same economic impact on the state’s finances.”

Principles of economic freedom and personal liberty contend that the state should not be spending this money, whether through direct appropriations or the tax system. Very few conservatives voted against this bill on these principles.

The following list of enacted bills is ordered, Corkins says, from the “most atrocious to the merely very bad.” Each bill is linked to its page on Kansas Votes.

Senate Bill 572 (Propose state budget for 2011)
to approve a state budget that would authorize total spending for the current 2010 fiscal year of $5.416 billion in State General Fund spending (SGF, that portion of the budget paid primarily with state-imposed sales and income taxes) and $14.414 billion from All Funds (including SGF, federal aid, and state agency fees), and for spending $5.621 billion SGF and $13.685 from All Funds in fiscal year 2011.

House Bill 2360 (Increase state sales, income taxes)
to enact a state sales tax increase from the current 5.3 percent up to 6.3 percent, amend the Kansas Taxpayer Transparency Act, expand the food sales tax rebate program, and expand the state earned income tax credit (EITC) program.

House Bill 2221 (Ban smoking in public and workplaces)
to ban smoking in enclosed areas, including all public places, any placy of employment, taxicabs, hallways and more, but would not apply to outdoor areas, private residences, hotel or motel rooms, tobacco shops, certain private clubs and casino gaming floors.

House Bill 2320 (Impose nursing home tax)
to create a provider assessment tax on nearly all licensed beds within skilled nursing care facilities in the state of Kansas; deem the Kansas Health Policy Authority to be the state agency to calculate and implement the provider assessment; establish a Quality Care Fund where all assessments and penalties collected through the assessment program would be deposited; and, establish a Quality Care Improvement Panel.

House Bill 2356 (Increase state inspections of child care facilities)
to adopt “Lexie’s law” requiring the Department of Health and Environment to inspect every child care facility once every 15 months. The inspection frequency of a family child care home following an initial inspection will be at intervals that the department determines to be appropriate to assess the health, safety and well-being of children being cared for in the family child care home. In addition, to open certain records to the public regarding the identity of maternity center, family day care home, and child care facility licensees, but would allow the state to withhold such information if necessary to protect public health and safety or that of the facility’s patients or children.

House Bill 2130 (Mandate seat belts, allow traffic stops)
to amend state law to require every occupant of a passenger care to wear a safety belt. A law enforcement officer would now be permitted to stop a passenger car for any violation of the seat belt requirement by anyone in the front seat or anyone under 18. The fine for violations would be $5 until July 1, 2011, when it would increase to $10.

House Bill 2650 (Launch new state transportation works program)
to initiate a new state transportation works program, providing for the construction, improvement and maintenance of the state highway system; authorizing financial transfers between the State Highway Fund and the Rail Service Improvement Fund; increasing vehicle registration fees; increasing the borrowing authority of the Kansas Department of Transportation; and, pledging $8 million in transportation projects for each county in Kansas over the next 10 years.

Senate Bill 409 (Development of passenger rail service in Kansas)
to authorize the Kansas Secretary of Transportation to establish and implement a passenger rail service program in the state. To establish the program, the Secretary would enter into agreements with Amtrak and other rail operators to develop passenger rail service serving Kansas and other state. The agreements can include cost-sharing agreements and joint powers agreements. The Secretary should also enter into agreements with local jurisdictions along a proposed route. The bill also gives the Secretary authority to make loans or grants to passenger rail service providers for the purpose of restoring existing rail infrastructure, for rail economic development projects and the cost to initiate and operate passenger rail service. The bill does not specify where program funding would come from.

House Bill 2476 (Extend and increase court fees)
to increase a number of court fees and extend such judicial branch surcharges through fiscal year 2011 to fund non-judicial personnel working in the court system; the compromises recommended would alter specific fee increases for specific court actions with the fees ranging generally between $10 and $20.

Senate Bill 200 (Repeal partial HMO tax, apply full rate to all)
to repeal the partial state tax of 0.5 percent imposed on premiums charged against a few Health Maintenance Organizations so that the full one percent premiums tax would be applied uniformly against all HMOs.

House Bill 2582 (Extend and reallocate e-911 tax revenue to locals)
to delay for one year — until July, 1, 2011 — a provision in current law that discontinues the wireless enhanced 911 grant fee and the VoIP enhanced 911 grant fee, abolishes the wireless enhanced 911 advisory board and the grant fund, and that directs the distribution of the unobligated balance in the grant fund to public safety answering points (PSAPs).

House Bill 2554 (Expand tax incentives for hiring new workers)
expanding the PEAK program (Promoting Employment Across Kansas) by liberalizing its definitions, relaxing its requirements so that a company would be eligible if it relocated or expanded a portion of its business operations into the state, permitting qualified companies to retain 95 percent of the employees’ withholding taxes if the median wage paid to the new employees at least equals that paid throughout the county, and by requiring an independent evaluation of economic development incentives administered by the Kansas Department of Commerce.

House Bill 2226 (Change earmarks of traffic fine revenue, increase fines)
to increase the fine assessed on traffic infractions that are on the uniform fine schedule by $15. The revenue generated by the increased fines would be distributed to several justice related programs, including the Crime Victims Compensation Fund, the Crime Victims Assistance Fund, the Community Alcoholism and Intoxication Programs Fund, the Boating Fee Fund, the Children’s Advocacy Center Fund, and the criminal justice information system line fund.

Senate Bill 430 (Limit use of certain tax credits)
make a 10 percent cut in certain income tax credits permitted under current law; repeal a $3.75 million cap that had been imposed on historic preservation income tax credits; make statutory amendments needed for Kansas to remain in national compliance with the streamlined sales tax act; impose a $10 fee for delinquent taxpayers who enter into an installment payment plan agreement in excess of 90 days from the date of the payment plan agreement; and, people with intangibles tax liability would be required to file their returns with county clerks, rather than the Department of Revenue.

House Bill 2501 (Allow exemption from liability limit on mortgage insurers)
to allow the Kansas Department of Insurance to waive (at the sole discretion of the Commissioner of Insurance) the current requirement that a mortgage guaranty insurance company must have a total liability that does not exceed 25 times its capital, surplus and contingency reserve; to amend the definition of “RBC instruction” to mean risk-based capital instructions promulgated by a specified national insurance association; to prohibit firms that offer health care plans from requiring or requesting genetic tests, and prohibiting insurance companies from charging a higher premium because of any genetic test results; and, to grant rights to insurance customers in seeking special exceptions for cases in which their credit histories may affect their insurance coverage, allowing any such customer who experiences an “extraordinary life circumstance” that hurts their credit, and thereby causes an adverse insurance action, to obtain reasonable exceptions to the insurer’s rates.

House Bill 2485 (Increase evaluation period for trucking licenses)
to increase the time period from the current 12 up to 18 months for the Kansas Corporation Commission to verify a trucking company’s fitness and regulatory compliance for its continued operation.

House Bill 2472 (Specify rights in common interest communities)
to enact a set of rights and duties regarding people who live in common interest communities such as associations of apartment owners, but not owners currently and similarly bound by covenants unless they agree otherwise – setting forth duties in such communities regarding bylaws, owner voting rights, dispute resolutions, access to property, borrowing money, communications with owners, recordkeeping, and other matters; to prohibit until July 1, 2011, any city from adopting or enforcing any rule requiring the installation of a multi-purpose residential fire protection sprinkler system; and, to decrease down to 90 days, but permit a court to extend to up to 180 days, a compliance period for an abandoned property owner to carry out a rehabilitation plan where the property is brought into compliance with fire, housing and building codes and current on all ad valorem property tax owed, and to reduce from three to two years the time a person who purchases a house from an organization that has rehabilitated an abandoned property must occupy the house.

Senate Bill 389 (Compensation to dentists in health insurance plans)
to only permit a health insurance plan — including any individual health insurance policy, the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan and the state Medicaid program — to set fees for covered services (and not for uncovered services)provided by a dentist who is a participating provider in the plan.

Senate Bill 377 (Regulate retainage in construction contracts)
to prohibit an owner, contractor or subcontractor from withholding more than a five percent limit on the contract as retainage (money withheld to ensure proper work performance); to require release of retainage on an undisputed payment within 30 days after substantial completion of the project; to permit no more than 150 percent of the value of incomplete work, due to a contractor or subcontractor, to be withheld by an owner or contractor and require it be paid within 45 after completion of the work; and, to permit a general contractor to request an alternative security in lieu of retainage, such as an irrevocable bank letter or credit, certificate of deposit or cash bond.

Senate Bill 373 (Amending application of municipal court fees)
to require a $19 municipal court fee be imposed uniformly statewide in each case filed in municipal court, other than a nonmoving traffic violation, where there is a finding of guilty, a plea of guilty, a plea of no contest, or a forfeiture of bond or a diversion.

House Bill 2433 (Liberalize school purchasing process, Prison sales)
to allow all state educational institutions more independence in choosing how they acquire goods, supplies, equipment, services and land leases without the need to route acquisitions through the Kansas State Director of Purchases; and, to authorize the Department of Corrections for the next three years to sell prison-made goods to private citizens and businesses in Kansas.

House Bill 2415 (Exempt universities from surplus property law)
to exempt the six Kansas Regents universities from the current duty to dispose of any of their personal property through the terms of the Kansas Surplus Property Act. That law ordinarily makes the goods available for sale to the general public.

House Bill 2411 (Criminalize incense, “K2″)
to criminalize the unauthorized use or possession of certain chemicals known as “K2″, BZP and TFMPP that have been added to herbs and incense to produce hallucinogenic effects when inhaled or consumed.

House Bill 2353 (Ratify local sales tax vote for jail)
to retroactively validate a local election last year in Chautauqua County to impose a countywide sales tax where money raised would pay for a new county jail and law enforcement facility.

House Bill 2160 (Require state workers’ health plan to cover autism)
to require the state employees’ health plan to cover services for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders in any covered person less than 19 years old, and to require health insurance policies include coverage provisions for orally administered anti-cancer medications.

Senate Bill 83 (Require licensure of naturopathic doctors)
to change the regulatory status of naturopathic doctors with the Board of Healing Arts from registrants to licensees and to permit naturopaths to form professional corporations; and, to include two licensure categories — “exempt license” and “federally active license” — in the Physical Therapy Practice Act.

Kansas sales tax increase starts today

Today Kansans will face an added tax burden on retail purchases, as the statewide sales tax rate goes up by one cent per dollar. Touted by its backers like Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson as a “one percent” increase in the tax, it is actually an increase of (6.3 – 5.3) / 5.3 = 18.9 percent.

In some parts of the state, the combined rate will soar to over ten percent. The City of Lawrence is considering whether to require businesses to post signs advising — or warning– shoppers of the sales tax they’ll pay in stores.

The debate over the sales tax and the harm it causes was fueled by two studies that were often viewed as competing with each other, but really didn’t. One looked at the harmful effects of the tax for just one year and concluded that while the sales tax would destroy private sector jobs, a reduction in state spending would cause even more harm. Naturally, tax and spending advocates latched on to this study.

The other looked at a longer period of time and considered actual consumer response to increased taxes. It, not surprisingly, found that the sales tax would be very harmful.

The first study, besides looking at just one year, also shows evidence of faulty thinking. This study, produced by Wichita State University professor John D. Wong, contains this paragraph in its conclusion:

Second, the revenue enhancement scenario spreads the negative effects throughout the state, both geographically and across all 2.8 million residents. The effect on any individual and on any business is minor. In contrast, the spending reduction scenario severely affects a small number of state residents and businesses — state employees and those private-sector businesses that serve state employees and state government directly. The likelihood of a business failing under this scenario is much greater than in the tax increase scenario. A business failure will have a ripple effect across the economy.

In this paragraph we can find several examples of faulty economic thinking.

For example, as Kansas consumers will now have less discretionary income and may dine at restaurants less often, it’s possible that restaurants might close. More likely, however, the restaurant manager will find he doesn’t need as many employees to serve the diminished customer base, so a waiter loses his job.

These job losses, affecting just one or two people at a time and spread across the state, won’t create a business failure, as Wong mentions. There won’t be newspaper or television stories. But for the people directly harmed, I’m sure they won’t view the effect as “minor,” as Wong writes.

And Wong may have forgotten that each lost job produces a little ripple of its own.

Furthermore, when these job losses are aggregated over the state, there will be an impact. How much? Well, the sales tax is estimated by Wong to bring in $350 million, so we can use that as an estimate of the amount of money Kansans don’t have to spend at their own direction and discretion anymore.

(Wong notes that some of the sales tax will be paid by visitors to our state. Welcome to Kansas!)

We also see in the paragraph one of the primary problems with government taxation and spending. John Stossel explains:

The Public Choice school of economics calls this the problem of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Individual members of relatively small interest groups stand to gain huge rewards when they lobby for government favors, but each taxpayer will pay only a tiny portion of the cost of any particular program, making opposition pointless.

In this case the special interest groups include school spending advocates and state government employees. They believed they were fighting for their jobs. School spending advocates believed they were fighting for the children, too. But we ought to step back and consider the value of some of these jobs, and whether the services provided — education, for example — couldn’t be better provided in the marketplace rather than by government.

Also, we should note that school teachers and state government employees are represented by unions that spend millions advocating for their members each year. Waiters and others who will lose their jobs one at a time don’t have such representation.

So we had the powerfully-motivated special interests on one side. Then we had Governor Parkinson telling us not to worry, that in Wichita people didn’t even notice the one cent per dollar sales tax used to pay for the Intrust Bank Arena.

When you add in newspaper editorial writers like the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman, who today wrote that “No one relished raising sales taxes right now” and praised the arena sales tax, there you have the entire argument made.

Despite Holman’s claim, many people salivated at the idea of an increased sales tax, or any other tax. The governor viewed the tax increase as his legacy.

We also need to dismiss the claims of massive cuts to the Kansas budget. Recently Kansas Senate President Stephen Morris mentioned these, writing “… very difficult decisions were made to cut or reduce the $6 billion state budget by roughly $1.5 billion …”

For most people, a cut of $1.5 billion from a $6 billion budget means the state will spend $4.5 billion. But the spending bill passed by the legislature calls for spending $5.6 billion in fiscal year 2011, which starts on July 1, 2010.

Today the Eagle’s Holman makes a similar claim, mentioning “$1 billion in recent cuts to state services.”

These “budget cut” numbers make sense only when you look at planned spending, not actual spending. Even then you have to add up these phantom cuts over a period of years to get to the claims of Parkinson, Morris, Holman and other big-government spending advocates.

As the chart shows, actual spending has declined slightly, but is projected to rise during the fiscal year that starts today.

Kansas general fund spending

Over the years, we see that state spending in Kansas has risen rapidly, while at the same time our population in Kansas grows very slowly.

For the sales tax and spending increases to make economic sense, you have to believe that state government can spend money more wisely than its people can. Given the special interest group fingerprints all over this budget, that’s not going to happen.

What is the future of this sales tax? It’s scheduled to decline by 0.6 cents per dollar in three years, the remaining 0.4 cents per dollar to be used for transportation. But these taxes have a habit of failing to disappear on schedule. The supplemental note for the bill that last increased Kansas sales tax contains this: “The state sales and compensating (use) tax rate would be increased from 4.9 to 5.3 percent, effective June 1, 2002. The rates would then be reduced to 5.2 percent on June 1, 2004; and to 5.0 percent on June 1, 2005.”

As of yesterday the sales tax was was still 5.3 percent. The two scheduled reductions never took place. Sometimes promises from the Legislature don’t mean very much.

Kansas ‘pigs at the trough’ award goes to …

Last week the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) made a presentation on Kansas school finance in Wichita. KASB is making similar presentations around the state. Mark Tallman, Assistant Executive Director/Advocacy for KASB, made the Wichita presentation.

At the end of the presentation, Wichita school board member Connie Dietz stepped forward and addressed Tallman. She asked Diane Gjerstad, the Wichita school district’s lobbyist to join them at the front.

Dietz said that earlier this year, an organization had labeled schools as “pigs at the trough.” Saying she is speaking for herself only and not on behalf of any organization, Dietz noted that “Mark is our lead lobbyist for K-12 education, and Diane represents Wichita Public Schools.” She presented both with a memento that had something to do with pigs and oinking.

While most in the audience were amused — it consisted mostly of school spending advocates — Dietz may want to remember that it was Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson who first used the word “pig.” It’s explained in my article Kansas Governor, Wichita Eagle: why ‘pigs’ at the trough? A short version of it appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

Schoolchildren, of course, aren’t pigs at the trough, no matter what the governor, the Wichita Eagle, and Connie Dietz say. For one, children don’t make the decision to attend public (government) schools, as their parents make that decision for them. It is the schools themselves, specifically school spending advocates in the form of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union), the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), and school board members like Dietz that are feeding at the through.

Tallman, as Dietz noted, is the chief school spending advocate. (Let’s stop throwing insults like the governor did with the moniker “pig.”) It is his job to obtain as much money as possible for Kansas schools.

If we need any more evidence of the never-ending appetite of schools for money and what spending advocates like Tallman consider this mission, consider a story told by Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid (R-Olathe) of a conversation he had with Tallman: “During our discussion I asked Mr. Tallman if we (the State) had the ability to give the schools everything he asked for would he still ask for even more money for schools. His answer was, ‘Of course, that’s my job.'”

While presenting a humorous award made for a light ending to the meeting, the subject of public schools in Kansas is a serious matter. Tallman’s presentation — as does much of the school spending lobby — makes use of the rapidly rising scores on student achievement tests developed and administered by the State of Kansas. This allows him to present slides titled “Results of Increased Funding,” with one result being “Overall proficiency growth equaled or exceed the real increase in funding.” He cites a Kansas Legislative Post Audit study as authority.

The problem is that these Kansas state achievement tests, as is the case in many states, are almost certainly fraudulent. The rapid rise in scores is not duplicated on tests the state has no control over. Studies like the LPA study that use these misleading test scores are not reliable and should not be believed.

Looking at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), we see a different story that’s in seeming conflict with Tallman’s assessment. On this test, which Kansas school officials can’t control, Kansas scores are largely flat. Sometimes they rise slowly and sometimes they fall.

The ACT college entrance exam provides another look at the performance of Kansas schools. A recent report shows that for the period 2005 to 2009, Kansas ACT scores are up a small amount. For the most recent years, scores are down very slightly. The Kansas scores are slightly higher than the scores for the entire nation, and have mirrored the national trend.

The most shocking part of the report, however, is how few Kansas students graduate from high school ready for college. While Kansas high school students perform slightly better than the nation, only 26 percent of Kansas students that take the ACT test are ready for college-level coursework in all four areas that ACT considers.

For school spending advocates like Tallman and Dietz — to the extent they care to read and believe these figures — this is evidence that schools need even more money. We ought to realize, however, that the system itself is broken. Reforms promoted over the generations by education bureaucrats have failed. We need to look to freedom, competition, entrepreneurship, and choice — rather than a government monopoly — to provide a suitable education for Kansas schoolchildren.

Kansas Democrats described as ‘imploding’

Larry J. Sabato, who is director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, is a respected national political analyst who publishes Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an informative look at campaigns and races around the country.

In the most recent issue Sabato takes a look at 2010 gubernatorial races and concludes that “There’s now no question that the gubernatorial turnover in November will be historic.” He estimates that Republicans will add six or seven states to the count of those states with Republican governors.

In Kansas, Sabato is pointed in his criticism of Kansas Democrats and Governor Mark Parkinson:

Kansas: Gov. Mark Parkinson (D), who succeeded Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) when she joined President Obama’s Cabinet as Health and Human Services secretary, has left his party high and dry. He refused to run in 2010, and to add insult to injury, he picked as his new lieutenant governor a Democrat who also pledged not to run. Despite a respectable Democratic candidate in Tom Holland, the election is all but over. Republicans will re-take the governor’s office with current U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback. This is a remarkable example of the governing political party imploding. The GOP can count this one as in the bag.

Sabato rates Kansas as a “solid Republican takeover.”

While Sabato describes Kansas Senator Tom Holland as “respectable,” if Holland was attempting to use his votes in the senate this year to establish a record that might appeal to moderates, he failed in that effort. In the Kansas Economic Freedom Index, Holland is the only senator who scored 0%, meaning that voted against economic freedom in all votes considered by this index.

While it may be that the Kansas Democratic party is imploding, it has done very well in placing its members in statewide office. Considering Kansas statewide elected offices, five of the six are held by Democrats, and none were elected to their current positions.

Governor Parkinson, while elected lieutenant governor in 2006, rose to his present position when Kathleen Sebelius resigned as governor to take a position in President Obama’s cabinet.

Lieutenant Governor Troy Findley was appointed by Parkinson to replace himself.

Secretary of State Chriss Biggs was appointed by Parkinson when Republican Ron Thornburgh resigned earlier this year.

Attorney General Stephen Six was appointed by Sebelius when the incumbent, a Republican-turned-Democrat resigned.

Treasurer Dennis McKinney was appointed by Sebelius to replace Republican Lynn Jenkins, who won election to the United States Congress.

On the Kansas Supreme Court, there are three Republicans and three Democrats, with one Justice being unaffiliated, according to a Kansas Liberty story. In 2005, an analysis by the Kansas Meadowlark had the breakdown as five Democrats and two Republicans.

Kansas News Digest

News from alternative media around Kansas for May 21, 2010.

Light withdraws bid for re-election: Will others follow?

(Kansas Republican Assembly) “State Representative Bill Light withdrew his candidacy for re-election to the Kansas House May 12. Light was facing a strong conservative challenge in the August primary by Dan Widder of Ulysses.”

Historic sales tax increase and nanny-state laws mark the 2010 session in Kansas

(Kansas Liberty) “So far Gov. Mark Parkinson has signed into law a total of 149 bills, and Parkinson now has until May 28 to take action on any remaining bills that were passed by the Legislature during the veto session. Parkinson has not allowed any bill to become law without his signature at this time and has vetoed two bills. Conservative Republicans in both chambers were largely overpowered yet again in the 2010 legislative session by a coalition of left-wing Republicans and Democrats which has managed to retain the majority in both the House and Senate.”

Kansans exposed to tax hike starting July 1

(Kansas Liberty) “Starting July 1, Kansas residents can expect to start paying 19 percent more in sales tax so that the state government can continue to spend at the level deemed appropriate by Governor Mark Parkinson, left-wing Republicans and Democrats in the Kansas Legislature. Small-business advocates said the coalition of ‘tax and spend’ legislators ‘did not want to believe there was an alternative’ to a tax hike.'”

Kansas survey: 10,000 new ‘green’ jobs by 2012

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – The environmentally conscious ‘green’ movement has the potential to create 10,000 new jobs in Kansas by 2012, according to a new state survey released Tuesday.”

Tax package means go-head for giant Kansas freight hub

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Legislation approving Kansas’ recently voted 1-cent sales tax increase will trigger construction this year of a controversial Johnson County intermodal rail freight hub, the Kansas Department of Transportation said Tuesday. KDOT and developers of the long-planned 1,000 acre rail-truck shipping center and logistic park complex along Interstate 35 in Edgerton said they reached an agreement in which the state will provide a $35 million grant to BNSF Railway in exchange for a pledge to begin work on the project this year.”

Kansas lawmakers touch tax and budget records

(Kansas Reporter) “A new analysis by the Kansas Legislative Research Department of the final budget lawmakers sent to the governor calculates that state general fund spending will increase 3.8 percent, or about $204.5 million, to $5.6 billion in the fiscal year beginning July 1. That total is the second largest in recent record, topped only by $6.06 billion of state general funds spent in fiscal 2009. All-funds spending, which includes federal and special revenue funds as well as state general fund money, is projected to decrease in 2011 to $13.7 billion, a more than 5 percent reduction from the recent record $14.4 billion reached this year.”

Planned Parenthood Urges Governor To Veto Huelskamp’s Ban of Federal Funding For Services

(State of the State KS) “Planed Parenthood supporters came to the capital Wednesday to deliver petitions to Governor Parkinson, urging him to veto part of the state budget that would make Planed Parenthood ineligible for federal funding.”

Governor Parkinson Says Budget Puts Kansas On The Right Path For Next Four Years

(State of the State KS) “Governor Mark Parkinson (D) held a press conference Wednesday where he reflected on the 2010 legislative session. In his State of the State address in January, Parkinson called on the legislature to protect education, social services and public safety, to pass a comprehensive transportation plan and to bring improvements to nursing homes across the state. Parkinson said legislators stepped up, protecting 150 years of progress in Kansas an bringing jobs to the state.”

Tiahrt and Moran Trade Shots on Earmarks and A New Poll Shows Increasing Support In Senate Race

(State of the State KS) “The Tiahrt and Moran campaign sparred over earmarks last week with both agreeing that the original intent of bringing federal dollars for local needs was good, but Washington now needs earmark and spending reform.”

Former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane Speaks Out On Support for Mike Pompeo

(State of the State KS) “Former White House National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane came out swinging for Mike Pompeo (R) this weekend, responding to a story in the Wichita Eagle. McFarlane is a leader on national security issues, working in the Ford and Reagan administrations. The Eagle article highlighted a Pompeo fundraiser hosted by McFarlane, calling him a ‘D.C. big name’ and cited fellow Congressional campaigners saying McFarlane’s support made Pompeo a Washington insider.”

Kansas House passes ‘Lexie’s Law’

(Kansas Watchdog) “After passing the 1% increase in sales tax very early Tuesday, the Kansas House at 2:15 AM addressed HB 2356, otherwise known as Lexie’s Law. The purpose of the bill was to improve inspections of child care facilities in Kansas after preventable deaths had occurred.”

Watchdogs talk about Investigative Journalism

(Kansas Watchdog) “On Saturday at the American Majority Post-Party Summit held in Kansas City, Missouri two of the sessions were about investigative journalism. These sessions were to encourage citizen journalists to get more involved in keeping government at all levels — federal, state, county, local — more accountable.”

Senator Brownlee’s official protest of budget bill

(Kansas Watchdog) “The true energizing power in an economy is the productivity and ingenuity of its people when they are freed from excessive government taxation and regulation to provide for their families. We have lost sight of the fact that there is not a public or government sector without a healthy private sector. Too many times this session we have heard a legislator postulate that government spending in some manner helps save our economy. If this were actually true, our economy should be overheating with all of the overspending by states and the federal government.”

New report outlines Kansas consequences of health reform

(Kansas Health Institute News Service) “TOPEKA – The likely consequences of federal health reform for Kansas are detailed in a new report scheduled for public release Tuesday during a meeting of the Kansas Health Policy Authority board.”

Budget and taxes decided, Legislature leaves

(Kansas Health Institute News Service) “TOPEKA — After four months of struggling with the issues of budgets and taxes, the Legislature finished its work today and concluded all but the ceremonial end of the 2010 session.”

Kansas Governor, Wichita Eagle: why ‘pigs’ at the trough?

When the Kansas Chamber of Commerce recently referred to the need to control Kansas government spending and taxes, a few politicians and newspaper editorial writers embellished what the Chamber actually said in order to make their own political points.

Here’s what the Kansas Chamber said in its press release dated May 8:

“As of today, the legislature has failed to address the needs and wishes of the business community. It has instead catered to the needs of those at the government trough. The Kansas legislature has turned a deaf ear to the hard-working businessmen and women who have made the decision to invest in Kansas and provide jobs for our citizens. Instead of responsibly funding state government without raising taxes, a coalition of liberal House and Senate members have instead chosen to slash crucial services and push for a historic tax hike on Kansas families,” said Kansas Chamber President Kent Beisner.

Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson, an advocate for greater government spending and taxing, seized this opportunity for political gamesmanship. His press release on May 10 stated “It is heartbreaking to think that somebody would equate the disabled, the elderly, school children, veterans, law enforcement and the poor to pigs at a trough.”

His message used the “pigs at a trough” symbolism several additional times.

The Governor’s use of the word “pigs” — inflammatory imagry, to say the least — started making the rounds. It was picked up by editorialists and other writers, including the Wichita Eagle’s opinion editor Phillip Brownlee. In his editorial Kids, disabled aren’t pigs at a trough (Wichita Eagle, May 13) Brownlee wrote: “So schoolchildren and individuals with disabilities are akin to pigs at a trough?”

Brownlee’s editorial starts by complaining that the Kansas Chamber used some “over-the-top rhetoric during the state budget debate.”

Well, the Kansas Chamber didn’t use the word “pigs.” That was the governor’s language, then repeated by liberal editorial writers like Brownlee and the Winfield Daily Courier’s David Seaton when he editorialized: “Efforts by the president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce to characterize educators, the elderly, the disabled and public safety employees as pigs at ‘the government trough’ did not succeed.”

Since Governor Parkinson brought it up, we ought to think about it for a moment. Schoolchildren, of course, aren’t pigs at the trough, no matter what the governor and Wichita Eagle say. For one, children don’t make the decision to attend public (government) schools, as their parents make that decision for them. It is the schools themselves, specifically school spending advocates in the form of Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) that are the pigs.

If these school spending advocates were truly concerned about the education of Kansas schoolchildren, they would allow for government spending on education to be targeted at the child, to be spent wherever parents feel their children’s needs will best be met. But the school spending lobby in Kansas vigorously resists any challenge to their monopoly on public money for education, which reveals that they’re really more interested in spending on schools by any means, at any cost rather than on education.

If we need any more evidence of the never-ending appetite of schools for money, consider a story told by Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid (R-Olathe) of a conversation he had with Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards: “During our discussion I asked Mr. Tallman if we (the State) had the ability to give the schools everything he asked for would he still ask for even more money for schools. His answer was, ‘Of course, that’s my job.'”

The Eagle editorial mentions a number of local chambers of commerce that have split away from the state chamber. We should recognize that in many cases, local chambers have become boosters for big government taxes and spending. An article titled Tax Chambers by the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore explains the decline of local chambers of commerce: “The Chamber of Commerce, long a supporter of limited government and low taxes, was part of the coalition backing the Reagan revolution in the 1980s. On the national level, the organization still follows a pro-growth agenda — but thanks to an astonishing political transformation, many chambers of commerce on the state and local level have been abandoning these goals. They’re becoming, in effect, lobbyists for big government.”

This was certainly the case with the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. Under its president Brian Derreberry, it had been in favor of increased government interventionism instead of free markets. An example was its support of proven fiscal conservative Karl Peterjohn’s opponent in the campaign for Sedgwick County Commissioner in 2008. In that campaign, the Wichita Chamber spent some $19,000 — 44% of all it spent on campaigns that year — on Peterjohn’s opponent, a small town mayor who had just increased taxes.

Last year the Wichita Chamber hired former Kansas House Member Jason Watkins to be its lobbyist. The hiring of Watkins, a fiscal conservative, seemed to signal a possible shift in the Wichita Chamber’s direction. The fact that the Wichita Chamber did not break away from the Kansas Chamber’s opposition to tax increases validates that perception.

We should also note that many of the goals of the Kansas Chamber, such as efficient government, reducing taxes, encouraging business investment and growth, and promoting economic growth in Kansas, are good for all Kansans, not just business. Even government employees — and the governor himself — must realize that government does not create wealth. Instead, it is business that creates wealth that provides for our standard of living. It is business that creates the economic activity that generates the tax revenue that makes government spending possible.

The Eagle’s repetition of the governor’s attack on the Kansas Chamber fits right in with its pro-government, anti-economic freedom agenda.

Kansas or New Jersey: Which state is on the better road to prosperity?

By Derrick Sontag.

What’s the difference between Kansas and New Jersey? One answer that comes to mind: unlike the comparison to our neighboring states, Kansas has a more limited, fiscally conservative government than the Garden State. Or so we thought.

Let’s look at the actions of the two states over the last few weeks. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, in response to a budget deficit approaching $11 billion, has proposed a 5 percent reduction in state spending. This is a result of his campaign promise to force government to live within its means, a pledge that led him to defeat an incumbent governor. This and voters being fed up with an excessive tax burden.

There are some pressuring Gov. Christie to raise taxes but he has said that to accede to tax increases would “kill a job market already on life support.” He went on to say, “Mark my words today: if a tax increase is sent to my desk, I’ll veto it.”

How do Christie’s actions compare to what’s happened in Kansas? In response to a budget gap of more than $500 million, Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson threatened to veto any budget that hit his desk that didn’t rely on a tax increase. Two weeks later a coalition of Democrats and liberal Republicans complied with his demands by passing the second largest tax increase in the history of our state, a sales tax increase designed to fund a spending increase of more than $200 million.

There have been claims the tax increase will create economic growth and job creation, despite a well-respected economist’s study indicating quite the contrary. It’s as if legislators are echoing the economic growth pledges heard in Washington D.C. when the stimulus plan passed. Instead, that D.C. plan has led to 10 percent unemployment and, according to initial projections, will result in our GDP being lower ten years from now than if Congress had done nothing at all.

Apparently Gov. Christie and a majority of the voters in New Jersey understand the economic truism of “the more you tax something the less of it you’re going to get.” They can point to years of fiscally liberal practices and an unbearable tax burden.

So what’s the difference between the two states? We’ll always have a beautiful landscape and friendly people. But let’s hope New Jersey doesn’t end up being the state with a better road to prosperity.

Derrick Sontag is the Kansas state director of Americans for Prosperity. He lives in Topeka.

Kansas Senate passes tax bill, on to House

Tonight the Kansas Senate passed its tax bill, adding about $330 million in new taxes for fiscal year 2011, which begins on July 1, 2010. The primary source of the new tax revenue is a one cent per dollar increase in the sales tax. The measure passed with 23 votes in the 40 member Senate.

Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson issued this statement after the legislation passed:

This evening, as I worked in my Statehouse office and listened to the floor debate, I was stirred by the honesty, sincerity and passion with which Senators spoke.

Tonight, 23 Senators — some Republican, some Democrat; some from our rural districts, some from our urban cores — put politics aside and came together for the common good.

These leaders stood up, and protected those things which make our state great: quality schools, safe communities and a society that does not turn its back on those most in need.

I am proud of these leaders, and I know Kansans are too. There is still work to be done and challenges ahead, but we are moving forward, protecting what we have and building for the future.

Somehow voting for tax increases has become confused with political courage.

Voting Yes on the bill were all Senate Democrats except Chris Steineger. Joining them were Republicans Pete Brungardt, Jay Emler, Terrie Huntington, Bob Marshall, Carolyn McGinn, Senate President Stephen Morris, Ralph Ostmeyer, Tim Owens, Roger Reitz, Vicki Schmidt, Jean Schodorf, Mark Taddiken, Ruth Teichman, Dwayne Umbarger, and Senate Vice President John Vratil.

Voting No on the bill were Republicans Steve Abrams, Pat Apple, Jim Barnett, Karin Brownlee, Terry Bruce, Jeff Colyer, Les Donovan, Tim Huelskamp, Dick Kelsey, Julia Lynn, Ty Masterson, Mike Petersen, Mary Pilcher-Cook, Dennis Pyle, Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, and Susan Wagle. As mentioned above, Democrat Chris Steineger voted No.

Kansas is a Republican, not conservative, state

A recent editorial prepared by the Kansas Republican Party concluded with: “Kansas Republicans are presenting a united front with sound plans to meet the challenges of a 21st century economy. Our philosophy centers on liberating the promise of the individual and family as the answer, not more government growth, on a path to prosperity.”

That’s a fiscally conservative message. The practice of many Kansas Republicans, however, is far removed from this message advocating limited government. Kansas Republicans, especially the Senate leadership, are working to increase taxes in Kansas in a way that leads to more government growth at the expense of many thousands of private sector jobs in favor of government jobs.

It starts with Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson. Although he is a Democrat, it was not long ago he was a Republican, even holding the chairmanship of the Kansas Republican Party. In his State of the State address in January, Parkinson proposed a temporary once cent on the dollar increase in the sales tax and an increase in cigarette taxes. Although the majority of the sales tax is pitched to Kansans as a temporary measure, these temporary taxes have a nasty habit of becoming permanent.

In the Senate, the leadership trio of President Stephen Morris, Vice President John Vratil, and Majority Leader Derek Schmidt agree with the governor that increasing taxes is the way to balance the Kansas budget. In particular, Vratil imported a California law that taxes the sugar content of soda pop. The California law had the benefit that the tax revenue would go towards promoting childhood health. In Kansas, the revenue would go to the general fund.

In both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Republicans hold a majority of seats. But many Republicans do not vote a conservative position on taxes and spending. At a recent legislative forum, Representative Ray Merrick, who is House Majority Leader, explained the political reality in the House. There are 76 Republican members of the House, but Merrick said that on the “very best day” there are 55 who will vote with him, meaning they are conservative Republicans. 63 votes are required to pass legislation in the House.

Who are these legislators that belong to the Republican party but don’t vote with conservatives on issues of taxation and spending? According to rankings prepared by Americans For Prosperity-Kansas, for the 2009 session of the Kansas Legislature, the Democrat with the highest (most fiscally conservative) ranking is Jerry Williams, with a ranking of 55%. There are 11 Republicans who rank equivalent or lower than this. Their names are:

Jill Quigley of Lenexa,
Sheryl Spalding of Overland Park,
Kay Wolf of Prairie Village,
Ron Worley of Lenexa,
Terrie Huntington (now in the Kansas Senate) of Fairway,
Jo Ann Pottorf of Wichita,
Tom Sloan of Lawrence,
Don Hill of Emporia,
Bob Brookens of Marion,
Barbara Craft of Junction City, and
Charles Roth of Salina.

For the Senate, a similar analysis is clouded by the presence of Democrat Chris Steineger, who is an outlier among Democrats for his consistent votes in favor of fiscal restraint and taxpayers. But some of the worst-ranking Republicans are these:

Jean Schodorf of Wichita,
Pete Brungardt of Salina,
Stephen Morris of Hugoton, who is President of the Senate,
Tim Owens of Overland Park,
Roger Reitz of Manhattan,
Derek Schmidt of Independence, who is Senate Majority Leader,
Vicki Schmidt of Topeka, and
John Vratil of Leawood, who is Vice President of the Senate.

The Kansas Economic Freedom Index, a new project of mine, will also let us learn who votes in favor of economic freedom and against big government, no matter what their party affiliation indicates.

Kansas House leadership plans to balance budget without tax increases

A legislative panel at yesterday’s AFP Kansas Defending the American Dream Summit 2010 featured members of the Kansas House of Representatives Leadership presenting the case that the budget can be balanced without increasing taxes on Kansans.

Speaking first, Representative Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican who is chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the legislature is trying to balance the Kansas state budget without a tax increase.

Yoder spoke of the momentum behind increasing government spending, noting that it used to be that if you didn’t get a five percent increase, it was called a budget cut. Arguments were over whether an agency would receive a seven, eight, or nine percent increase in funding. “There are some who always want to spend more, and there are some for who it’s never enough.”

Yoder said that despite what Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson wants for his legacy, we must pass a budget without raising taxes.

Yoder said that when times get tough, government has to cut back spending just like businesses and families have had to do. Despite the talk of “bone-cutting,” he said that spending continues.

He said that in the last year, Kansas lost about 50,000 private sector jobs. But at the same time, public sector jobs grew. “That doesn’t sound like cutting to the bone to me,” he told the audience. There is more waste to be eliminated and greater efficiencies to be found.

Yoder said that SB 572 is the budget bill that passed out of the House Appropriations committee last week. He said it adds funding for public safety and the physically and mentally disabled. It does not devastate services, he added.

Speaking next, Olathe Republican Arlen Siegfreid, who is Speaker Pro Tem of the House, told the audience that Kansas has a “fundamentally flawed” budget system. He noted that it has been said from the beginning that the budget can’t be balance without raising taxes can’t be done. But Yoder and House Majority Leader Ray Merrick have shown that this can be done.

Siegfreid said that it is apparent that the administration’s position is to raise taxes, and it is their only position. Sales taxes, cigarette and tobacco taxes, alcohol taxes, elimination of sales tax exemptions, raising taxes on utilities, and now an income tax increase have been in the mix.

He reminded the audience that these taxes would be on top of a large increase in unemployment insurance taxes caused by a mistake made by the Kansas Department of Labor.

The Kansas House Leadership has attempted to help the people of Kansas, Siegfreid said. He listed a number of proposed measures that have not passed, including health care savings accounts, a simplified tax structure, requiring the Department of Revenue to pay a penalty if they delay tax refunds, a property tax bill that did not allow for automatic increases, and the PEAK bill, an economic development bill for very small companies, which was vetoed by the governor.

The House has led the way over the last several years in creating a good environment for capital in the state of Kansas, Siegfreid told the audience, adding that “We have to have capital investment if we are to create jobs, and what Kansas needs is jobs. … In any real sense, government increases revenue only when business and individuals prosper. We should not depend on tax increases. We should depend on prosperity to increase revenue.”

Representative Ray Merrick, who is House Majority Leader, explained the political reality in the House. There are 76 Republican members of the House, but Merrick said that on the “very best day” there are 55 who will vote with him, meaning they are conservative Republicans. 63 votes are required to pass legislation in the House.

He recited the large annual increases in the budget in recent years as evidence that our problem in Kansas is spending, not lack of revenue. Noting that no members of the Senate Leadership are present at the AFP event, he said they are not “of like mind.” (Americans for Prosperity advocates for limited government and free markets.) Their game plan from the beginning, he said, was to not look for savings in the budget, but to increase taxes. Their interest is in growing government.

While the governor has said he will veto a budget that doesn’t include tax increases, Merrick said we should let him do just that. He added that perhaps the session could be finished by Friday May 7.

In answering a question, Merrick said that Missouri has a billion dollar budget deficit. Its Democratic governor said that Missouri will balance its budget without raising taxes. Missouri is also considering eliminating the corporate income tax, followed by elimination of the personal income tax.

Warning of the danger of temporary tax increase such as the Kansas Governor is proposing, Merrick reminded the audience that in 2002 Kansas passed what was to be a temporary increase in the sales tax, but that increase has not gone away.

AFP Kansas summit begins

About 400 concerned citizens are gathered at the Maner Conference Center in Topeka for the Kansas Defending the American Dream Summit 2010. This event is produced by Americans for Prosperity-Kansas.

The day of the event coincides with the return of Kansas legislators to Topeka to work on the Kansas budget. Both the Governor and Senate leadership are in favor of large tax increases. The House of Representatives leadership has a budget that is balanced without tax increases.

“We stand for free market principles,” said AFP Kansas state director Derrick Sontag. “We’re a group of grassroots individuals who stand for limited government. This principle is under attack.”

Sontag mentioned Wall Street bailouts and cap-and-trade energy legislation as areas of concern. He asked “How many of you went to a tea party because you’re angry about the government takeover of the health care system?” The audience roared with approval.

He told the audience that many legislators and a large group of taxpayer-funded lobbyists are gathering at the statehouse getting ready to ask Kansans to bear the burden of years of state overspending. This is not acceptable, he added.

The spending advocates don’t tell taxpayers that the Kansas budget grew by 40 percent during a five-year period. We’ll remind them later today at the rally at the Capitol, he said.

Sontag said that we have fewer private sector jobs than we did ten years ago, saying that raising taxes now is not a good idea.

He disagreed with Governor Mark Parkinson’s contention that there is no waste in Kansas government, that the budget is already “cut to the bone.” Sontag said that the Parkinson has demanded that the legislature send him a budget that includes tax increases. He said the best message we can send is “November is coming,” referring to upcoming elections.

Tim Phillips, President of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, told the audience that tea party opponents said the movement would die away. But Phillips said that our opponents and President Obama should realize that the November elections will be a turning point if conservative activists do their job. “It’s up to us to keep doing the hard work of freedom.”

Phillips told the audience that Kansas was the first state chapter of Americans for Prosperity. “We wanted a grassroots organization that would stand up and fight for our economic freedom.” He said our opponents want more power, more government, more taxes, and more programs that benefit them and their friends. Those who love freedom want to be left alone, but Phillips said that unless we get involved, we won’t be left alone.

Do we make a difference, Phillips asked? He said that polls showing 58 percent of Americans wanting to repeal the health care bill is evidence that yes, we are making a difference. The battle over cap-and-trade energy legislation is another example of a victory.

Other coverage of this event from State of the State KS is at Americans For Prosperity Bring Tax Protest To Topeka.

Wichita-area legislative meeting reveals differences in approach to government

Yesterday’s meeting of the South-central Kansas legislative delegation with citizens featured, in the words of one senator, a level of intensity not seen in previous meetings of this body. Senator Dick Kelsey made this observation, remarking that this is the first such meeting where the two parties have been mentioned. Following are a few notes and observations from this meeting.

Conservative groups and advocates often display a chart showing that Kansas spending increased very rapidly during much of the last decade. Representative Melody McCray-Miller reminded the audience that it is Republicans who have been in the majority of both the House of Representatives and the Senate during this time.

A suggestion by Representative Kasha Kelley that the state could sell some assets to help with the budget was met with disapproval from some members of the audience.

The audience, which was composed largely of advocates for school spending, union leaders and members representing Kansas state government employees, and people needing social services, cheered several times at mentions of raising the state’s sales tax. Suggestions involving cutting spending or other solutions were not met with approval.

Representative Marc Rhoades of Newton, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and vice chair of the Social Services Budget Committee, gave several examples of how some funding for social services has been restored. He said that the committee takes “a lot of pride in working together across party lines.” He added that there is an effort to increase the state’s investigation of fraud. He said that the former Inspector General of the Kansas Health Policy Authority quit. At the time the Wichita Eagle reported that Robin Kempf “said she resigned from the post because agency managers pressured her and interfered with her ability to do her job.”

Representative Jim Ward, however, disagreed with Rhoades’ characterization of bipartisanship, noting that not one Democrat voted for the budget passed out of the committee, and mentioning large across-the-board cuts.

Ward said there is “Fundamental disagreement on values on the state budget.” Some groups — he pointed to material provided by the Kansas Policy Institute — want to cut taxes and let the economy grow. But Ward said that at some point spending cuts will prevent state agencies from fulfilling their mission, mentioning Meals on Wheels and schools specifically.

Ward mentioned another type of spending the state does: “We spent over $12 billion in tax cuts the in the last ten years.”

Senator Les Donovan, who is chair of the Kansas Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee spoke about the tax increase proposals that were heard in that committee. His committee heard several days of testimony on raising various taxes such as the sales tax, alcohol tax, tobacco tax, and creating a new tax on sugar in soft drinks. Donovan “moderated” each of these taxes, proposing to implement them at a lower rate than what was introduced in the bill. But each tax bill failed to make it out of that committee. (See Kansas sugar tax testimony heard, bill doesn’t advance, Tax on beer, liquor subject of Kansas Senate committee hearing, and Kansas tax increases promoted, even by Republicans.)

In his remarks yesterday Donovan listed — from memory — tax cuts that have been made: A cut in income tax rates for single individuals, an increase in the personal tax exemption, elimination of the marriage penalty, removal of the sales tax on residential remodeling, a cut of 15 mills from property tax (both commercial and residential, with close to 80% of the property being residential), removal of income tax on military retirement pay, a reduction in the taxes on automobile registration, creation of an exemption of $20,000 of valuation on residential property taxes, an increase in the earned income tax credit (a program at both the federal and state levels that issues grants to low income families), an increase in the food sales tax rebate program, exemption of social security payments from Kansas taxation for many families, exemption of residential utilities from sales tax, and elimination of the Kansas inheritance tax.

Donovan said that these tax cuts are larger, by far, than the business tax cuts that spending advocates, including Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson, blame in part for the current budget deficit.

Kansas budget can be balanced without tax increases

As the Kansas Legislature prepares to get to work next week producing a budget plan for the next year, Kansans are being told that tax increases are inevitable. Several sources, however, have ideas and detailed plans as to how the state can avoid tax increases.

Kansas Senator Chris Steineger, a Democrat from Kansas City, has a list of cost-cutting measures that could be implemented quickly. See Kansas can have fast, achievable savings for his list.

Steineger also has what he calls the billion dollar list, which contains items that could save even more money. Some of these proposals such as downsizing the legislature, consolidation of Kansas counties, and consolidation of state agencies, might take more time to implement. But these proposals, if implemented, would place Kansas government on a permanent low-cost track.

The Kansas Policy Institute has developed some proposals for savings that it delivered in the form of a letter to Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson. The proposal contains some revenue enhancements that are not in the form of tax increases, which is usually what proponents of revenue enhancements mean. It also contains many cost-cutting measures.

In the letter, KPI President Dave Trabert raises a point that I’ve not heard from any other source. The large budget gap that is routinely mentioned is composed in part of federal stimulus (ARRA) dollars that Kansas received, just like other states. But these funds will not be available in the next budget year, fiscal year 2011. According to KPI, ARRA funds accounted for $205 million of spending in fiscal year 2010.

Should these “missing” funds — which everyone knew were temporary — now be used to create a large “budget gap” in order to justify the need for tax increases? Trabert explains: “KPI uses a taxpayer-focused approach that defines 2010 spending as that which was funded by state taxes. Your proposed 2011 budget would allow government to continue spending at levels funded by both state and federal tax dollars. It was well known that the stimulus money was temporary and that the state should plan accordingly, so state taxpayers should not be required to pay more to make up the difference.”

The need to avoid further tax increases is vital to the Kansas economy, as Trabert notes in his letter to the governor: “The Kansas economy is already absorbing a $163 million unemployment tax increase that is negatively impacting jobs and we must do everything we can to avoid further damage.”

The KPI letter and analysis may be read by clicking on Letter to Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson.

Another plan comes from Americans for Prosperity-Kansas, which has prepared its commonsense budget proposal for fiscal year 2011. AFP’s plan contains both long-term and short-term measures for restoring our state’s fiscal health. It contains many specific measures that could be taken immediately to balance the budget without raising taxes.

The AFP document is a comprehensive look at Kansas government spending, as noted in the introduction: “Following the approach of a concise but broad-ranging examination of every function Kansas state government attempts to perform, AFP has produced a budget that makes real tax cuts possible for Kansas taxpayers. AFP has gone beyond the traditional cursory examinations of state spending where the stock solutions are merely eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and/or rooting out duplication.”

As an example, for the Revisor of Statutes office the proposal suggests this: “This department received an increase of over 23 percent for FY 2008 which only partially reflects the cost of two FTEs for committee staffing. With the updated computer systems and additional staffing the Revisor’s office should be able to suffice with the reduction of 15 percent of appropriations funding.”

The AFP budget proposal was developed by Steven J. Anderson, a certified public accountant with extensive experience in government accounting and budgets.

The AFP budget proposal may be read at AFP-Kansas releases FY 2011 “Commonsense Budget Proposal.”