Tag Archives: Politics

For Kansas’ Roberts, a shift in voting sentiment

Kansans should be happy that Senator Pat Roberts is voting in a fiscally conservative way. Happy, but skeptical.

Organizations like Club for Growth produce scorecards of legislators. The motto of Club for Growth is “Prosperity and Opportunity through Economic Freedom.” It supports candidates who believe in pro-growth policies, limited government, low taxes, and economic freedom. Kansans who believe in these values can trust Club for Growth as a reliable indicator of candidates’ beliefs and actions.

The Club for Growth creates voting scorecards. These scorecards are a selection of votes that the organization believes distinguish between those who support the club’s pro-growth goals, and those who don’t. Scorecards like this are valuable because they show what officeholders have actually done, which may be different from what they say they have done, or what they promise to do.

Kansans should be happy that its senior senator Pat Roberts has been voting largely in alignment with these policies that promote growth and economic freedom. These votes are good for Kansas, and good for America.

But it hasn’t always been this way for Roberts, and we don’t know what the future holds. If reelected, Roberts could return to his usual voting habits.

The voting record of Pat Roberts and a group of peers, from Club for Growth. Click for larger version.
The voting record of Pat Roberts and a group of peers, from Club for Growth. Click for larger version.
There’s little doubt that Roberts is voting in a way divergent from his past. Even the New York Times noticed a shift in Roberts’ voting as an election approaches, recently reporting “And Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, eyeing his state’s sharp turn to the right, made sure to align his votes with the fiscally conservative Club for Growth 84 percent of the time last year.”

I’ve gathered scorecard results from Club for Growth for all years available. In the nearby chart, I present the scores for Roberts. I also present the average scores for a group of Republican senators that are often criticized for straying from fiscally conservative policies. This group includes Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Richard Lugar of Indiana, John McCain of Arizona, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Roberts.

As you can see, Roberts tracks this groups of senators fairly closely. Some years Roberts voted more in alignment with the goals of Club for Growth, and some years less. But in 2013, as the New York Times noticed, Roberts departed quite a bit from this pack of of Republicans.

So Kansans and all Americans should be pleased that Pat Roberts has been voting for limited government and economic freedom. But it’s out of character for him, and the election-year timing can’t be ignored as a motivating factor. What will Roberts do when a election is not near?


Scorecards such as these and others, including the ones that I’ve personally constructed, have caveats. For example, some members have not been in office very long. Issues in which you have an interest may not have been voted on during the member of interest’s tenure. Or, the vote may not have been a recorded vote, which is common. Also, the mere fact of a vote for or against a bill does not measure or account for leadership on the issue, or intensity of interest and involvement. I’ve not seen scorecards that incorporate the work performed and votes made in committees, which is an important part of legislating. Further, the selection of votes to be included is an issue. Organizations that create scorecards generally have issues that are important to them, and may focus on a subset of issues to the exclusion of all others.

WichitaLiberty.TV July 2, 2014

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

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

Kansas Farm Scenic Sky Clouds Wheat Farmland kansas-243079_1280

Third annual Kansas Freedom Index released

From Kansas Policy Institute.

3rd Annual Kansas Freedom Index Released

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Freedom Index by the Numbers

For Tiahrt, earmarks are good government

Appearing today on The Joseph Ashby Show, candidate for United States House of Representatives Todd Tiahrt defended the practice of earmarking federal spending.

Joseph Ashby Show 2014-06-30The ending of earmarks, he said, has shifted responsibility for allocating funds from Congress to the executive. Earmarks do not increase spending, he said.

United States Capitol, July 2011
United States Capitol, July 2011
He said that Congress should take away the president’s pen, and should do that by allocating funding properly. When pressed by the host, Tiahrt repeated that earmarks do not increase spending.

This is the standard argument: Earmarks simply direct the spending of money that is already authorized to be spent. Earmarking does not increase the amount spent. Which, of course, bypasses the fact that Congress authorizes a certain amount to be spent. If Congress is concerned that too much is being spent, it could authorize less.

There is broad agreement among limited-government conservatives that earmarks are harmful. Taxpayers for Common Sense concludes:

Earmarks reflect a broken budget process. Too often earmarks reward parochial interests at the expense of national needs. The earmarking process also often subverts established merit-based, competitive, or formula-driven budget processes without debate. Ultimately earmarks may fund projects many people consider “good” projects, but the earmark process does not guarantee these are the most beneficial and worthwhile projects.

At The Heritage Foundation, commentary on a Harvard Business school study opened with:

What happens when a state is lucky enough to have one of their Senators ascend to one of the three most powerful committee chairmanships? According to a new study by three Harvard Business School the average state then experiences a 40 to 50 percent increase in earmark spending (the figure is a smaller 20% for powerful House committees). So this new government spending is then a boon to the state right? The public spending stimulates economic growth right? Wrong. Turns out, increased federal spending is connected with a decrease in corporate capital expenditures and employment.

It should be noted that while in Congress, Tiahrt served on the Committee on Appropriations, one of the “powerful House committees” referred to. Further evidence of Tiahrt’s attitude is that today on Ashby’s show he referred to Jim DeMint, the former senator, anti-earmark crusader, and now president of Heritage, as a failure.

At The Cato Institute, Tad DeHaven wrote that earmarks are a symptom of a larger problem:

There just isn’t much difference between the activities funded via earmarking and the activities funded by standard bureaucratic processes. The means are different, but the ends are typically the same: federal taxpayers paying for parochial benefits that are properly the domain of state and local governments, or preferably, the private sector. As a federal taxpayer, I’m no better off if the U.S. Dept. of Transportation decides to fund a bridge in Alaska or if Alaska’s congressional delegation instructs the DOT to fund the bridge.

Therefore, earmarking is a symptom of the problem. The problem is the existence of programs that enables the federal government to spend money on parochial activities.

Also at Cato, Dan Mitchell makes the most important argument:

Last but not least, earmarks are utterly corrupt. The fact that they are legal does not change the fact that they finance a racket featuring big payoffs to special interests, who give big fees to lobbyists (often former staffers and Members), who give big contributions to politicians. Everyone wins … except taxpayers.

Kansas political signs are okay, despite covenants

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practically: Should you display signs in your yard?

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

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

The Kansas statute

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

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

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

Wichita logic Brewer fishing

Before asking for more taxes, Wichita city hall needs to earn trust

Before Wichita city hall asks its subjects for more tax revenue, it needs to regain the trust of Wichitans. Following, from February, an illustration of the problems city hall has created for itself. And, how it would be helpful if the editorial board of the state’s largest newspaper acted as though it cared about ethics, cronyism, government transparency, and corruption.

When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.
– P.J. O’Rourke

Your principle has placed these words above the entrance of the legislative chamber: “whosoever acquires any influence here can obtain his share of legal plunder.” And what has been the result? All classes have flung themselves upon the doors of the chamber crying:
“A share of the plunder for me, for me!”
– Frederic Bastiat

Mayor's Downtown VisionTomorrow the Wichita City Council considers a policy designed to squelch the council’s ability to issue no-bid contracts for city projects. This policy is necessary to counter the past bad behavior of Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and several council members, as well as their inability to police themselves regarding matters of ethical behavior by government officials.

The proposed policy is problematic. For some projects the developer will have to pay for “a third party expert to verify construction estimates and contracts with respect to reasonable market costs and appropriate allocation of costs between public and private funding.”

Ambassador Hotel sign 2014-03-07Why are measures like this necessary? The impetus for this policy is the no-bid contract awarded to Key Construction for the construction of the garage near the Ambassador Hotel, originally called Douglas Place, now known as Block One.

A letter of intent passed by the council on August 9, 2011 gives the cost of the garage: “Douglas Place LLC will administer the construction of the garage and urban park on behalf of the City and the City will pay the cost of designing and constructing the same at a cost not-to-exceed $6,800,000.” Of that, $770,000 was for the urban park, leaving about $6 million cost for the garage. The motion to approve the letter of intent passed with all council members except Michael O’Donnell voting in favor.

By the time the item appeared for consideration at the September 13, 2011 city council meeting, city documents gave the cost of the constructing the garage structure at an even $6 million. The motion to spend that amount on the garage passed with all members except O’Donnell voting in favor, except Brewer was absent and did not vote.

Hockaday sign explanationThen the city manager decided that the project should be put to competitive bid. Key Construction won that competition with a bid of about $4.7 million. Same garage, same company, but $1.3 million saved.

The Wichita Eagle tells the story like this: “The Ambassador garage at Douglas Place, awarded at $4.73 million to Key Construction — a partner in the hotel project and the project’s contractor — came in about 20 percent under estimates provided the City Council, on the heels of some city-financed downtown parking garages that spiraled over budget.” (“Wichita City Council to consider bidding policy extension”, Wichita Eagle, Sunday, February 2, 2014)

Reading the Eagle story, citizens might conclude that due to excellent management by Key Construction, the garage was built at a 20 percent savings under “estimates.”

But that’s not at all what happened. It’s not even close to what really happened.

Without the intervention of O’Donnell, the city manager, and — according to press reports — city council member Pete Meitzner, the garage would have been built for $6 million. That was the intent of a majority of the council. The $6 million price tag for the no-bid contract was in the ordinance that passed, and in the letter of intent that passed a month before. There were no “estimates” as the Eagle reported. There was only the expressed desire of the council to spend $6 million.

Doesn't Wichita have a newspaperSo there were no “estimates” that Key Construction bested. But there was an objectionable no-bid contract that the council agreed to. Fortunately for Wichita, a few people objected and overrode the council’s bad decision.

We’re left to wonder why the Eagle retold the story with Key Construction in the role of hero. That’s about 180 degrees away from the role this company plays.

Key Construction is intimately involved in city politics. Its principals and executives contribute heavily to mayoral and city council election campaigns. Company president David Wells is a personal friend of the mayor.

Did Key’s political involvement and campaign contributions play a role in the council awarding the company a no-bid garage contract? Key Construction executives and their spouses are among a small group who routinely make maximum campaign contributions to candidates. These candidates are both liberal and conservative, which rebuts the presumption that these contributions are made for ideological reasons, that is, agreeing with the political positions of candidates. Instead, Key Construction and a few companies are political entrepreneurs. They seek to please politicians and bureaucrats, and by doing so, receive no-bid contracts and other taxpayer-funded benefits. This form of cronyism is harmful to Wichita taxpayers, as shown by the Ambassador Hotel garage.

The harm of pay-to-play

When it is apparent that a “pay-to-play” environment exists at Wichita City Hall, it creates a toxic and corrosive political and business environment. Companies are reluctant to expand into areas where they don’t have confidence in the integrity of local government. Will I find my company bidding against a company that made bigger campaign contributions than I did? If I don’t make the right campaign contributions, will I get my zoning approved? Will my building permits be slow-walked through the approval process? Will my projects face unwarranted and harsh inspections? Will my bids be subjected to microscopic scrutiny?

Wait a minute: Doesn’t Wichita have a newspaper that keeps a watchful eye on cronyism and corruption? With an editorial board that crusades against these ills?

The answer is no. No such newspaper exists in Wichita.

We need laws to prohibit Wichita city council members from voting on or advocating for decisions that enrich their significant campaign contributors. The Ambassador Hotel garage contract is just one example. Citizens are working on this initiative on several fronts. Some find the actions of these candidates so distasteful and offensive that they are willing to take to the streets to gather thousands of signatures to force the Wichita City Council to act in a proper manner.

That huge effort shouldn’t be necessary. Why? The politicians who accept these campaign contributions say it doesn’t affect their voting, and those who give the contributions say they don’t give to influence votes.

If politicians and contributors really mean what they say, there should be no opposition to such a “pay-to-play” law. Citizens should ask the Wichita City Council to pass a campaign finance reform ordinance that prohibits voting to enrich significant campaign contributors.

There is a law, sort of

Citizens who believe that city council members ought not to vote on matters involving their friends and business associates, we already have such a law. Sort of. Here’s a section from the Wichita city code as passed in 2008 (full section below):

“[Council members] shall refrain from making decisions involving business associates, customers, clients, friends and competitors.”

Mayor Carl Brewer voted for this law, by the way. When asked about a specific application of this city law, the Wichita city attorney supplied this interpretation:

Related to the Mayor’s participation in the item, yes, City Code advises Council members to “refrain from making decisions involving business associates, customers, clients, friends and competitors. … ” but the Code does not provide definitions or limits to these broad categories of constituents. Further, the City Code clearly requires Council members to “vote on all matters coming before the City Council except in those particular cases of conflict of interest. …” The city Code does not define what constitutes a conflict but the Council has historically applied the State law for that definition.

Applying that State law specific to local municipalities, the Mayor does not have any substantial interest in Douglas Place LLC, and therefore no conflict. Under the State ethics law, there was no requirement that the Mayor recuse himself from voting on the Ambassador Project.

So we have statutory language that reads “shall refrain,” but the city attorney interprets that to mean “advises.”

We also have statutory language that reads “business associates, customers, clients, friends and competitors.” But the city attorney feels that these terms are not defined, and therefore the mayor and city council members need not be concerned about compliance with this law. We’re left to wonder whether this law has any meaning at all.

Council members shall refrain 01Be advised: If you ask the mayor to adhere to this law, he may threaten to sue you.

If the city attorney’s interpretation of this law is controlling, I suggest we strike this section from the city code. Someone who reads this — perhaps a business owner considering Wichita for expansion — might conclude that our city has a code of ethics that is observed by the mayor and council members and enforced by its attorneys.

Giving that impression, through, would be false — and unethical.

Here’s the Wichita city code:

Sec. 2.04.050. — Code of ethics for council members.

Council members occupy positions of public trust. All business transactions of such elected officials dealing in any manner with public funds, either directly or indirectly, must be subject to the scrutiny of public opinion both as to the legality and to the propriety of such transactions. In addition to the matters of pecuniary interest, council members shall refrain from making use of special knowledge or information before it is made available to the general public; Wichita logic Brewer fishingshall refrain from making decisions involving business associates, customers, clients, friends and competitors; shall refrain from repeated and continued violation of city council rules; shall refrain from appointing immediate family members, business associates, clients or employees to municipal boards and commissions; shall refrain from influencing the employment of municipal employees; shall refrain from requesting the fixing of traffic tickets and all other municipal code citations; shall refrain from seeking the employment of immediate family members in any municipal operation; shall refrain from using their influence as members of the governing body in attempts to secure contracts, zoning or other favorable municipal action for friends, customers, clients, immediate family members or business associates; and shall comply with all lawful actions, directives and orders of duly constituted municipal officials as such may be issued in the normal and lawful discharge of the duties of these municipal officials.

Council members shall conduct themselves so as to bring credit upon the city as a whole and so as to set an example of good ethical conduct for all citizens of the community. Council members shall bear in mind at all times their responsibility to the entire electorate, and shall refrain from actions benefiting special groups at the expense of the city as a whole and shall do everything in their power to ensure equal and impartial law enforcement throughout the city at large without respect to race, creed, color or the economic or the social position of individual citizens.

United States Capitol, July 2011

Arguments for and against term limits

From RestartCongress.org.

Arguments for term limits

  • With term limits in place, Congress will be more responsible toward their constituents because they will soon be constituents themselves. They will have to live under the laws they have created while in office.
  • Members of Congress will have less time in office to develop financially beneficial commitments to lobbyists and other special interest groups, thereby undermining the threat of lobbyists being a primary influence on legislation.
  • Since the time of the Founding Fathers, a general consensus states that people, when given power, will eventually be corrupted by it. If Congress has term limits in place, their power will also be limited. Candidates will be more likely to run for the purpose of serving the people, and they would have to leave office before corruption dominates their decisions.
  • Congress is heavily entrenched in partisan politics, resulting in gridlock when trying to pass any legislation. If term limits were enacted, toeing the party line would be less important, as the need for re-election and holding onto party seats would no longer be the driving force behind most legislative decisions. Congress would have an easier time passing the legislation that would make a positive difference for the nation.
  • Money is a major factor in who will win an election. Incumbents have the benefit of the profits they made while in power — plus the backing of their party, contributing organizations and special interests — to get re-elected. However, these wealthy incumbents are often not the best person for the job, as they are so far-removed from the daily realities of the American people. A middle class person who better understands the problems facing the average citizen is highly unlikely to get elected over a wealthy incumbent. Term limits will help to eliminate the shady, profitable relationships between members of Congress and special interest groups, and therefore reduce the wealth gap between candidates. In turn, more qualified people will have a real opportunity to win elections.
  • Within Congress, most legislation is written by a committee that handles a specific duty or topic. Committee appointments can be very prized positions for the power, influence and financial backing that can be attained. These positions are often assigned based on political favors and a willingness to support causes or projects. Therefore, career politicians who have formed the most self-serving relationships can often be given the most power in Congress. Term limits would work to stop this cycle of political reward and power abuse. Committee assignments would be determined by merit and expertise, resulting in fair and informed decisions.

The arguments against term limits

Career politicians should be valued for their experience. If we regularly fill a Congressional office with a newcomer, we will lose the valuable experience on-the-job that person can offer in government.

  • On occasion, there may be a member of Congress that has fought for his constituents and resisted the corrupt system of power abuse that is considered normal on Capitol Hill. The Founding Fathers discussed the need for a “rotation of office.” When one’s terms are up in one office, that politician can run for another office (such as a member of the House running for Senator, Governor, etc.) and put their experience to use in other helpful ways.
  • The notion that only one person — the incumbent — can do the job well is absurd. Problematically, we continue to elect the incumbent because of name recognition and party affiliation rather than a proven track record. Realistically, there is usually someone just as qualified to take over the incumbent’s office.

Term limits are not necessary because members of Congress must be regularly re-elected. If they are not doing a good job in office, we can simply vote for someone else.

  • While this would happen in an ideal world, historically the incumbent is re-elected 90% of the time. The playing field is simply not level between incumbents and challenging candidates because of the ability to raise money. In 2010, the average incumbent in the House raised around $1.4 million, while the challengers averaged $166,000. In the same year, Senate incumbents averaged $9.4 million for each campaign, while challengers raised $519,000. With that incredible discrepancy, it is no surprise that the incumbent usually prevails. If a member of Congress is limited to one or two terms, the party itself and other major donors would not invest nearly as much in an incumbent, giving challengers a better chance of winning the race.

Term limits would give more power to bureaucrats and lobbyists.

  • This argument is based in the notion that incoming legislators will be entirely unqualified for their jobs and will be easily led astray by staff, bureaucrats, special interests, etc. The way the system works today suggests that the real problem is in longevity of office and the complacency that can come along with it. For instance, lobbyists invest heavily in long-term relationships with sitting legislators. Congress members currently shirk many responsibilities by delegating them to bureaucratic agencies.
  • Term limits have the potential to greatly reduce these problems. When more Congressional races are won by challengers from outside the Beltway, this change is likely to bring new staffers with new ideas into Washington, rather than recycling the same old corrupt insiders.

Term limits are unconstitutional.

  • Clearly this is not the case, as the President of the United States is limited to two terms because of a Constitutional Amendment. A 28th Amendment would be necessary to impose term limits for Congress, and that is precisely what we are seeking. Since Congress will not willingly do so on their own, it is imperative that Americans make their voice heard on this issue.

Pyle, Kansas Senator, considering Roberts challenge

runpylerun-2014-05-23Kansas Senator Dennis Pyle (@Dennis_Pyle) is considering challenging Pat Roberts (@SenPatRoberts) and Milton Wolf (@miltonwolfmd) for the Republican Party nomination for United States Senator from Kansas.

As suspicious as I am regarding the motivations of politicians, I didn’t think of this until a few political observers suggested it: Could this be an effort by the Roberts campaign to muddy the waters and diminish Wolf’s prospects? Or was this an organic decision made by Pyle — after “months of prayer,” of course? Or did Roberts campaign operatives butter up the northeast Kansas Senator and seduce him with the possibility of a U.S. senate seat — or, at least keeping it in the hands of Roberts?

The latter seems about right. But I don’t really know.

WichitaLiberty.TV set 2014-04-29 01 800

WichitaLiberty.TV: Alternatives to raising taxes, how to become involved in politics, and bad behavior by elected officials

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita voters tell pollsters that they prefer alternatives to raising taxes. Then, how can you get involved in politics? A deadline is approaching soon. Finally, some examples of why we need to elect better people to office. Episode 44, broadcast May 25, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Voice for Liberty radio logo for featured posts 01

Voice for Liberty Radio: U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo on Benghazi, Ukraine, and Boko Haram and the continuing threat of Islamic terrorism

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150United States Representative Mike Pompeo of Wichita has been appointed to the Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi. I spoke with him today in his Wichita office on this topic and a few others.

On the composition of the committee — seven Republicans and five Democrats — Pompeo explained that the majority party usually has a majority on committees of this type. A “Select” committee like this has a very narrow charter. The committee will have staff and counsel, and will deliver a report. After that, the committee will disband.

Critics of this committee point to the several committees that have already held hearings on this matter and the thousands of documents produced. What can this committee accomplish? Pompeo said that despite all the previous activity, we do not know everything. The Ben Rhodes email that was supplied just last week is an example.

Pompeo said the administration has not been very cooperative. The committee wants to learn what decisions were made on September 11, 2012, how were the decisions made, and by whom.

While the committee operates in a political environment, Pompeo said that the six other Republicans on the committee (the Democratic members have not been named) are “workhorses,” who will work to come to a factual conclusion. It may be, he said, that conservatives will disappointed in the output of the committee, in that the facts show that there was no wrongdoing or malfeasance. If that is what the facts show, that’s what will be in the committee’s report, he said.

It is not known whether Democrats will boycott the committee. Pompeo said it’s important that Democrats participate in the committee proceedings, as this will best serve the American public interest. The decision will be made by Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader.

As for the committee being a “witch hunt” or simply a political operation, Pompeo reminded me that Speaker John Boehner was reluctant to call for the formation of this special committee. Pompeo said that the Republican members of the committee, except for chair Trey Gowdy, are members with low profiles, and not widely known by Americans.

On the situation in Ukraine, Pompeo said the situation remains incredibly intense. The Russians have fomented strife in the region, with a propaganda campaign to create the predicate for a Russian invasion. Western Europe has begun to recognize the risk and has started to implement a few more sanctions. Putin’s goal is to reconstruct Greater Russia, he said.

On the subject of Boko Haram, the radical Islamist group that has captured young girls in Nigeria, Pompeo said this is another example of how the war against Islamic terrorism is not over. He said that today there are 8,000 Al-Qaeda in Syria. In 2001, on September 10, there were 200 in Afghanistan. The threat today is far greater than it was 13 years ago, and the Obama administration has thrown in the towel, he said.

Shownotes

Mike Pompeo Congressional office.
Twitter at @RepMikePompeo
H.Res. 567: Providing for the Establishment of the Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi

WichitaLiberty.TV set 2014-04-29 01 800

WichitaLiberty.TV: Examining surveys about the future of Wichita

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: What do Wichitans want for their city’s future? Surveys from the City of Wichita and Kansas Policy Institute are examined. Episode 42, broadcast May 11, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

ALEC Banner

ALEC should stand up to liberal pressure groups

From April 2012.

Today’s Wall Street Journal explains how left-wing activists are using fear of the racism label to shut down free speech and debate. The target of their current smear campaign is American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

Liberals can’t stand ALEC because it is a strong and influential advocate for free market and limited government principals in state legislatures. Liberals accuse ALEC of supplying model legislation which may influence the writing of actual state law, or even become state law in some cases. Of course, liberal advocacy groups do this too, but they don’t let that get in the way of their criticism of ALEC.

The reality is that all sorts of people and special interest groups seek to influence the writing of laws. But for laws to take effect — no matter who proposes them — they must be passed by legislatures and signed by the chief executive (or a veto must be overturned).

The false charges of racism are particularly troubling, as no one wants to be labeled as such. That’s why scoundrels demonize their opponents with charges of racism, writes the Journal, and it’s become a powerful weapon for left-wing activists: “The ugly, race-baiting anti-ALEC campaign is typical of today’s liberal activism. It’s akin to the campaigns to smear libertarian donors Charles and David Koch and to exploit shareholder proxies to stop companies from giving to political campaigns or even the Chamber of Commerce. The left these days isn’t content merely to fight on the merits in legislatures or during elections. If they lose, they resort to demonizing opponents and trying to shut them down. The business community had better understand that ALEC won’t be the last target.”

As it turns out, the motivations of some contributors to ALEC are quite narrow. Coca-Cola wanted help from ALEC only in the opposition to soft drink taxes: “So Coke executives are happy to get ALEC’s help in their self-interest but head for the tall grass when ALEC needs a friend.”

Liberals accuse ALEC of being a front group for corporations, promoting only legislation that advances the interests of corporations or business at the expense of others. When you examine specific examples of these charges, the proposals being criticized often reduce taxes for everyone or reduce harmful and unnecessary regulations. If ALEC does promote legislation that caters to special interest groups, it should stop doing so.

Besides services to legislators, ALEC provides a valuable service to the public: The Rich States, Poor States publication that examines why some states perform better in economic growth and opportunity than others. The fifth edition was released last week.

Recently a city council member from a small town asked me if there were resources to help city council or county commission members understand and apply the principals of free markets and limited government to city and county governments. I looked and asked a few people. The answer is no, there appears to be no such resource. This seems like a growth opportunity for ALEC or a new organization. There are several well-known organizations that strive to advance the size and scope of city and county governments, and these need a counter-balance.

Shutting Down ALEC

Playing the race card to silence a free-market policy voice

Is it suddenly disreputable to advocate free-market policies? That’s the question raised by a remarkable political assault on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which promotes reform in the 50 states. Led by former White House aide Van Jones, various left-wing activists and media are bullying big business to cut off ALEC’s funding. So much for free and open debate.

Founded in 1973, ALEC is a group of state lawmakers who meet to share and spread conservative policy ideas. ALEC’s main focus is fiscal and economic policy, notably at the moment pension and lawsuit reform, tax and spending limitation, and school choice. For years it labored in obscurity, its influence rising or falling with the public mood. But after conservatives made record gains in state legislatures in 2010, the left began to target ALEC for destruction.

Continue reading at the Wall Street Journal (no subscription required)

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Newspaper editorial writers on how democracy works, Kansas school test scores.

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: An editorial in a Kansas newspaper exposes a dangerously uninformed and simplistic view of politics and democracy. Then, will Kansas school leaders and newspapers tell us the hidden truths about Kansas school test scores? Episode 41, broadcast May 4, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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Competition in markets

children-arm-wrestling-beach-176645_1280Competition must surely be one of the most misunderstood concepts. As applied to economics, government, and markets, the benefits of competition are not understood and valued.

Usually when people think of competition they think of words like hostile, cut-throat, or dog-eat-dog. They may reference the phrase “survival of the fittest,” making analogies to the law of the jungle. There, competition is brutal. The winners kill and eat the losers. Or, they may refer to games or sporting events, where a competition is created specifically to produce a winner and a loser.

But as David Boaz of the Cato Institute explains in his essay Competition and Cooperation, it’s different in markets. There, as Boaz explains, people compete in order to cooperate with others, not defeat them:

The competitive process allows for constant testing, experimenting, and adapting in response to changing situations. It keeps businesses constantly on their toes to serve consumers. Both analytically and empirically, we can see that competitive systems produce better results than centralized or monopoly systems. That’s why, in books, newspaper articles, and television appearances, advocates of free markets stress the importance of the competitive marketplace and oppose restrictions on competition.

We often see people plead for cooperation, as being preferred over competition: “Can’t we all get along?” But Boaz says this: “What needs to be made clear is that those who say that human beings ‘are made for cooperation, not competition’ fail to recognize that the market is cooperation. Indeed, as discussed below, it is people competing to cooperate.”

Boaz says that cooperation is so essential to human flourishing that we don’t just want to talk about it; we want to create social institutions that make it possible. That is what property rights, limited government, and the rule of law are all about.

If we didn’t have well-defined property rights and rule of law, we would be continually fighting — competing, that is — over property and who owns it. Boaz says “It is our agreement on property rights that allows us to undertake the complex social tasks of cooperation and coordination by which we achieve our purposes.”

Cooperation and coordination in markets is what has allowed us to progress beyond the simple societies where each person has only what he himself produces, or what he can trade for with those in his immediate surroundings. Maybe it would be wonderful if this cooperation and coordination could be accomplished through benevolence, that is, by people doing good simply for good’s sake. Sort of like “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” During the last century we saw how political systems based on that philosophy worked out.

Human nature isn’t always benevolent. People are self-interested. They want more for themselves. In economies where property rights are respected and protected, the only legitimate way to get more stuff for yourself is by trading with others. You figure out what other people want, you produce it, and give it to them in exchange for what you want. And if you can figure out what people really want, that is, what they’re willing to trade a lot of their stuff in order to obtain, you can prosper. And since the trading is voluntary, both parties to the trade are better off.

In Adam Smith’s lasting imagery over two centuries ago: “By directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

Figuring out what others place high value on and providing it to them — and doing that better than someone else — is what competition in markets is about. As Boaz said, it is “people competing to cooperate.” When you generate success in this way, rather than by stealing from others, we all benefit. We experience what Boaz and others call the “civil society.” We cooperate with others to get what we want, instead of beating them over the head and stealing from them. Our desire for more stuff, coupled with property rights and rule of law, means that we compete to make others’ lives better, so that in turn our own lives can be better.

Who knows best what people should have? Each person knows best for themselves, of course. People place different values on things, but it each person who knows best what he values, and how much he values it.

That’s the way voluntary markets work. But government and politics works differently. Here’s what Milton Friedman had to say on this topic: “[The political system] tends to give undue political power to small groups that have highly concentrated interests; to give greater weight to obvious, direct and immediate effects of government action than to possibly more important but concealed, indirect and delayed effects; to set in motion a process that sacrifices the general interest to serve special interests rather than the other way around. There is, as it were, an invisible hand in politics that operates in precisely the opposite direction to Adam Smith’s invisible hand.”

So the benefits of market competition and cooperation are turned around and perverted in government and politics. There are many examples of this. Currently in Kansas we have a vivid example unfolding. The Blob — that’s the public school establishment — doesn’t want to allow competition, at least not competition using taxpayer funds in the form of charter schools, vouchers, or tax credit scholarships. It doesn’t want existing teachers to face competition from professionals who haven’t spent years earning a teaching degree and obtained a license.

Instead of the values of civil society, where people compete to cooperate with others in order to accomplish their goals, our public schools operate under a different system. Politicians and courts will tell us how much to spend on schools, and will pass laws to seize payment from people. Bureaucrats will tell us what schools will teach, and how they will teach it. If parents don’t like what government provides, they’re free to send their children somewhere else. But they still must pay for a product they’ve determined they have no use for.

The benefit of market competition, that is, the “constant testing, experimenting, and adapting” that Boaz writes about, is missing from government-run schools. Instead, the centralized monopoly of public schools plods along. We place all our eggs in the No Child Left Behind basket. That law is now considered by nearly everyone as a failure. So we attempt to impose another centralized, monopolistic system: the Common Core Standards.

Instead of peacefully and happily competing to cooperate in the education of Kansas schoolchildren, there is vitriol. Extreme vitriol, I would say. No one seems happy with the system. Great effort is spent fighting — jungle competition, we might say, rather than cooperating. And for some crazy reason, we use this system for many other things, too.

For more on this topic, see Competition and Cooperation: Two sides of the same coin by Steven Horwitz.

Shame on Legislature - Rhonda Holman

Shame, says Wichita Eagle editorial board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Philip Sousa wrote a march honoring the Washington Post newspaper.

Washington Post out on a limb, again

John Philip Sousa wrote a march honoring the Washington Post newspaper.
John Philip Sousa wrote a march honoring the Washington Post newspaper.
It’s really astonishing to see John Hinderaker of Powerline take apart the Washington Post. I wonder if Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com is aware of what he bought last year for $250 million?

The background of the story is that the Washington Post has published an article that is demonstrably false, and for political reasons. As to why the Post has walked out on a limb too far, he writes:

Let me offer an alternative explanation of why the Washington Post published their Keystone/Koch smear:

1) The Washington Post in general, and Mufson and Eilperin in particular, are agents of the Left, the environmental movement and the Democratic Party.
2) The Keystone Pipeline is a problem for the Democratic Party because 60% of voters want the pipeline built, while the party’s left-wing base insists that it not be approved.
3) The Keystone Pipeline is popular because it would broadly benefit the American people by creating large numbers of jobs, making gasoline more plentiful and bringing down the cost of energy.
4) Therefore, the Democratic Party tries to distract from the real issues surrounding the pipeline by claiming, falsely, that its proponents are merely tools of the billionaire Koch brothers–who, in fact, have nothing to do with Keystone one way or the other.
5) The Post published its article to assist the Democratic Party with its anti-Keystone talking points.

Hinderaker also introduces to the curious story of billionaire Tom Steyer. It’s worth reading. Summing up, he concludes:

You can’t separate the reporters from the activists from the Obama administration officials from the billionaire cronies. Often, as in this instance, the same people wear two or more of those hats simultaneously. However bad you think the corruption and cronyism in Washington are, they are worse than you imagine. And if you think the Washington Post is part of a free and independent press, think again.

Continue reading at The Washington Post responds to me, and I reply to the Post.

Lashing out at Charles and David Koch, falsely

From The Patriot Post:

Democrats have escalated their attacks on Charles and David Koch, who donate a significant amount of their accumulated capital to conservative groups. The charge is led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), who now routinely takes to the Senate floor to angrily denounce these two private citizens. “I’m not afraid of the Koch brothers,” he thundered. “None of us should be afraid of the Koch brothers. These two multi-billionaires may spend hundreds of millions of dollars rigging the political process for their own benefit. And they may believe that whoever has the most money gets the most free speech. But I will do whatever it takes to expose their campaign to rig the American political system to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.”

A Democrat ad also recently demonized the brothers, accusing them of having an agenda to “protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas.” That was too much even for The Washington Post’s “fact checker,” Glenn Kessler, who gave the charge a full Four Pinocchios. Specifically, Kessler says, “The ad not only mischaracterizes an ordinary tax deduction as a special ‘tax cut’ but then it falsely asserts that ‘protecting’ this tax break is part of the Koch agenda. It turns out this claim is based on a tenuous link to an organization that never even took a position on the legislation in question.” The truth didn’t stop Reid from repeating the same “tax breaks” lie.

This attack campaign is a clear sign that Democrats are very worried about November, and they’re lashing out at anyone who’s bankrolling the opposition.

More at The Democrats’ Dishonest Koch Habit and Democrats claim the Koch brothers want to “protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas.”

Kansas Capitol

State employment visualizations

Kansas CapitolThere’s been dueling claims and controversy over employment figures in Kansas and our state’s performance relative to others. I present the actual data in interactive visualizations that you can use to make up your own mind.

(Let’s keep in mind that jobs are not necessarily the best measure of economic growth and prosperity. Russell Roberts relates an anecdote: “The story goes that Milton Friedman was once taken to see a massive government project somewhere in Asia. Thousands of workers using shovels were building a canal. Friedman was puzzled. Why weren’t there any excavators or any mechanized earth-moving equipment? A government official explained that using shovels created more jobs. Friedman’s response: ‘Then why not use spoons instead of shovels?’”)

It’s important to note there are two series of employment data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor. The two series don’t measure exactly the same thing. Nearby is an example of just how different the two series can appear.

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

State employment based on Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey.
State employment based on Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey.
Another BLS document explains in detail the differences between the CPS and CES data. For example: CES: “Designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings with significant industrial and geographic detail” CPS: “Designed to measure employment and unemployment with significant demographic detail.”

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

State employment based on Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey.
State employment based on Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey.
I’ve gathered data from BLS and made it available in two interactive visualizations. One presents CPS data; the other holds CES data. You can compare states, select a range of dates, and choose seasonally-adjusted or not seasonally-adjusted data. I’ve create a set that allows you to easily choose Kansas and our nearby states, since that seems to be relevant to some people. (I included Texas in this set, as we often compare ourselves to that state.) The visualizations are indexed, meaning that each shows the percentage change in values from the first data shown.

Using the visualization.
Using the visualization.
Here is the visualization for CES data, and here is visualization for CPS data.

In Wichita, citizens want more transparency in city government

Wichita city hallIn a videographed meeting that is part of a comprehensive planning process, Wichitans openly question the process, repeatedly asking for an end to cronyism and secrecy at city hall.

As part of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Comprehensive Plan, the City of Wichita held a number of focus groups meetings. Their purpose, according to city documents, was to provide “information on the components of the Plan and provide input on a draft survey.”

(Some indication of the reverence given to the plan to city planners may be inferred by the city’s use of capitalization when referring to it.)

The community meetings were structured in a way reminiscent of the Delphi method, described in Wikipedia as “a structured communication technique, originally developed as a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts.” Others have a more skeptical view, believing that the Delphi technique leads citizens to believe they have participated in community democratic decision-making when in reality, that is not the goal of the process.

In October Americans for Prosperity-Kansas invited the city to hold a focus group meeting. Video from the meeting is below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Dave Barber, who is Advanced Plans Manager at Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department, facilitated the meeting. Susan Estes of AFP was the meeting organizer and host. Mike Shatz is the videographer. His description of the meeting is “The City of Wichita is holding a series of meetings to gain input from the public on future spending plans. The meetings are based off a survey the city conducted, which, by all accounts, was full of loaded questions geared towards promoting the programs that city officials want to see. In this meeting, one of the first in the series, citizens openly question the process and repeatedly ask for an end to cronyism and secrecy at city hall.”

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Economic development in Wichita, steps one and two

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Critics of the economic development policies in use by the City of Wichita are often portrayed as not being able to see and appreciate the good things these policies are producing, even though they are unfolding right before our very eyes. The difference is that some look beyond the immediate — what is seen — and ask “And then what will happen?” — looking for the unseen.

Thomas Sowell explains the problem in a passage from the first chapter of Applied economics: thinking beyond stage one:

When we are talking about applied economic policies, we are no longer talking about pure economic principles, but about the interactions of politics and economics. The principles of economics remain the same, but the likelihood of those principles being applied unchanged is considerably reduced, because politics has its own principles and imperatives. It is not just that politicians’ top priority is getting elected and re-elected, or that their time horizon seldom extends beyond the next election. The general public as well behaves differently when making political decisions rather than economic decisions. Virtually no one puts as much time and close attention into deciding whether to vote for one candidate rather than another as is usually put into deciding whether to buy one house rather than another — or perhaps even one car rather than another.

The voter’s political decisions involve having a minute influence on policies which affect many other people, while economic decision-making is about having a major effect on one’s own personal well-being. It should not be surprising that the quantity and quality of thinking going into these very different kinds of decisions differ correspondingly. One of the ways in which these decisions differ is in not thinking through political decisions beyond the immediate consequences. When most voters do not think beyond stage one, many elected officials have no incentive to weigh what the consequences will be in later stages — and considerable incentives to avoid getting beyond what their constituents think and understand, for fear that rival politicians can drive a wedge between them and their constituents by catering to public misconceptions.

The economic decisions made by governing bodies like the Wichita City Council have a large impact on the lives of Wichitans. But as Sowell explains, these decisions are made by politicians for political reasons.

Sowell goes on to explain the danger of stopping the thinking process at stage one:

When I was an undergraduate studying economics under Professor Arthur Smithies of Harvard, he asked me in class one day what policy I favored on a particular issue of the times. Since I had strong feelings on that issue, I proceeded to answer him with enthusiasm, explaining what beneficial consequences I expected from the policy I advocated.

“And then what will happen?” he asked.

The question caught me off guard. However, as I thought about it, it became clear that the situation I described would lead to other economic consequences, which I then began to consider and to spell out.

“And what will happen after that?” Professor Smithies asked.

As I analyzed how the further economic reactions to the policy would unfold, I began to realize that these reactions would lead to consequences much less desirable than those at the first stage, and I began to waver somewhat.

“And then what will happen?” Smithies persisted.

By now I was beginning to see that the economic reverberations of the policy I advocated were likely to be pretty disastrous — and, in fact, much worse than the initial situation that it was designed to improve.

Simple as this little exercise may sound, it goes further than most economic discussions about policies on a wide range of issues. Most thinking stops at stage one.

We see stage one thinking all the time when looking at government. In Wichita, for example, a favorite question of city council members seeking to justify their support for government intervention such as a tax increment financing (TIF) district or some other form of subsidy is “How much more tax does the building pay now?” Or perhaps “How many jobs will (or did) the project create?”

These questions, and the answers to them, are examples of stage one thinking. The answers are easily obtained and cited as evidence of the success of the government program.

But driving by a store or hotel in a TIF district and noticing a building or people working at jobs does not tell the entire story. Using the existence of a building, or the payment of taxes, or jobs created, is stage one thinking, and no more than that.

Fortunately, there are people who have thought beyond stage one, and some concerning local economic development and TIF districts. And what they’ve found should spur politicians and bureaucrats to find ways to move beyond stage one in their thinking.

An example are economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman, who have studied tax increment financing extensively. Their article Tax Increment Financing: A Tool for Local Economic Development states in its conclusion:

TIF districts grow much faster than other areas in their host municipalities. TIF boosters or naive analysts might point to this as evidence of the success of tax increment financing, but they would be wrong. Observing high growth in an area targeted for development is unremarkable.

So TIFs are good for the favored development that receives the subsidy — not a surprising finding. What about the rest of the city? Continuing from the same study:

If the use of tax increment financing stimulates economic development, there should be a positive relationship between TIF adoption and overall growth in municipalities. This did not occur. If, on the other hand, TIF merely moves capital around within a municipality, there should be no relationship between TIF adoption and growth. What we find, however, is a negative relationship. Municipalities that use TIF do worse.

We find evidence that the non-TIF areas of municipalities that use TIF grow no more rapidly, and perhaps more slowly, than similar municipalities that do not use TIF.

In a different paper (The Effects of Tax Increment Financing on Economic Development), the same economists wrote “We find clear and consistent evidence that municipalities that adopt TIF grow more slowly after adoption than those that do not. … These findings suggest that TIF trades off higher growth in the TIF district for lower growth elsewhere. This hypothesis is bolstered by other empirical findings.”

Here we have an example of thinking beyond stage one. The results are opposite of what one-stage thinking produces.

Some city council members are concerned about creating jobs, and are swayed by the promises of developers that their establishments will employ a certain number of workers. Again, this thinking stops at stage one. But others have looked farther, as has Paul F. Byrne of Washburn University. The title of his recent report is Does Tax Increment Financing Deliver on Its Promise of Jobs? The Impact of Tax Increment Financing on Municipal Employment Growth, and in its abstract we find this conclusion regarding the impact of TIF on jobs:

Increasingly, municipal leaders justify their use of tax increment financing (TIF) by touting its role in improving municipal employment. However, empirical studies on TIF have primarily examined TIF’s impact on property values, ignoring the claim that serves as the primary justification for its use. This article addresses the claim by examining the impact of TIF adoption on municipal employment growth in Illinois, looking for both general impact and impact specific to the type of development supported. Results find no general impact of TIF use on employment. However, findings suggest that TIF districts supporting industrial development may have a positive effect on municipal employment, whereas TIF districts supporting retail development have a negative effect on municipal employment. These results are consistent with industrial TIF districts capturing employment that would have otherwise occurred outside of the adopting municipality and retail TIF districts shifting employment within the municipality to more labor-efficient retailers within the TIF district.

While this research might be used to support a TIF district for industrial development, TIF in Wichita is primarily used for retail development. And, when thinking beyond stage one, the effect on employment — considering the entire city — is negative.

It’s hard to think beyond stage one. It requires considering not only the seen, but also the unseen, as Frederic Bastiat taught us in his famous parable of the broken window. But over and over we see how politicians at all levels of government stop thinking at stage one. This is one of the many reasons why we need to return as much decision-making as possible to the private sector, and drastically limit the powers of politicians and governments.

Voice for Liberty Radio: State of the Republican Party

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150

In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: Last fall Bud Norman spoke to a meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. Norman’s blog is The Central Standard Times. His novel is “The Things That Are Caesars: A Comic Tale of Politics, Religion, and Other Impolite Topics.” His topic was “Ruminations on the State of the Republican Party,” and it’s very entertaining. I provided the introduction.

This is podcast episode number 10, released on February 7, 2014. There is much other material at Voice for Liberty on the internet at wichitaliberty.org. Here’s Bud Norman at the Wichita Pachyderm Club, October 4, 2013.

Shownotes

Norman’s blog is The Central Standard Times.
His novel is The Things That Are Caesars: A Comic Tale of Politics, Religion, and Other Impolite Topics.
His prepared remarks are available to read here.

What is the import of the farm bill to Kansas?

Wheat combine on farm

Correcting the Wichita Eagle’s facts will place the importance of the farm bill to Kansas in proper perspective.

In criticizing five of the six members of the Kansas congressional delegation for voting against the farm bill, Rhonda Holman of the Wichita Eagle editorialized this: “Five of the six members of the Kansas delegation just voted against a farm bill — a stunning abdication of leadership in a state in which agriculture is 25 percent of the economy.” (Eagle editorial: AWOL on farm bill, Wednesday, February 5, 2014)

The Eagle editorialist didn’t specify what she meant by “percent of the economy” or where she got these figures. But the most common measure of the size of an economy is gross domestic product (GDP), and it’s easy to find.

Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) for 2012 tells us that the category “Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting” contributed $5,428 million towards the total Kansas GDP of $138,953 million. That means agriculture contributed 3.9 percent to Kansas GDP. The Eagle based its argument on a value of 25 percent, a value that’s 6.4 times the actual value.

If you included the category “Food and beverage and tobacco product manufacturing” you’d add a few additional percentage points. But you’d still have a number that is just a fraction of what the Eagle editorial board believes to be the contribution of agriculture to the Kansas economy.

Now that you have the facts that the Wichita Eagle doesn’t have, how important do you think is the farm bill to Kansas?

Besides this, the Eagle praised former U.S. Senator Bob Dole for his “effort to bind rural and urban interests in agricultural policy by including food stamps in the nation’s safety net for farmers.” In political science this is called logrolling. It’s one of the reasons why government continues to grow faster than our willingness to pay for it. I think the Wichita Eagle likes that.

It’s for things like this that Dan Mitchell created the “Bob Dole Award” for Misguided Conservatives. It’s for those who fit this description:

“If you say something about fiscal policy and a statist can respond by saying “I agree, so let’s raise taxes,” then you’ve made the mistake of focusing on red ink rather than the real problem of too much government spending.”

Mitchell explains the naming of the award:

Naming the award after Bob Dole also is appropriate since he was never a sincere advocate of limited government. The Kansas lawmaker was a career politician who said in his farewell speech that his three greatest achievements were a) creating the food stamp program, b) increasing payroll taxes, and c) imposing the Americans with Disabilities Act (no wonder I wanted Clinton to win in 1996).

For all of these reasons, and more, no real conservative should want to win an award linked to Bob Dole.

Voice for Liberty Radio: David Boaz of Cato Institute

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150

In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: David Boaz spoke at the annual Kansas Policy Institute Dinner. David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and has played a key role in the development of the Cato Institute and the libertarian movement. He is a provocative commentator and a leading authority on domestic issues such as education choice, drug legalization, the growth of government, and the rise of libertarianism. Boaz is the former editor of New Guard magazine and was executive director of the Council for a Competitive Economy prior to joining Cato in 1981. He is the author of Libertarianism: A Primer, described by the Los Angeles Times as “a well-researched manifesto of libertarian ideas,” the editor of The Libertarian Reader, and coeditor of the Cato Handbook For Policymakers. His articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, National Review, and Slate. He is a frequent guest on national television and radio shows, and has appeared on ABC’s Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, CNN’s Crossfire, NPR’s Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered, John McLaughlin’s One on One, Fox News Channel, BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other media. His latest book is The Politics of Freedom.

This is an excerpt of David Boaz speaking in Wichita, October 15, 2013.

Shownotes

Cato Institute
David Boaz at Cato Institute
David Boaz: Independent Thinking in a Red-Blue Town
Books by David Boaz
Kansas Policy Institute

Voice for Liberty Radio: Milton Wolf

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150

In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: Dr. Milton Wolf is a candidate for United States Senate from Kansas and will face incumbent Pat Roberts in the August Republican primary election. We spoke by telephone on January 23, 2014. As Wolf is a physician, it should be no surprise that health care was a major topic. Also, he answers the question that’s on everyone’s mind: Jayhawks, Wildcats, or Shockers? This is podcast episode number 6, released on January 23, 2014.

Shownotes

Milton Wolf campaign website
Pat Roberts campaign website
Columns by Milton Wolf at Washington Times
Kansas Republican Party and convention information

Kansas legislative briefing book for 2014

Kansas CapitolKansas Legislative Research has released the 2014 edition of the Legislator Briefing Book. From the prelude:

Kansas Legislators are called upon to make decisions on many issues that come before the Legislature. In addition, members of the Legislature are frequently asked by constituent groups to discuss public policy issues in a community forum in their districts. The purpose of the Kansas Legislator Briefing Book is to assist members in making informed policy decisions and to provide information in a condensed form that is usable for discussions with constituents — whether in their offices in Topeka or in their districts.

This publication contains several reports on new topics plus reports from the prior version. Most of the reports from the prior version have been updated with new information.

This year the book is 411 pages in length. The original location of the document is here. Or, for a version that will probably work better on mobile devices, click here to view this document at Scribd.

Duck Dynasty and the secular theocracy

The following excellent essay is from David Theroux, who is Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Independent Institute. I thought this passage that Theroux quotes is telling: “‘We’re just sick of all this redneck Jesusy stuff,’ A&E representative Moe Ronic told reporters. ‘And besides, making truckloads of money is really overrated.’” Part II of this essay will be available Thursday. Theroux recently appeared on WichitaLiberty.TV; see WichitaLiberty.TV December 1, 2013.

Duck Dynasty and the Secular Theocracy

By David J. Theroux

With A&E Network facing an avalanche of public protest and in just over one week of its decision to place family-patriarch Phil Robertson on “indefinite hiatus” from its megahit reality series Duck Dynasty, the network caved.

When the PC outrage industry went into high gear with an angry Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) demanding Robertson’s head regarding his comments on homosexuality in an article by Drew Magery in the January 2014 issue of GQ (the magazine commonly viewed as having branded the concept of “metrosexual”), A&E executives promptly suspended Robertson from the enormously popular, cable-TV program, and support for his suspension echoed throughout the conventional media with cries of his being “homophobic” and “antigay.”

In the article, when asked about his religious faith, Robertson noted that his own youthful debauchery was self-destructive and put his marriage on the rocks, and that these were reversed only by his conversion to Christianity. He added that he now considers sexual relations other than those between a man and woman in wedlock to be sinful. In so doing, Robertson did not support bans on homosexual advocacy or relations but instead paraphrased Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Continue reading at Duck Dynasty and the Secular Theocracy at patheos.

Wichita’s policymaking on display

Wichita city hall logo

When asked to provide documents that establish the city’s proclaimed policy, Wichita city hall is not able to do so, leaving us to wonder just how policy is made.

At an April meeting of the Wichita City Council, both Urban Development Director Allen Bell and Wichita city manager Robert Layton explained that for downtown projects, the city’s policy that the debt service fund must show a cost-benefit ratio of 1.3 to one or better doesn’t apply. (Video of Bell explaining this policy is here, and of Layton doing the same, here. Meeting minutes are here.)

More about this policy is available in In Wichita, economic development policies are questioned.

In that article, I mentioned that I attempted to find a document that states this policy. I asked the city to provide this document, or perhaps tell me when the city council acted to approve this policy, just as it has approved other similar policies.

After two days of searching, city officials have said that there is no such document that establishes this policy.

The people of Wichita ought to ask city hall just when this policy was made. City officials say Wichita has a transparent, open government. The Public-Private Partnership Evaluation Criteria for the redevelopment of downtown Wichita states “The business plan recommends public-private partnership criteria that are clear, predictable, and transparent.”

But in the first project to be approved under this plan, the city finds itself apparently making policy on the fly to fit the needs of a group of politically-connected developers. This is not economic development. Instead, it’s cronyism.

Some have said that we should just shrug this off as an innocent oversight. But this project is steeped in cronyism. It is the poster child for why Wichita and Kansas need pay-to-play laws so that city council members are prohibited from voting to send millions to their significant campaign contributors and the mayor’s fishing buddy.

Soon the city will probably ask Wichitans to trust it with more tax revenue so the city can do more for its citizens. The city commissioned a survey to justify this. Also, the mayor wants a dedicated stream of funding so that the city can spend more on economic development.

In other words, the city wants its citizens to trust their government. But in order to gain that trust, the city needs to avoid episodes like this.

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

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

By Travis Perry, Kansas Watchdog

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

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

Strip Club

1. Wayward welfare dollars

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

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

Video camera

2. Camera-shy state lawmakers

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

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

3. Judicial selection gymnastics

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

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

4. Follow the money

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

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

5. Fiscal follies

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

Read it:
Fiscal follies: Kansas cost estimates draw criticism

 
money jail

6. Your money, behind bars

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

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

7. Raking-in the dough

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

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

8. Couch crackdown

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

Read it:
Kansas community cracks down on couches
Islam Display

9. Islamic fervor

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

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

10. Counting for attendance

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

Read it:

Handful of Kansas lawmakers outpace all others for missed votes

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

Kansas jobs: Who do we believe?

bownback-davis-logo-02

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

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

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

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

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

Wichita City Council makes an uneconomic decision

Wichita City Hall

Last year the Wichita City Council was faced with a decision regarding a program designed to stimulate the sales of new homes. Analysis revealed that even though the city had an opportunity to make an investment with a purportedly high return on investment, it would be better off, dollar-wise, if it did not make the investment. What did the city council do? The following video explains the decision the council faced. View below, or click here to view in High Definition on YouTube. More information is at Wichita new home tax rebate program: The analysis and Wichita HOME program has negative consequences.

WichitaLiberty.TV December 1, 2013

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: What is libertarianism? Is it dangerous, as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently warned? David J. Theroux, who is Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Independent Institute and Publisher of The Independent Review stopped by the WichitaLiberty.TV studios to answer these questions and give the liberty-based perspective on current events. Episode 22, broadcast December 1, 2013. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

WichitaLiberty.TV October 27, 2013

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: David Boaz, Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute, visits the WichitaLiberty.TV studios and explains the ideas behind libertarianism and its approach to government and society. Episode 18, broadcast October 27, 2013. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and has played a key role in the development of the Cato Institute and the libertarian movement. He is a provocative commentator and a leading authority on domestic issues such as education choice, drug legalization, the growth of government, and the rise of libertarianism. Boaz is the former editor of New Guard magazine and was executive director of the Council for a Competitive Economy prior to joining Cato in 1981. He is the author of Libertarianism: A Primer, described by the Los Angeles Times as “a well-researched manifesto of libertarian ideas,” the editor of The Libertarian Reader, and coeditor of the Cato Handbook For Policymakers. His articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, National Review, and Slate. He is a frequent guest on national television and radio shows, and has appeared on ABC’s Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, CNN’s Crossfire, NPR’s Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered, John McLaughlin’s One on One, Fox News Channel, BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other media. His latest book is The Politics of Freedom: Taking on The Left, The Right and Threats to Our Liberties.

Pompeo addresses ObamaCare, debt ceiling, government accountability

Today U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican who represents the Kansas fourth district addressed the Wichita Rotary Club.

He told the audience that despite is not just about what we’ll do next week or even in 2014. The challenge, he said, is changing the nation’s long-term financial trajectory.

On the rollout of ObamaCare, he said that he tried to enroll but failed. He said he was sympathetic with the challenges in rolling out the information technology that implements ObamaCare, but it’s a challenge that should never have been undertaken.

Mike Pompeo, October 7, 2013.

He said he recognizes the risks to the economy that the debt ceiling issue poses. He said we have to take on the obligations of the next 10 to 15 years and we have to do it now.

Pompeo also spoke about government accountability. “It is so easy to spend your money,” he said. “You can be a hero, you can go to ribbon cuttings, … but I have to tell you that when politicians do that in today’s financial situation, they are doing nothing short of lying to you. I use that term intentionally, and with malice aforethought. Because to say they’re misleading you would imply there’s some chance they don’t know that. And they do. This is not politics. This is math.”

On Syria, Pompeo said he’s heard Republicans say we should stay out of the Middle East. But Pompeo said there are from 10,000 to 30,000 soldiers there today. When politicians imply that if we don’t launch some missiles into Syria we’ll be “out” of the Middle East, that is untrue, he said, and “perpetrated with malice aforethought.”

Milton Wolf announces an announcement

It’s been rumored that he’s been thinking about it, and it now looks like Dr. Milton Wolf will join the race for the Republican Party nomination for United States Senate. The other declared candidate is the incumbent, Pat Roberts. At least I don’t think Wolf would have an event like you’re invited to (see below) just to say no, he’s not running.

Bud Norman: “Ruminations on the State of the Republican Party”

bud-norman-wichita-pachyderm-club-2013-10-06

Today writer Bud Norman delivered a fascinating address to members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. Norman’s blog is The Central Standard Times. His novel is The Things That Are Caesars: A Comic Tale of Politics, Religion, and Other Impolite Topics. I (Bob Weeks) introduced Bud.

His prepared remarks are available to read here, or below.

An audio recording of this event is available at Bud Norman, Wichita Pachyderm Club, October 4, 3012. Or, listen below.

Wichita performs a reference check, the video

Citizens of Wichita are rightly concerned about whether our elected officials and bureaucrats are looking out for their interests, or only for the interests and welfare of a small group of city hall insiders. The video below explains, or click here to view in HD on YouTube. For an article on this topic, see Wichita performs a reference check, sort of.

Wichita performs a reference check, sort of

Wichita city hall logo

For a video presentation of this material, click on Wichita performs a reference check, the video.

Citizens of Wichita are rightly concerned about whether our elected officials and bureaucrats are looking out for their interests, or only for the interests and welfare of a small group of city hall insiders. Cronies, if you will.

A recent application filed with Wichita City Hall regarding the West Bank Development Project raises two questions: Did the government officials listed as references give their permission, and were any of the references contacted to learn what they knew about the applicants?

The application filed by the River Vista development team shows this: The team, consisting of George Laham, Dave Wells, Dave Burk, and Bill Warren listed numerous local, state, and federal officials as references. Here’s the list of officials that appeared one or more times:

Wichita city manager Robert Layton
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer
Wichita City Council Member Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita)
Wichita City Council Member and Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita)
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett
Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter
Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh
Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback
U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo

Except for Jeff Easter, none of these officials gave permission for their names to be used in this way. (We didn’t get a response regarding Tim Norton.)

Furthermore, none of these officials were contacted by the evaluation committee whose job it is to vet these potential city partners.

A few questions: First, do you think it is appropriate for the city manager to be listed as a reference, given that anyone who reads this document would take it as an endorsement? No, of course it is not appropriate.

Related: Do you think it’s appropriate for the city manager to endorse one of the applicants? We don’t know if the presence of the city manager’s name as a reference implies an endorsement, because George Laham did not ask the city manager if he could be listed as a reference. We know this because we asked.

Further, the committee that evaluated the development teams did not call the city manager to inquire about George Laham. We asked about this, too. But making inquiries of references: Isn’t that what an evaluation committee or vetting team should do? But we know that the evaluation committee did not contact even one of these officials that were listed as references.

These applicants likely knew that the evaluation committee would not contact these references. Therefore, they freely listed these government officials. Which makes us wonder — what is the point of having an evaluation committee?

Even further: Is it appropriate for the city to partner with people who think it’s proper to list the city manager as a reference without asking if that was permissible, knowing that the manager wouldn’t be contacted? Same question regarding the mayor, governor, our U.S. Congressman, and district attorney?

In light of this — numerous government officials listed as references without their permission or knowledge, an evaluation committee that never contacted these officials, and the information that these references could have provided: Do you think the evaluation committee fulfilled its duty to perform due diligence on behalf of the interests of the people of Wichita?

What the evaluation committee might have learned

If the evaluation committee had contacted these references, here’s what might have been learned.

Dave Wells: Wells is president of Key Construction. Last year the Wichita Eagle reported on “city-financed downtown parking garages that spiraled well over budget.” Noting the cost overruns, reporter Bill Wilson wrote: “The most recent, the 2008 WaterWalk Place garage built by Key Construction, an original partner in the WaterWalk project, came in $1.5 million over budget at almost $8.5 million. That’s the biggest parking garage miss, according to figures from the city’s office of urban development, although the 2004 Old Town Cinema garage built by Key Construction came in almost $1 million over budget at $5.225 million.” (Wichita city manager proposes eliminating no-bid construction projects.)

Also, two years ago Key Construction proposed — and was awarded by the city council — a no-bid contract for a parking garage. But the city later put the contract to competitive bid. Key, which first bid $6 million, later bid $4.7 million. If the desire of the majority of the city council, including Mayor Carl Brewer, had been realized, Wichita taxpayers would have sent an extra — and unnecessary — $1.3 million to a politically-connected construction company.

By the way, the mayor’s relationship with Wells means he should not have voted on this matter.

Dave Burk, Dave Wells: These two were original partners in WaterWalk, which has received over $40 million in subsidy, with little to show for results.

Dave Burk: He’s received many millions from many levels of government, but still thinks he doesn’t get enough. This is what we can conclude by his appeal of property taxes in a TIF district. Those taxes, even though they are rerouted back to him for his benefit, were still too high for his taste, and he appealed. The Wichita Eagle reported in the article (Developer appealed taxes on city-owned property): “Downtown Wichita’s leading developer, David Burk, represented himself as an agent of the city — without the city’s knowledge or consent — to cut his taxes on publicly owned property he leases in the Old Town Cinema Plaza, according to court records and the city attorney.”

rebenstorf-quote-dave-burkA number of Wichita city hall officials were not pleased with Burk’s act. According to the Eagle reporting, Burk was not authorized to do what he did: “Officials in the city legal department said that while Burk was within his rights to appeal taxes on another city-supported building in the Cinema Plaza, he did not have authorization to file an appeal on the city-owned parking/retail space he leases. … As for Burk signing documents as the city’s representative, ‘I do have a problem with it,’ said City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf, adding that he intends to investigate further.”

Council member Jeff Longwell was quoted by the Eagle: “‘We should take issue with that,’ he said. ‘If anyone is going to represent the city they obviously have to have, one, the city’s endorsement and … two, someone at the city should have been more aware of what was going on. And if they were, shame on them for not bringing this to the public’s attention.’”

In a separate article by the Eagle on this issue, Wichita city manager Robert Layton said that anyone has the right to appeal their taxes, but he added that ‘no doubt that defeats the purpose of the TIF.’”

The manager’s quote is most directly damaging. In a tax increment financing (TIF) district, the city borrows money to pay for things that directly enrich the developers, in this case Burk and possibly his partners. Then their increased property taxes — taxes they have to pay anyway — are used to repay the borrowed funds. In essence, a TIF district allows developers to benefit exclusively from their property taxes. For everyone else, their property taxes go to fund the city, county, school district, state, fire district, etc. But not so for property in a TIF district.

This is what is most astonishing about Burk’s action: Having been placed in a rarefied position of receiving many millions in benefits, he still thinks his own taxes are too high. Now he wants more city taxpayer subsidy.

warren-bailout-poses-dilemma

Bill Warren: In 2008 the Old Town Warren Theater was failing and its owners — Bill Warren being one — threatened to close it and leave the city with a huge loss on a tax increment financing (TIF) district formed for the theater’s benefit. Faced with this threat, the city made a no-interest and low-interest loan to the theater. Reported the Wichita Eagle: “Wichita taxpayers will give up as much as $1.2 million if the City Council approves a $6 million loan to bail out the troubled Old Town Warren Theatre this week. That’s because that $6 million, which would pay off the theater’s debt and make it the only fully digital movie theater in Kansas, would otherwise be invested and draw about 3 percent interest a year.”

Besides Warren, you may — or may not — be surprised to learn that the theater’s partners included Dave Wells and Dave Burk, the same two men mentioned above. Also, Mayor Brewer’s relationship with Warren means he should not have voted on this matter.

Anderson, former Kansas budget director, speaks

Last Friday former Kansas budget director Steve Anderson spoke to members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. Two videos are available, a highlights version and full version. View below, or to view on YouTube, click here for highlights or here for full version.

Also, it was announced on Friday that Anderson would be joining Kansas Policy Institute in the role of senior adjunct fiscal policy fellow. For more on this from KPI, see Former state budget director Steve Anderson joins Kansas Policy Institute.

Highlights video

Full speech

Wichita economic development: And then what will happen?

magnifying-glass-2

The whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.
– Henry Hazlitt

Critics of the economic development policies in use by the City of Wichita are often portrayed as not being able to see and appreciate the good things these policies are producing, even though they are unfolding right before our very eyes. The difference is that some look beyond the immediate — what is seen — and ask “And then what will happen?” — looking for the unseen.

Thomas Sowell explains the problem in a passage from the first chapter of Applied economics: thinking beyond stage one:

When we are talking about applied economic policies, we are no longer talking about pure economic principles, but about the interactions of politics and economics. The principles of economics remain the same, but the likelihood of those principles being applied unchanged is considerably reduced, because politics has its own principles and imperatives. It is not just that politicians’ top priority is getting elected and re-elected, or that their time horizon seldom extends beyond the next election. The general public as well behaves differently when making political decisions rather than economic decisions. Virtually no one puts as much time and close attention into deciding whether to vote for one candidate rather than another as is usually put into deciding whether to buy one house rather than another — or perhaps even one car rather than another.

The voter’s political decisions involve having a minute influence on policies which affect many other people, while economic decision-making is about having a major effect on one’s own personal well-being. It should not be surprising that the quantity and quality of thinking going into these very different kinds of decisions differ correspondingly. One of the ways in which these decisions differ is in not thinking through political decisions beyond the immediate consequences. When most voters do not think beyond stage one, many elected officials have no incentive to weigh what the consequences will be in later stages — and considerable incentives to avoid getting beyond what their constituents think and understand, for fear that rival politicians can drive a wedge between them and their constituents by catering to public misconceptions.

The economic decisions made by governing bodies like the Wichita City Council have a large impact on the lives of Wichitans. But as Sowell explains, these decisions are made by politicians for political reasons.

Sowell goes on to explain the danger of stopping the thinking process at stage one:

When I was an undergraduate studying economics under Professor Arthur Smithies of Harvard, he asked me in class one day what policy I favored on a particular issue of the times. Since I had strong feelings on that issue, I proceeded to answer him with enthusiasm, explaining what beneficial consequences I expected from the policy I advocated.

“And then what will happen?” he asked.

The question caught me off guard. However, as I thought about it, it became clear that the situation I described would lead to other economic consequences, which I then began to consider and to spell out.

“And what will happen after that?” Professor Smithies asked.

As I analyzed how the further economic reactions to the policy would unfold, I began to realize that these reactions would lead to consequences much less desirable than those at the first stage, and I began to waver somewhat.

“And then what will happen?” Smithies persisted.

By now I was beginning to see that the economic reverberations of the policy I advocated were likely to be pretty disastrous — and, in fact, much worse than the initial situation that it was designed to improve.

Simple as this little exercise may sound, it goes further than most economic discussions about policies on a wide range of issues. Most thinking stops at stage one.

We see stage one thinking all the time when looking at government. In Wichita, for example, a favorite question of city council members seeking to justify their support for government intervention such as a tax increment financing (TIF) district or some other form of subsidy is “How much more tax does the building pay now?” Or perhaps “How many jobs will (or did) the project create?”

These questions, and the answers to them, are examples of stage one thinking. The answers are easily obtained and cited as evidence of the success of the government program.

But driving by a store or hotel in a TIF district and noticing a building or people working at jobs does not tell the entire story. Using the existence of a building, or the payment of taxes, or jobs created, is stage one thinking, and no more than that.

Fortunately, there are people who have thought beyond stage one, and some concerning local economic development and TIF districts. And what they’ve found should spur politicians and bureaucrats to find ways to move beyond stage one in their thinking.

An example are economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman, who have studied tax increment financing extensively. Their article Tax Increment Financing: A Tool for Local Economic Development states in its conclusion:

TIF districts grow much faster than other areas in their host municipalities. TIF boosters or naive analysts might point to this as evidence of the success of tax increment financing, but they would be wrong. Observing high growth in an area targeted for development is unremarkable.

So TIFs are good for the favored development that receives the subsidy — not a surprising finding. What about the rest of the city? Continuing from the same study:

If the use of tax increment financing stimulates economic development, there should be a positive relationship between TIF adoption and overall growth in municipalities. This did not occur. If, on the other hand, TIF merely moves capital around within a municipality, there should be no relationship between TIF adoption and growth. What we find, however, is a negative relationship. Municipalities that use TIF do worse.

We find evidence that the non-TIF areas of municipalities that use TIF grow no more rapidly, and perhaps more slowly, than similar municipalities that do not use TIF.

In a different paper (The Effects of Tax Increment Financing on Economic Development), the same economists wrote “We find clear and consistent evidence that municipalities that adopt TIF grow more slowly after adoption than those that do not. … These findings suggest that TIF trades off higher growth in the TIF district for lower growth elsewhere. This hypothesis is bolstered by other empirical findings.”

Here we have an example of thinking beyond stage one. The results are opposite of what one-stage thinking produces.

Some city council members are concerned about creating jobs, and are swayed by the promises of developers that their establishments will employ a certain number of workers. Again, this thinking stops at stage one. But others have looked farther, as has Paul F. Byrne of Washburn University. The title of his recent report is Does Tax Increment Financing Deliver on Its Promise of Jobs? The Impact of Tax Increment Financing on Municipal Employment Growth, and in its abstract we find this conclusion regarding the impact of TIF on jobs:

Increasingly, municipal leaders justify their use of tax increment financing (TIF) by touting its role in improving municipal employment. However, empirical studies on TIF have primarily examined TIF’s impact on property values, ignoring the claim that serves as the primary justification for its use. This article addresses the claim by examining the impact of TIF adoption on municipal employment growth in Illinois, looking for both general impact and impact specific to the type of development supported. Results find no general impact of TIF use on employment. However, findings suggest that TIF districts supporting industrial development may have a positive effect on municipal employment, whereas TIF districts supporting retail development have a negative effect on municipal employment. These results are consistent with industrial TIF districts capturing employment that would have otherwise occurred outside of the adopting municipality and retail TIF districts shifting employment within the municipality to more labor-efficient retailers within the TIF district.

While this research might be used to support a TIF district for industrial development, TIF in Wichita is primarily used for retail development. And, when thinking beyond stage one, the effect on employment — considering the entire city — is negative.

It’s hard to think beyond stage one. It requires considering not only the seen, but also the unseen, as Frederic Bastiat taught us in his famous parable of the broken window. But over and over we see how politicians at all levels of government stop thinking at stage one. This is one of the many reasons why we need to return as much decision-making as possible to the private sector, and drastically limit the powers of politicians and governments.

Wichita City Council makes an economic decision

Last year the Wichita City Council was faced with a decision regarding a program designed to stimulate the sales of new homes. Analysis revealed that even though the city had an opportunity to make an investment with a purportedly high return on investment, it would be better off, dollar-wise, if it did not make the investment. What did the city council do? The following video explains the decision the council faced. View below, or click here to view in high definition on YouTube. More information is at Wichita new home tax rebate program: The analysis and Wichita HOME program has negative consequences.